Chapter Twenty

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As soon as I sat down at the bar and had ordered a drink—before I had even begun to take a deep breath to process all that had happened—an unwelcome, familiar voice rang out.

"Lara? Is that you?"

I hung my head for a second, closing my eyes and muttering 'of course' to myself, before plastering on a big fake smile and spinning around on the bar stool. There it was—the familiar shock of red hair, the blue eyes pierced with concern, the rose tattoo peeking out from under her shirt.

I took a quick gulp of my wine, desperate to steady my nerves.

"Daphne." Even I could hear the fakeness in my voice as I spoke, but I tried my damn hardest to keep that under control. "How are you?" I felt like I should reach out for a hug, but I didn't. I kept my arms planted firmly by my sides, almost stubbornly so. Under normal circumstances, I might have been able to act like all was okay, but I was still reeling from Carter's words, and I couldn't seem to stop myself from acting out.

I knew that I wanted to make things right, that I wanted to speak civilly with Daphne, but right now when I'd just argued with my family and my head was a big old mess, I just wasn't in the mood.

She stepped closer, as if she was about to do the same, before thinking better of it. This small movement was enough for me to see Bradley shifting from foot-to-foot awkwardly behind her. I narrowed my eyes at him, overwhelmed with an urge to punch him full pelt in his stupid, freckly face, but I refrained. He wasn't even making eye contact with me anyway; he was a coward—not worth my time, or my fist.

"You should have told me that you were coming." Daphne gushed in an over-the-top fashion, plonking herself next to me, totally ignoring the thick tension that was swilling around us. I grabbed my glass of wine as if it were a shield, and took another much-needed gulp. As the bubbles slid down my throat, I felt a sense of calm starting to overtake; even my pulse rate began to slow down. "I would have arranged something."

She wanted to act like nothing had happened, like we hadn't fallen out, like I hadn't spent the last year or so ignoring her. And I wanted that too, I really did. I just didn't know if it was achievable.

"Yeah well," I murmured, trying to sound casual. "It was all a bit last minute."

"We have so much to catch up on." She changed the subject rapidly, sensing that it was teetering into dangerous territory. "Tell me everything."

I almost laughed out loud at this. Where could I start? The shitty job that I'd just been fired from? The amazing guy that had actually liked me, but that I'd blown off because I didn't want to tell him about myself? The number of friends I had that were petering down by the second? Or maybe she would prefer to know about how much I liked to drink now, or how I'd screwed people I didn't know just in a poor attempt to feel better about myself?

No, I couldn't share any of me with her. I was going to have to get her talking, and I could tell that she was practically bursting at the seams, wanting to discuss the one topic that I was desperate to avoid, so I decided to take this hit and ask her about it.

The wedding.

It was either that, or be honest—and that really wasn't my strong point.

"I'd rather hear all about you." I grinned through gritted teeth, trying desperately to keep it all inside. "You're the one with big news after all."

As she exploded with an information overload about napkin colours, roses and seating plans, I managed to tune it all out. Instead I focused on Bradley. He'd slid into the seat beside her, but looked like he'd rather be anywhere else in the entire world. When I thought back to how close we'd once been, it was difficult not to feel a little hurt. How had we managed to go from high school sweethearts, to strangers who didn't even want to be near one another?

"Okay, Bradley?" I asked, completely shooting down Daphne in the middle of her rant. If I hurt her feelings, I didn't even notice. She certainly didn't speak up about it at any rate. She just shrank in on herself.

Bradley stared at me with shock in his expression, and I tried—and failed—to muster up a genuine smile. The wine was now swilling around inside of me, giving me a bit of the fuzzy head that made me do things that I normally wouldn't. I knew that I could have just sat here and ignored him, politely listening to his girlfriend, but the small amount of alcohol had lit a fire in my belly—one that wouldn't be dulled.

"Erm..." He stammered, his eyes flickering awkwardly between me and Daphne. "Yes."

"You don't need permission from your girlfriend to talk to me, do you?" I had meant this to be an ice breaking joke, one that would dispel the elephant in the room, but instead I sounded snarky and rude.

"I..."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Daphne sounded angry now. She had red spots on her cheeks, which she only ever got when things felt totally out of her control. "Why are you being difficult?"

Difficult, always difficult.

This really got my back up. I was trying so hard to make everyone else feel comfortable. It was them attacking me that made things so hard. Why couldn't they all see what they were doing to me? Why couldn't they see that I didn't want to be difficult, but that I didn't know how to be anything else?

"Oh yeah." I laughed bitterly. "It must be really difficult for you, stuck talking to me—the girl who should be dead. I'm so sorry that it's awkward for you." I slid my seat back and stood up, my rant starting to get into full flow. All of the horrible emotions that I'd been feeling for years began to make their way to the surface, and I could no longer control any of them. "Sorry that my being alive is such an inconvenience to you and my boyfriend." I didn't even know why I was zoning in on that­—it wasn't as if I wanted Bradley anymore. I just wanted them to understand a tiny iota of the pain I'd been through. I just wanted to hurt them as much as they had me, even if they hadn't intended to.

"Lara, you can't..." Daphne was trying to sound overly calm now, as if she was dealing with a grouchy child, which of course only resulted in riling me up further.

"No, Daphne. You can't. You can't even begin to understand me, and what I've been through. You have no God damn idea..."

"Oh God." She sneered nastily. "It's all about you, isn't it?" She stood up too, facing me with the most defiant look I'd ever seen. "Poor little Lara, she didn't die and now she doesn't know what to do." I balked at her words, but that didn't stop her. It seemed like months of frustration were boiling out in this moment. "Guess what, Lara? Most people would kill for the chance you have, and you're pissing it away." I stepped back, wanting to run away. I didn't need to hear this, I couldn't. "But you're selfish." She snapped once more. "You always have been, and you always will be."

"I..." I felt the colour drain from my face. Daphne was telling the truth about me where no one else would. Even the words that Kimberly had spoken to me when she was trying to make me see sense had been laced with kindness. I knew that Daphne was trying to make me see things clearly, but I didn't want to accept it. She was saying what no one else had the guts to, and it hurt like hell.

"Go to hell, Lara." She finally spat out, giving me a look of utter hate, before stalking out of the bar, leaving a trail of destruction behind her.

Me and Bradley had an intense moment of eye contact. All that wasn't, that might have been, that would never be, flowed between us. I could see him trying to fit the girl he'd once known into the box that I was now, but he couldn't. Of course he couldn't—she was no longer there. I just stared back at him, bewildered, almost wishing that I had answers for him.

Then he slowly shuffled out too, leaving me all alone. Just as I deserved.

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