Chapter Twelve

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            Whatever skepticisms I had about Luke dissolved once I arrived home from school. My mother was still at work, as she usually was at this time, meaning I had the house to myself for a couple of hours. She didn’t seem exceedingly happy with this arrangement; each day she’d burst through the door looking panicked, as if having spent the entire journey home worrying that I had trashed the place. Part of me wondered whether I should’ve been offended by the notion, but with my mother, I guessed it wasn’t personal; anybody else would likely suffer the same reaction.

            Her obsessive compulsiveness had taken a while to start grating, but now it was truly getting on my nerves. I was growing sick of the way she seemed to pop out the moment I stepped off the doormat with my shoes still on, or how each time she entered my bedroom she had to suppress a grimace. I wasn’t an overly messy person, but my room looked like any other teenager’s; my clothes weren’t always folded neatly, my slippers not constantly at a right angle to the edge of the bed, nor did I wipe down the surface of my desk with a damp cloth daily.

            We’d both made it clear we were much happier with our previous arrangement: my part in the circus, and her life where her living space was dictated solely by her. And yet neither of us could do anything to backtrack on the sudden turn of events that had forced us together. We were just going to have to live with it.

            Maybe it’d have been more bearable if we’d bonded gently, if the foundations had been allowed to cement before we were pushed into something as intensive as living together. It had all happened too suddenly; we were strangers, despite the bond that had linked us together seventeen years ago, and trying to pretend otherwise wouldn’t change the truth. Our personalities clashed too harshly, shapes that just didn’t fit together, forced to find some way to tessellate.

            That particular afternoon, the house was empty, and I allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief. I felt guilty afterward – it didn’t make me the nicest person to be reveling in my mother’s absence – but being left alone was undeniably easier. There was nobody to frown at me when my toast left crumbs on the countertop, and I dealt with the matter by sweeping them out of sight instead of disinfecting the entire surface.

            Despite the silence that usually settled when we were around each other, this alternative was a lot more peaceful.

            Luke and I had agreed to meet somewhere around five; he’d bring his textbook and class notes, and I’d do the same. We’d grab some dinner while we were there, since he claimed it would be a crime to visit Joe’s and not order the fries. I had to agree, so I ended up scribbling a message to my mother on a post-it and sticking it on the fridge.

            Getting dinner with a friend, it read. Be back in a couple of hours. Corey.

            I slipped out of the door at four forty-five, somewhat confident in my ability to find my way to Joe’s without too much difficulty. I’d managed to figure out my vague bearings in Sherwood in the few weeks I’d spent there. How hard could it be?

            The answer to that came twenty minutes later: extremely. I ended up losing my way at least three times, on each occasion having to backtrack my footing once I realized I’d walked past the same set of houses a few minutes before. Eventually, after asking for directions from a weary-looking woman with a twin stroller, whose children almost drowned out our voices with their screaming, I found my way towards the town center and on a street I recognized.

            I rocked up at the diner fifteen minutes late, but at least I’d made it. And to Luke, who’d already taken a seat at the counter and offered a bright smile when I walked in, it seemed that was all that mattered.

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