Updated: Jun 5
Cover Photo © Rosalie Thorne
Editor – Z. V. Ezell
By Rosalie Thorne
This is the continuation of Lorianna’s story!
The first installment was #PastelPrincess.
So, make sure to check that out before diving in.
“You’ve been mostly-dead all day.”
- The Princess Bride
“This is so Gossip Girl,” Sophia comments through laughter.
I snort and then sip on my Dirty Shirly. “I cannot believe Parker and Macen convinced him to do this.”
Standing in one of Boston’s hottest clubs, the elite of Excelsior Academy have taken it over for the night of Chris’s eighteenth birthday. It wasn’t hard for this group of the rich and famous to not only get the club for the whole night, but to also pay whoever they needed to pay to have an open bar, even though we are all under age. In addition, someone – as a gift – hired Luca Manfe himself to be the head chef of the event. And now that Gabrielle Russo is far away in New Jersey, the paparazzi are the least of our worries.
It's a far cry from what Chris-Cross originally said he wanted for his birthday, a “super chill” game-night with pizza and sheet cake. But Mayday did have a point in saying that you only turn eighteen once and why waste a perfectly good opportunity to party? As I watch him cross the crowded floor, the birthday boy really does seem like he’s having a great time.
Knowing it will be a hot minute before he makes it back to the VIP section, I follow So-So to the sofa. Before I can even get out of my heels, she gives me a look with raised eyebrows, “So….”
She smirks, “Marriage, huh?”
I roll my eyes but can’t help but smile. “Eventually.”
“Says the girls who, I don’t know, not even a year ago hated Christopher O’Crosphen with every fiber of her being.”
I swat at her, “It’s not like it’s some harlequin romance that my mama writes! We’ve known each other forever and… well,” but I’m having a hard time putting it into words.
After setting my drink down on the table, I pull my legs up to sit comfortably. “Well, I don’t know!” I laugh. “We have so much history and stuff in common and love each other a lot….” A little flustered I look her straight on. “Don’t you believe in soul mates?”
She leans her head side-to-side. “Devil’s advocate though, what about all the issues you did have? And, like, have you guys had The Talk? Like, the what you both want in the future, talk? Where you guys what to live, if you want kids, all that really important stuff? I’d hate for you to get so wrapped up in this…,” but then she stops abruptly. I can tell she was about to say fairytale as she has in the past but knows how much that hurts me – like I am some naive, innocent, hopeless romantic that is in love with the idea of love rather than Chris. “… romance, that you are going to compromise all your hopes and dreams and goals and plans.” I know her heart is in the right place, talking from the experience that led her borderline abusive ex to rape her.
After a long moment, I sigh. “But that’s just it So-So… I don’t care? As long as I am with him, it feels right.” Clearly, this doesn’t appease her mind and her head shakes every so slight as she goes for her drink on the table. I continue, “We both want to live in Europe, we both want to get married and have kids, and we both love each other more than anything in the world. Isn’t that enough?”
“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
Chris catches my eye as he walks towards us. “He would never hurt me,” and I know in my heart and soul that’s true.
When Mama wakes me around three in the morning, I fear the worst. But then I see Papa standing in my bedroom doorway… I start to wonder why else would she wake me in the middle of the night? Suddenly fearful something is wrong with my friends or the trip to Italy we’re supposed to leave for in roughly ten hours, acid rises in my chest.
In a blur of words, she explains that Chris is at the door waiting for me. She seems… happy, maybe even excited as she shuffles me downstairs though, which eases me. But when I see him only a step inside the townhouse, I hear Papa grumble behind me, I don’t know what to think. Just as they leave us, heading toward the kitchen I very distinctly hear him say “this is not going to be good” after Mama gushed about how “romantic” this is.
After wrapping my linen cardigan around my waist, I tuck some loose hair behind my ear, “Hey.” My voice is wispy and a little rough. I clear my throat and take a step closer to where he’s leaning against the door, “Hey?”
His hand doesn’t come to mine when I reach for it. As he shifts from one foot to the other his face comes into the beam of light from the kitchen revealing his sullen expression, with sunken cheeks, chapped lips, and unblinking, blood-shot eyes. He’s not looking at me exactly… sort of next to my left ear. “Lorianna,” he says in a very low whisper.
Very concerned, I step closer and reach for his hand again. Though I touch him softly, he seems to wince. Pushing himself into the corner by the door, he shakes his head once.
“Chris… what is it?”
A death? A sickness…? Something he obviously needs to tell me in person before the world wakes up and news starts circulating. Looking at him desperately, I ask again “Christopher? Is it… is it your –”
But he stops me by shaking his head once more. “Several weeks now a particular subject has been under discussion.” His voice is low, emotionless, almost prepared-speech-like. “And under the advisement of my father, I’ve come here…,” he swallows hard. “I’ve come here tonight to tell you: you are no longer my girlfriend.”
I laugh. “What?”
He finally looks me in the eye. Too many emotions wash over his face, most falling into the realm of pain and heartbreak and loss. His hand reaches for the door, and he says, “I’m sorry,” in a depleted tone.
I realize I’m still laughing and the first thought in my head is just over three weeks ago on his eighteenth birthday where he suggested we get married the day after my eighteenth birthday. Not an unfamiliar subject, not a subject we take lightly. And I had agreed.
And now… now?
“Really, what?” my voice speaks my mind.
But his answer was to close the door in my face.
Everyone arrived at the agreed-upon time. Everyone had their bags and passports and everything they could even acutely need for our Summer vacation to Italy. Everyone is loud and excited and seems to fill the whole downstairs even though it’s only the seven of us and my parents. Variety boxes of donuts being riffled through, mugs of coffee or tea and glasses of juice being chugged, they’re all getting in as much energy as possible before our all-day journey.
No one seems to notice I’m not eating. No one seems to notice that I’m not talking.
No one seems to notice that He isn’t here.
Even Mama and Papa are running around like hyper-active, spastic kittens because the only two things I said after I told them He broke up with me was one – don’t tell anyone and two – we’re still going on the trip.
After I got up and was ready at the agreed-upon time (surprising them), they tried to be upbeat while we waited for everyone to arrive, saying that this trip is probably exactly what I need.
I don’t know, I don’t care.
The outside world still moves on even if my personal world has ceased to exist.
It is only when we arrive at the airport and are huddled in front of the wall of glass doors, that someone finally notices His absence.
“Hey, wait… are we about to Home Alone Chris?”
I wince at his name, almost instantly feeling like I’m about to throw up.
Of course, as they would – as they should if my universe hadn’t become a black hole – they look to me. I can see Mama give me a look and Papa open his mouth, but I shake my head at them.
I barely manage out the words “He’s not coming.”
Those who were originally his best friends look at each other and it’s very clear he hadn’t told them, not even Parker. Parker looks to Macen.
There’s a darkness in Macen’s eyes and a stiffness in his body… because he can now see it in me. He knows me. He’s been through Hell and back with me, (Hell and back with Sophia). If anyone is going to Hulk out over this, it will be him.
Everyone well aware of the battle-mode Mayday has, they go quiet. The rushing of cars, the loudness of people, it all seems to fade away when I finally look into Macen’s eyes.
“Did he?” break up with you?
Empty, I answer, “Yes.”
“But why?” … did he say?
Cold in the Summer heat, I shake my head. “I don’t know.” … he didn’t say.
“Are you…?” okay?
My eyes drift away for a moment. “No.”
“But you still want to?” go on this trip?
“Are you sure?” … ‘cause we can go home right now. I can go find him and kill him right now, Lori. Are you sure?
And that is that.
He didn’t even cancel his ticket; he just didn’t show. I can hear the flight attendants calling for him for final boarding and none of us fill them in. Everyone takes turns sitting next to me, in His seat, even while I sleep.
My parents are in charge of my medication. They are fully aware of how much and how often, and then come to me with my pills when they’re supposed to. Even when I do feel pain, I don’t try and fight it – fight them, trying to manipulate my way into getting high. Not with my friends so close… not with how hard this was for my parents last time.
I’m better than that.
… aren’t I?
The moment we go in for our final landing, everything seems to change.
Thus far, everyone has acted like nothing is wrong. Taking cue from me, following my lead, you would have never guessed I’d had my heart eviscerated within the last day.
Like any movie or show that had a group of close young adults going on vacation, we acted rather stereotypically to that. I did smile, I did laugh… getting caught up in the moments and feeling a burst of life like a shooting star.
But when we come into our final landing, that fleeting light shifts, steading, and even if it’s very small, flickering like a birthday candle, it stays shining.
Caught up in the moment, in life, in the adventure, I become completely and utterly distracted.
To get the most out of our trip, from our wake-up-call to when our heads hit the pillows, everything had been planned weeks in advance. Seeing so much, doing so much, eating so much… experiencing so much! Heart pounding, mind racing, everything is so impactful and though-provoking and heart-consuming I keep going to bed exhausted but waking up with a spring-in-my-step, ready for more.
He never shows. His family never shows.
But my friends surround me. And my parents stay the whole trip.
I am medicated, I am fed, I shop, I play, and I get enough sleep. I am distracted in every waking moment.
If someone didn’t know any better, they’d think I’m the happiest girl on Earth. They’d think I’m having the best time of my life, and this would be a fundamentally changing trip for me.
And they wouldn’t be wrong.
But… everything must come to an end.
I am able to mimic Italy trip Lorianna for Macen’s eighteen birthday extravaganza.
I am able to mimic Italy trip Lorianna for Fourth Of July with Sophia at The Pentagon.
I am even able to mimic Italy trip Lorianna for my own birthday, turning seventeen in all my Leo glory.
Doctor Renfield takes a deep breath. “And do you really believe that? Really feel that? Are you sure?”
I nod. “I can’t not go back to school. No matter what my parents say. No matter if I could get away with medical leave or finish out my education in Benovia with Papa. It’s just one more year and I’ll have a high school diploma from one of the best private schools in The Unites States.”
I ease forward, forearms on my knees with my hands loose in the air, my eyes down. “I have a life here. A good life. It may not feel that way – I may not feel…” anything, “but logically…. Logically,” I repeated, “it’s good. It’s good and safe and there’s no logical reason for me to run away.”
She eyes me carefully and sighs again. “And is everyone supportive of this? Your parents, your friends?”
“My parents are worried it’ll be too much.”
“Can you understand why?”
I give a hollow laugh. “Even when everything was perfect, school was overwhelming. Double appointments during finals and all. I know,” I groan and sit back against the plush cushions. “I know why they’re worried – I get it, I do. But everyone gets broken up with.
“This isn’t some brand new, tragic event. Everyone gets broken up with” I repeat softly, “and they deal with it – they bounce back, they move on.”
“But not everyone is you, Lorianna.”
Oh, believe me… “I know.”
I can tell from experience: it’s all true… the world really does lose color when depressed. Colors are faded, sounds are either too soft or too sharp, and I may smile and laugh but I can’t seem to hang on to the joy or happiness. Even with my friends, I’m not exactly happy… just, sort of, less depressed.
Less sad, less pained. In comparison, I suppose that could be defined as happiness. But nothing like I’ve felt before. Nothing like I was before.
I am not that girl, not anymore.
Routine is more important than ever now. And though sometimes following through with all my routines may seem like the most important thing in the goddamn world, like my life literally depends on me completing my day exactly the right way… sometimes it seems pointless and pathetic.
Updating my social media, for example, is a perfect hit-or-miss activity. Sometimes it’s the only thing I want to do all day but sometimes I stare at my phone and can’t help but ask myself … really? But then the thought of not doing it, even if I’m temporarily fully convinced it’s stupid and meaningless, sends me into a tailspin.
I have to follow routine… I just have to.
I have to do everything I’m supposed to.
And I always have to be prepared.
For every possible outcome, no matter what.
One way or another, the world found out what had happened. I received a lot of apologies and well-wishes and ‘that suck’s and ‘don’t worry he’s an asshole anyway’… sometimes from people who didn’t even know me. I received a lot of support from outsiders… I just wished it made a difference.
One particularly sweet girl who I’ve chatted with a few times on Tumblr randomly messages me. Because she misses my #PastelPrincess tag, she suggests running with a #MonochromaticPrincess tag now that grey scale is all I’m wearing.
Instead, I remember how Han got his name and choose solo.
Solo… meaning one, meaning only, meaning totally and utterly alone.
The last weekend before school starts is finally upon us. As someone once explained to me ‘making appearances’ at a slew of parties is exhausting. But at least we don’t stay long enough for any real conversations to happen – we don’t stay long enough for anyone to bring Him up.
That’s the thing that most people get around to asking about after ‘making sure I’m okay’, is not what happened (as I anticipated) but where is He?
He left my doorstep that morning and vanished.
His social media went silent. No texts, no calls, no emails either.
The last thing anyone could find on Google was something about me and him in the Spring.
People even tried reaching out to his parents, but their offices claimed the Prime Minister and his wife ‘are far too busy to deal with such nonsense inquiries’. People even tried reaching out to his brother, but his brother was studying aboard (not in the USA, nor England) all Summer and very specifically did not reply when He was mentioned.
And as much everyone wants to pick my brain and I am just a constant source of gossip, that much more are people looking around every corner of every party and hoping that’s when He’ll decide to show his face again.
As I was slowly breaking apart a brownie from the dish labeled ‘no pot’, his name is dropped from across the kitchen. The conversation continues with “He has to, you know?” one Senior boy is saying to another. “This is the last weekend. There’s no way he’s just going to show up to school on Wednesday with being gone all Summer.”
“Wouldn’t he though? That’s totally the right play here. Or…” the second boy lifts his eyebrows and shifts his shoulders. “Maybe he won’t show up at all.”
This leads a girl to chip in. “He was planning on taking college classes this year. Maybe… maybe he’s just skipping out and going to some university in England.”
My feeling of nauseousness is stifled and a new feeling of dread spreads with my blood running cold. I text my mom to see if she has any news from Charlotte. But, like every time I’ve asked, her response is “He’s alive”.
Is he coming back?
For Senior Year?
It was decided this morning, apparently.
Are you sure you wouldn’t rather do online classes?
I’ll be fine.
I knew she wouldn’t be convinced, so I continue.
I’ve got to face him eventually.
And he’s the one who left.
Even his friends,
I don’t care if he explains things to me or not.
But he should explain something to his friends.
To his teammates.
… you know?
Of course, sweetheart.
I’m sure he will.
There’s a pause.
How’s the party?
I could almost hear the delicateness of her voice. And then came the dreaded question.
Are you having fun?
I always do with Mayday and So-So.
Which is always my answer and most of the time is true… under the most loose definition of ‘fun’, of course. And even though I didn’t have to tell the truth, I do…
I’ve been drinking a little.
But no drugs. I promise.
We’ve mostly been party-hoping.
Seeing everyone we’ll see on Wednesday.
Though, some of the Seniors who graduated last Spring, too,
Before the head off to college.
Thank you for telling me.
I know you wouldn’t do anything to mess with your medication.
You’re good like that.
I love you!
I love you too.
And for someone who feels nothing, there’s an exception to ever rule. And for this exception, I at least feel it very much.
When Macen drops me back at the gate of my townhouse, I really wish Sophia didn’t have church in the morning and could have slept over. With school fast approaching, I’m becoming more and more aware of how many nights I’ll have to sleep alone. So just… just one more sleep-over was all I desperately want.
Car far down the street, me safe in the gate, I let out a yelp when the motion-sensor catches me and lights up the miniature front yard and there’s a hooded figure sitting on the stoop.
Head up at my scream, hood falling backward, he throws his hands up. “It’s just me!”
I should have never told Him the gate code.
“How long have you been sitting here?”
I can see his Adam’s apple wave up and down as he swallows hard. I can see how he twists his calloused and bandaged hands together softly. I can see how after all these months his hair is still shaggy and black but not any longer than in May. I can see how after all these months of Summer, he’s paler than usual. And I can see, as I take a big step toward him, the lack of life in his blue eyes.
“Long enough.” His voice is as raw as the last time he spoke to me.
Finally feeling something for the first time since May… actually feeling something through my whole self, my whole body, whole heart, I stare at him. Heart thudding against my ribs, breathing getting sharp, skin goose-bumping and hair rising, I cross my arms over my chest. Sad, yes. But also very, very angry.
I give him an unrelenting stare, barely blinking. Jaw tight, hearing going fuzzy, I ask “Care to explain yourself?”
He clears his throat a little. “I… I can’t. I,” but the air seems to knock out of my chest. His brows furrow. “I can’t.”
“Then do pray tell what the actual fuck you are doing here? If not to explain why you vanished. If not to explain why you abandoned me! Why the fuck are you here?”
There’s a little flash of something in his eyes, a sort of glisten. He actually smiles for a second. “I missed your voice.” Before I can say anything, he gestures open-handed to me. “I needed to see you… I just…,” then his hand falls, “needed to see you.”
“Most people check-up on their ex’s through social media.”
He winces when I say ‘ex’, his gaze falling, and then he whispers. “I’ve done that too.”
“And that wasn’t sufficiently enough, huh? Now you have to resort to stalking?”
He gives me an expression of desperation. “I just needed to see you.”
“As you’ve said.” But with a deep breath I can’t stop myself from softening. “Why?”
He reacts like someone restricted by an Unbreakable Vow. He looks at me, then suffers through a laugh, looking at the sky.
“Just one question, then.”
Eyes back on me, he sniffs. His eyebrows raise and he adjusts his glasses. “Yes?”
“You’re not here to get back together… are you?”
As if punched in the gut, his torso falls forwards, his shoulders curling, and he lets out a haggard exhale. “Not tonight, no.” But before I can ask about the specificity of ‘tonight’ his head shakes. “Not for a lifetime. Not for another three hundred and thirty-three days.”
Very confused I just take another step towards him, still at the bottom of the stairs, looking up.
But he keeps rambling. “Less than a year. A year… should be easy enough, right? Now that we’ve gone through ninety-eight days apart. But now we’re not going to be apart… are we? Nope… we have roughly one hundred and eighty-five days of school together. Plus, all those weekends and holidays and Winter Break and Spring Break have to pass.”
He’s standing now, shaking – shivering even though the Summer night is warm. I can see the stains on his cheeks even if I haven’t witnessed a single tear yet. “No Homecoming… no Winter Formal, no Spring Fling… no Prom! Prom… do you,” his voice cracks.
His voice is a whisper when he tries again. “Remember? Masquerade… The Labyrinth.” He clears his throat and his chin stars bobbing. “I have to go.”
He moves down the stairs like he hasn’t walked in years. Then he pushes past me. “I shouldn’t have come.”
Realizing I’m crying now, I reach after him, “Wait!”
Gate open, halfway out, he turns back to me. Our eyes lock and he nods once. “As you wish.”
“And then he just left?”
I nod slowly. “He said that and then left. By himself, hood up, walking down the street.”
Macen hands me another cookie from the plate on our café table. “That’s a bit… odd.”
“The whole thing is a bit odd,” Sophia agrees.
I lean back in my chair and look out the window at the Historic Downtown of Leomrock, I’ve spent a lot of my solo time this Summer. Not really wanting to be around people yet very much not wanting to be actually alone, I wandered the streets (with a respectfully silent Ivan). Through a maze of tiny cobblestone streets, we wandered… in and out on New Age stores that smelled of incense, comic book shops where I eyed super-hero statues, record shops where I looked for artists my papa recommended, antique bookstores where I spent way too much money, (the only place we didn’t go was into a dark Pub that had Irish items on their chalkboard menu and reeked of beer).
One of my favorite places to end up was this floral little bistro that was almost a hipster café. What had attracted me were the double doors to Nebula that span across the corner of the building. And though the walls are windows, with all the plants it’s hard to see in or out. Plants, flowers, succulents… anything flora you can think of there’s a place for it among the plush armchairs and coffee tables. There’s a little bar towards the back where you can order on one side and sit on the other, the kitchen hidden behind a swinging wooden door. Even though there’s always soft music playing and there’s a murmur of guests talking, it always seems so… quiet.
Because of my frequency, I finally let Mayday and So-So in on this beautiful little secret of the city and Nebula’s soon became one of my other halves favorite places as well.
“Okay, so let’s go over this one more time.” Mayday says slowly, putting down his phone on the table with the Notepad app open. I know how relieved they are that I’m finally talking about Him, and I have a sense that Macen is going to try and keep me talking no matter what, even if it’s just to repeat stuff.
Though I may not admit it aloud, it is nice to finally vocalize all this. And as weird as the night before was, I’m very thankful this topic was prompted, and I didn’t have to just bring it up out of the blue. (Which, I had tried to do before; the words going through my mind again and again but my mouth never actually opening. The anxiety of it all was just too much I just never had the guts to say it – whatever it was at the time.)
“So, I dropped you off and he was there on your doorstep.”
“And it was dark, so that means he was sitting there still for a while because the motion sensor didn’t notice him,” So-So points out.
“He said he couldn’t explain what happen in May, he couldn’t explain where he was this Summer, and couldn’t even explain how he feels or how you two should move forward,” Macen says slowly after typing a few things out. Some of the stuff he was reiterating was fact, some stuff inferred.
Sophia finishes chewing quickly and said, “And then he started rambling on with all those numbers and stuff.”
I readjust uncomfortably in my chair. “Which, I did the math last night, in response to the us getting back together question, he said it wouldn’t be until my eighteenth birthday.”
They both look at me now with confused expressions. “Your eighteenth birthday?” they ask, unintentionally, in unison.
My eyes drop as my shoulders rise. “August third exactly.”
Macen sits back in his chair, chewing on his lip. Sophia’s eyes drift toward the ceiling.
“End of Summer,” she says more of a question.
“Just before the start of university,” he says slowly.
Hopeless, I close my eyes, “Adulthood. That’s all. Other than the time of year and what activity comes next, I’ll be an adult. So really… there’s nothing special about it.”
It hurts to swallow, and I wrap my arms around myself. “Maybe he was drunk.”
“Or high,” Macen tries to smile.
Sophia rolls her eyes. “Something we do know for sure,” she says a little defensively, “is that we don’t know why he did what he did, we don’t know where he was this Summer, we don’t know why he said what he said last night. We don’t know what he’s been through,” she heaves a breath and when she notices my stare, she holds a hand out, “even if he did it to himself! We just don’t know.”
Stirring my drink, I know she’s not wrong.
That night I wake with a start. My medicine had put me to sleep, sure, but that doesn’t always mean I stay asleep. After a dizzying array of incoherent dreams melding with nightmares melding with memories, I sit straight in my bed, huffing air. Anastasia is more alert these days and has already jumped into my bed (a habit only developed as of the end of May). Softly pushing the tip of her nose across my hand and wrist, I finally look to her and rub her face gently. She lays down her head over my popped knee. I continue rubbing her ears in a way that she knows ‘everything is okay’.
But is it?
What exactly is it that woke me?
Well, actually, I remember waking myself.
Just before my tenth birthday, I got the flu. Right in the middle of Summer so no one saw it coming. I lost about twenty pounds in a week and was bed ridden… awake for maybe an hour at a time, drinking water, then falling back asleep. Only to wake up again some time later and vomit. Rinse and repeat. It had been Hell. Even with a nurse on call and one of those home IV’s, they said it would take time for me to get the virus out of my system, take even more time for my stomach and esophagus to heal from all the acid, and then who knows how long it would take from me to recovery to my full strength?
And what did my mama do? Told everyone her next book would be postponed and stayed with me as much as I’d let her. Watching movies, playing card games, but most importantly reading me books.
And most, most importantly, reading me abridged version of The Princess Bride. (The ‘good parts’ edition by William Goldeman.) From that moment I became obsessed with the story. And when I was finally well enough to have friends over, the first thing I said I wanted to do when He asked was “watch The Princess Bride!”
We watched it a few times while I was still home sick and never once did he multitask. He could see how important the movie was to me and even if I’d told him a dozen times, he’d asked me what was different between the movie and the book. It felt like how much I cared about his favorite comics – not so much that I cared about the comics specifically or intensely, though I did find the stories entertaining, more so that they were important to him and therefore important to me.
After all those years, he remembered. Even when different things held my interest in an all-consuming way, even when I didn’t talk about it anymore… he knew how important it was… how it had become such a significant part of me that would never go away.
We had said we liked each other often and with many inflections. Even when we finally said, ‘I love you’, we often said ‘I like you’ as well. Sometimes we teased ‘I love you’, ‘I know’ especially when I wore her braids. But sometimes, and maybe for the more important sometimes, He had taken his hand so softly to my cheeks and stared into my eyes. In our most hopelessly romantic states, as a promise that we’d try for forever, as a promise he’d love me always, he would simply reply ‘as you wish’.
“As you wish,” I whisper slowly. I look down to my puppy. “He said ‘as you wish’ after I asked him to wait.”
But did that actually mean anything? Or was it just some ill-attempt at referencing something between us? Confused, desperate, emotional… a little on the irrational side, surely, He had been. So, was it just a reference within a reference? Just him bringing forth the past. Or did he mean it as he’d always meant it?
But then the weight falls from my neck and shoulders down to my stomach. If he had meant it… if he was saying ‘I love you’, he wouldn’t have walked away.
Before the incident when we were thirteen and after we got back together last year, we’d made sure to be honest with each other no matter what. So now… when he says he can’t tell me something?
I lean back into my pillows and curl around Anastasia. “People change,” I mutter softly. “That’s what they say. In high school, especially… that’s what they say. He’s not my…” anything “anymore.”
After walking through the doors, Macen and Sophia and I are covered in rainbows. The stained-glass windows must have been recently cleaned because the colored light floods the school hallways, making everything (including the drab uniforms) a little more cheerful.
Mayday jabs me in the side, “Look at you! Finally wearing some color,” he jokes.
I roll my eyes but smile (so he knows I didn’t take it poorly). “I’m thinking about pastels again….” I confess.
So-So points to my neck, “I’m glad to see the necklace is back from the cleaners.”
Nodding, I don’t quite look at her. Wearing the necklace today is a big step. I had worn the Royal Family amethyst necklace every single day since it was given to me by Papa. Mama had found a perfect ring to match when I started high school that I tried to wear just as often. And then He had given me a perfect bracelet to match, and it instantly became my signature set. So then… well, the breakup happened, and the bracelet is somewhere in the depths of my closet and the ring didn’t seem right without the bracelet, and since I was down two of the three, why even bother?
This morning I finally realized why… because I’m still me. I am still my mama and papa’s daughter - I’m still Princess Lorianna Natashia Belladora Romenovf. I could always rebuild the set (just as I can rebuild my life, rebuild myself) but I have to start somewhere.
“I even agreed to accompany Mama to the gala next Saturday.”
In the past few months, they learned that my mind took paths they may not be able to follow and it was easier to just go with it. So instead of questioning how the gala has anything to do with the necklace, So-So smiles and links her arm around mine.
“My father will be so pleased! And now I’ll have someone to talk to with the adults drone on about all that boring stuff.”
The three of us share laughter just as we enter the John Quincy Adams auditorium for the first day assembly. Finding three seats together towards the back, towards the end of the row, we sit quietly. When we see a few people we know, I try my best to be animated. Even if my other halves do most of the conversational heavy-lifting, I try my hardest to keep eye contact with the right people and emote.
Fifteen minutes or so go by and finally everyone’s called to attention. Already feeling exhausted, I slouch in my chair and cannot imagine how I’m going to make it through the rest of the day.
Of course, all my teachers were given a full-length brief on my mental health and my ‘delicate’ nature. At first, this made me frustrated. But when Misses Fletcher stopped me on the way out of third period and explained “if you ever need more time on a test or assignment, let me know okay? Or if it’s too much to take the test in here, there’s a room in the library you can use” and when Mister Moorea stopped me on the way out of sixth period and said “if you ever need to step out of class, just to get a breath or see the nurse, don’t hesitate all right? Obviously, I trust you not to abuse it, but you don’t ever have to explain yourself” I started to feel better. Though I’d always been told that honestly is the best policy, I was finally starting to see the benefits of being upfront about my mental illness.
And, finally, just minutes away from the final bell, I feel myself relax. Even though it was hard and tiresome and sometimes confusing, I’d made it through my first day. I’d made it through the first day ‘oh my gosh it’s so great to see you’s, the ‘oh wow, I didn’t know we’d have this class together’s, and even the ‘how was your Summer? That trip to Italy looked ah-maze-ing’s. Just a few minutes and then I’d see Macen and Sophia before getting into the nice quiet car and heading home. And the best part? I hadn’t even taken the medicine I could have! I’d done it! All by myself.
Feeling more confident, I didn’t wait until the rest of the class left before gathering my stuff. More normal, I walk out with the rest of them, actually participating in a conversation Cynthia is having with Andrea. Into the hall, though, Cynthia wraps up their chat and leads me to where we’re supposed to meet with everyone. We’d seen each other at lunch, obviously, but it really is nice to have such support as Macen and Parker, Sophia and Eric, Cynthia and Jessica, and Toby.
There are one too many male bodies when we get there, though, and I feel myself choke on my own spit. Stopping so abruptly, a blonde girl has no choice to bump into me. She says sorry quickly, though I don’t even respond as I stare at the back of black-haired head. Macen, who’d been standing against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, sees me and shakes his head.
Even that small, subtle gesture is enough to get everyone’s attention. I’d managed all day. All day without even seeing Him. And there he is, turning to me with a smile.
His eyes shine a little, more blue than grey, the corners wrinkling in the way they do when he really smiles. His real smile is so wide a sliver of gum peaks out. A smile so real, for just a split second it seems like everything that happened in the past one hundred and two days never happened.
But they did.
So, now I have to walk away.
TO BE CONTINUED in the novel - available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.