twenty-four. Breaking Point

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I spent the rest of the week holed up in the apartment my father and I have come to share with T&T and their mom, leaving only when it was absolutely necessary.

Alex had called me later that fateful night, his voice worried and frantic over the phone.

"I thought he caught you... I –I thought you were hurt." His words tumbled over one another in his haste to get them out.

"I'm fine." I sounded lifeless, even to my own ears.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I'm sorry I didn't call you, but I couldn't find Aidan in the crowd. I never got around to calling him. We'll have to find some other way to catch him."

There was a moment of silence on his end. "Uh, alright. But seriously, are you okay? Did something happen? Do you want me to call Gabe?"

The last thing I wanted was to get Gabe involved.

"No. I'm fine, I promise. Nothing happened... I'm –I'm just tired." I figured I could at least give him part of the truth to placate him.

It worked. We exchanged quick goodbyes and then he hung up.

Between work at Mario Mart and at the library, completing my semester project and watching Friends reruns with Tina and her mother, I had little time to think, except for the sleepless, moonlit hours of the night I spent curled up on the mattress next to Tina's bed, trying to control my gasping sobs, trying not to wake her.

In those moments when reality caught up with me after I'd been escaping it for the whole day, it all pressed in on me, an invisible weight sitting on my chest, crushing my lungs until I could barely breathe around it all. It didn't help that I kept torturing myself with endless what-if's.

What if I'd never crashed that lit class?
What if I'd resisted my impulses and just left the party without ever sleeping with him?
What if I'd simply ignored him after that one-night stand and never seen him again?

It was useless, but I couldn't help it. As I stared at the fluorescent stars that had long ago lost their glow but that were still glued to Tina's ceiling, I kept prodding and poking at the open wound night after night, bleeding and bleeding and bleeding.

Jenna and Ro texted and called me periodically, checking in to see how I was doing, offering to take me out, but I declined. For some reason, being out, forced to talk and to pretend like everything hadn't crumbled down around me felt like it would drain whatever energy I had left –and I had barely enough left to get me through day after day.

Gabe texted me as well, asking about when I wanted to start my self-defence training, and then, when I never answered that, asking me if I was okay.

I'd never thought that waiting for Alexei to come back from vacation would fill me with this much dread. Every hour that passed and that brought me closer to our inevitable reunion made the weight I dragged around with me multiply by five.

Briefly, I'd flirted with the idea of calling him –he'd given me a number where I could reach him while he'd be away –but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I didn't know how I would approach the subject. I'd never been good at confrontation. I liked to ignore my problems, but I didn't think I could pretend that nothing had happened and that I'd never seen those videos.

I wondered if across the ocean, those fifteen seconds kept him up the way they kept me awake, but the answer (no), only made me feel more empty.

The day before he came back, I'd gone out to print the photos I'd taken for my semester project, and when the guy working at the print shop handed me that over-blown picture of Alexei, I felt nothing but a slight pang of disappointment.

Robin des BoisWhere stories live. Discover now