8 - By now, I have myself convinced I'm unhelpable.

43 9 8

Then.

Hunter walked over carrying my soy latte and three of my favourite peanut butter fudge cookies for me and each of my friends. I tried to give him money, but he refused to accept it. "This place is almost as much yours as it is mine by now given how often you're here. Your money isn't welcome, you know that," he said, giving me a hug.

He was like a much older big brother, filled with a wisdom and calm I could only hope to one day possess. Every single thing he said seemed like it could have been read straight from a book of the finest poetry, laden with ambiguity but always provoking the deepest of thoughts and feelings of comfort.

My friends and I sat and relished in the end of another school year until Ruben came in an hour later and we left together to walk across the road to the cinema. It was a small theatre, showing only a few of the most recent blockbusters and lesser known arthouse films on much smaller screens than the cinema chains in big shopping centres. I much preferred it here. It was more intimate, and less people around was always a good thing by me.

The movie wasn't anything special, but being with my friends and Ruben was all I needed to be okay for a while. We lingered out the front of the cinema afterwards talking until I noticed the time and thought I'd best be off back home. Ruben offered to walk me home, even though I lived in the exact opposite direction to where his house was. I didn't live far from the main shops in our area, maybe a twenty minute walk, and I always felt bad for putting him out when I knew he needed to go all the way back again, and then even further down the mountain by a few suburbs to get home to his mum's house.

"I can just catch the bus home, babe. It's not a big deal. I like walking with you. It's one of the rare times I actually get you talking without overthinking everything," he said, grabbing my hand and pulling me into his chest. Working consistently in building and construction over the past year had built him up even more than a decade of footy had, and there was nowhere else on Earth that I felt safer than in between his rock hard abs, broad and defined chest, and growing biceps. Or triceps. I don't know which. Probably both.

There was also nowhere else that I felt so turned on.

I sighed in resignation, quietly grateful for his offer and impressed as always that he knows me better than I know myself. I was more likely to actually talk about real things while I was walking. Habits and humiliation had resulted in me usually being fairly tight-lipped, but a little fresh air and physical activity usually had me spilling information out to people without even being aware of it; Ruben more than anyone. He clearly tapped into that knowledge and made the most of it whenever he could. I didn't mind, though. I trusted him implicitly and, with how long he had stood by me, he had definitely earned my innermost thoughts and feelings, not that many of them were good. Poor guy.

He asked about Madden, which was always one of his first questions whenever I saw him, and I adored him for it. Most other people would shy away from talking about him, not knowing what to say about the baby that my sister abandoned and left my family to look after. But not Ruben. He knew how important Madden was to me, and he always protected me from people's sly comments about my sister the whore, or looked at me like I was white trash when we were in public somewhere, assuming he was mine.

I often wondered whether he felt as judged as I did when they would look at us like that. Considering he was with me and interacted with Madden with such care and devotion, I could see how people would easily assume Madden was his. He certainly always treated him like he was. I didn't think anything could make him more attractive until I saw him first hold Madden and my heart, reproductive system and every biological and metaphysical connection between the two went haywire.

As we passed the skate park, kids still out in the dim light ripping up the half pipe, we talked over our plans for the holidays. As always, I was going to be working heaps, as was he. School didn't require him to work over the school holidays for his apprenticeship, but he loved it so much and his uncle offered him the work, so he took it. We knew we would probably be struggling to find time to see each other, but that was nothing new. There was always plenty of things occupying both our time, but we understood that about each other when we started dating.

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