Through Grass, Grown Tall


“Chase, I don’t think I can do this. It’s just – it’s not fair.” John was pulling at the vest on his body and then rubbing his hand over his face in frustration. Chase was only making this harder for him. He didn’t understand that everything was far too complicated and that – well – that this whole idea he’d concocted after his blood testings and MRI last night was something John wished he’d have realize was stupid. This wasn’t fair to Hunter, but in noway was it fair to John either. Chase couldn’t grasp how fucked up this whole situation was because he couldn’t know about the truth. The real reason John didn’t want to be the person to take Hunter to her senior prom. Chase couldn’t know that John could barely keep his hands off of her.

Chase was trusting John to take care of Hunter and to make her happy. ‘If only he fucking knew,’ John thought as Chase rolled his eyes from the bed and threw the navy blue tie with silver stripes on it at John, that he’d been told matched her dress perfectly, which John caught with a sense of hesitation and also nervousness.

“I can’t take her, John. I’m too sick and I feel so naseous. I just – I can’t take her. And I can’t stand her up. That would be so fucked up. Just man the fuck up and take my girlfriend to prom.” John shook his head and laughed at this statement as Chase even broke into a smirk and nodded his head at John who was now finishing the knot on the tie and buttoning the rest of the vest up.

“You realize how fucking crazy that sounds, right?”

“I do, but I trust you. You’re my brother, John.” And there it was again; the guilt. John had to turn away from Chase to hide the look on his face and the feeling of just being slapped. John was awful. This was going to be awful and John would never be able to forgive himself for how awful this was all going to end. His body literally couldn’t handle it anymore. He was unraveling at the seams. He almost, for a brief moment, wondered if Chase knew. He almost wondered if this was a test. He almost wondered all of these things, but what really topped his brain was, why the fuck was Chase letting his illness get in the way of making Hunter happy? He’d never allowed it to before.

“Chase…” John had to ask. He needed to know. He needed to know what was going on in Chase’s head to think that this was a good idea. He needed to know that either Chase really was sick or that he had a good reason. This was Hunter’s big night. Hunter had been looking forward to this since before she was even a freshman. She’d planned it all out and talked to Chase about it every year around this time. Even the year before when John had gone to his own prom with a rather lackluster date and even more lackluster desire to go to the actual prom – preferring instead to have skipped the prom all together and gone straight to the after party for the drinks and the gathering of his closest group of trusted friends - but Hunter had dragged Chase out to see all of the seniors take photos and she'd even daydreamed over how great their own prom was going to be. She'd kissed Chase and told him she couldn't wait to be with the most handsome boy at their prom the following year. John had envied this moment between them, but he'd still gotten his own personal proof of a moment he'd never forget. The one before they'd left the house when Hunter had come over and sat around and watched as John got ready. While Jenny ran around and reminded John of all the last minute things he needed to remember before they left. Hunter had laughed at John's annoyance and reminded him to stop rolling his eyes all the while eyeing him up and making sure personally that he'd tied his tie appropriately and that he'd tucked his shirt in the right way. And just when he was all ready to go, Jenny had come in and told Hunter to stand next to John so she could get a photo of the two of them. Hunter had tried to protest saying she wasn't dressed right, but Jenny had waved off her concerns and told her, 'they'd had photos in diapers together - clothing didn't matter,' and so Hunter had winked at John as she'd moved closer and wrapped her left arm around his waist with her right one finding it's way to the side of his hip and his own arm wrapped around her shoulder in the most gentle way. He'd pulled her closer to him and smiled for the camera in a way that none of his photos for the rest of the night could compare to. He was happy, in that moment, with Hunter. And after it was all over and his mother had the photos printed out, John had swiped a copy of it from the orange and red envelope and folded it into his wallet where he still kept it to this day. And sometimes, when he couldn't sleep at night or when Hunter would vanish from his life to be with Chase more often than him, he'd take it out and look at the photo and remember how, even for a moment, he had Hunter's undivided attention caught on film. He would smile at how happy she looked and how funny the contrast between her jean shorts and tank top looked next to his tux and tie, but he always thought she looked beautiful. How she looked like herself. So happy and simple. He would notice how perfect she looked wrapped next to him and how perfectly she fit into his body and how he wanted her to be there, like that, next to him forever. And sometimes, when he knew Hunter was with Chase and he felt lonely, he'd look at the photo and imagine that Hunter had been his date after all. It was funny the lies you could tell yourself so many times that you'd start to believe them.

So that's why John found this entire thing baffling. He knew that Chase loved Hunter and he knew that Chase knew how much Hunter was looking forward to this big night. And how excited she'd been that the doctors had said Chase could go as long as he felt up to it - so what didn't make any sense to him was why, the night before such an event, did Chase decide he wasn't up for it? John might have been a shitty brother when it came to his relationship with Hunter, but he wasn't a shitty enough brother to delusion himself into thinking that Chase was just simply too sick to go. He'd seen Chase worse so many times and had still witnessed him pull through for Hunter. It didn't add up.

"What?" Chase stopped tossing the squishy ball that he'd been given at one of the blood sample testings to help quicken the pace of his blood flow from his docile veins. The O'Callaghan's had millions of these balls lying around the house. When they were a few years younger, and even from time to time now, John and Chase would find these balls in the random spots they had ended up - under beds, behind car seats, in closets and desk drawers - and use them as ammunition against each other. Chucking them at one another was something that was constantly going on in their house and on certain days, other people had become the victims. These little balls had driven Jenny to the brink of insanity a few times, but still, they were never thrown out. In fact, as the years passed and the games John and Chase had invented with them had been forgotten, John would sometimes come across them and almost imagine them to be Easter Eggs of sorts. Little hidden gems from a past that seemed much simpler. But in the same breath, they were also reminders of the life that would soon be lost to the tests that kept being giving with no positive results. Somehow, John found the idea of them as Easter Eggs symbolic. He imagined that even if he could gather up all of the little balls, he'd still never be able to rid the house of them. He'd still never be able to rid himself of the random reminders that his brother had died while he got to live in his sinful life. John would still be the villain no matter what. He thought, as he saw another ball in the back of his closet, that one day, soon, he'd find as many of them as he could and throw them out never to be seen again. He needed to clean up the Easter Eggs; he had to for his own sanity. They were stress reliving devices, but all they brought to him these days was the reminder of all the things he'd done wrong. "What?" John realized that while lost in his thoughts, Chase was still staring at him with a pure look of confusion over the lack of an actual follow up question.

"Tell me the truth."

"What are you talking about?" Chase was leaning his head back against the pillow as his tossing of the ball in the air resumed. John needed to know the truth. He needed to know why Chase was blowing off his girlfriend on the biggest night of their high school career according to her.

John moved to the door and shut it for some privacy. He knew that there was more than a good possibility of his mother lurking nearby trying to overhear her sons conversations. She'd been known to do it before. Mother's were basically members of the CIA. Particularly mother's with sons.

"Tell me the truth." John spoke softly as he caught his reflection in the mirror near the door and let out a breath at the clothes he knew he shouldn't be wearing.

"What truth, John?" Chase let out an exasperated breath and head shake as what John knew was a defense mechanism against his prying questions for actual answers.

"The truth about why the fuck you're willing to blow Hunter, the love of your life, off on the most important night of her life, as she's mentioned a few times before. Don't fuck with me, Chase, I know you know why I'm asking this. I'm your brother, Chase, tell me the truth. Are you really sick?" `

"I'm dying, John, so no shit I'm fucking sick." John shook his head at Chase's words and rolled his eyes at how much of an asshole he probably had the capability of being.

"Go fuck yourself, Chase, this is fucking Hunter we're talking about. Hunter. The Hunter who has done everything for you and loved you unconditionally," John gulped as he said the words because he knew, even in a strange way, that he was lying. And somehow, he knew Chase knew, too. And John felt like shit. "It's Hunter, Chase, tell me the truth. I'll stand by your story of being sick, but tell me the truth."

Chase hesitated and John knew that he was trying to collect his thoughts. He knew this was hard for him. He knew that the truth was always hard - he knew that because John himself had been living a lie for so long. As this point, he didn't even know the truth about anything anymore. His life was one big web of lies.

"I just - I - fuck," he paused and shook his head while gripping the squishy ball as tightly as possible, "I just can't go because - because I want her to have a good time."

This made John cringe in the way that told Chase he was being stupid without even having to say it. It made no sense. It was Chase; Hunter would always find a way to be happy with Chase - that was what drove John crazy. He could love her as much as he wanted and work so hard to make her love him back, but Chase would always be there... until he wasn't. "What?" John asked in a tone that told Chase he was so fucking confused.

"I want her to have a good time, John. Not be stuck with the sick kid all night who can't keep up. She's waited for this night for so long and I want her to be happy. She'll be... she'll be happier if I don't hold her back. She'll be happier with you." John felt like he'd been punched, but he was trying to keep it together. He knew that Chase meant it in the nicest way possible, but it still broke John's heart. He knew, even then, that despite how much Hunter loved Chase and how John always felt like second best, Chase would always feel like he couldn't provide Hunter with the things that John could. 'Maybe Chase did know about them,' he thought quickly and with a guilt ridden taste in the back of his throat. He thought, for a moment, that he might puke.

"Chase -"

"No, John, look, I want Hunter to have the time of her life and I - I can't keep up. I'm sick and everything takes me longer. I want her to be a senior for one night and not the girl who is constantly taking care of me and waiting for me. I want her to act her age. I want her to be happy, John. You - you know how to make Hunter happy when the world is spinning to fast for her to get control. You've always been able to make her happy. I've - I've always envied that relationship you have with her and - and I want her to have fun. I want her to dance and laugh and go out after and drink with her friends. I want her to do all of those things with someone who I know cares about her and loves her and wouldn't hurt her. I want you to take her and keep and eye on her. You're my brother, John. No matter what, you're my brother and I know you'll take care of her. I need her to know that you'll always be there - even after this, all of this, is over. You know what I mean?" Chase was putting his trust in John and it only made John feel worse. Deep down, John knew that Chase was aware of what was going on behind his back. How could he not? All the random times Hunter went missing. All the times John was late for dinner or out of the house for hours on end. John knew Chase wasn't stupid. If anything, he was always the more intelligent brother. But for some reason, John could just feel it that Chase knew. They were brothers after all; they had these odd senses about things. But instead of telling Chase the truth and ruining everyone's night, John did the only thing he could think of.
He promised Chase he'd always be there for Hunter. No matter what. And that, that was a promise John intended to take to his own grave and beyond. Through grass, grown tall.


He could feel the breeze from the ceiling fan above him wafting over his body and moving the overgrown pieces of his hair around enough that it was causing him to wake up. He could hear the air conditioning kicking on in the distance and the whirl of a vacuum running on the floor below, but none of that was as important as the soft breaths of the girl lying next to him. John managed to peak open his eyes enough that the sunlight from beyond the dark curtains barely burned his eyes and he licked his lips at the realization that last night wasn't a dream. That he was, in fact, in Hunter's bed. And that even more than that, she was still clinging to his body as if it was the only thing keeping her alive. And in some ways, he thought quickly, it probably was. He used his free hand to wipe at his eyes and remove the last granules of sleep from the corners of his eyes before moving that hand over Hunter's body and pulling her closely as softly as he could. If she needed him; John needed her just as much. And as he watched her sleep, while taking in the gaunt look of her cheekbones and her sunken eyes, he realized one true thing - she was still his Hunter. John leaned his head down and kissed her forehead and let out a breath into her hair that was one of almost relief. He knew that when she woke up none of this wold be easy, but it would have to be a start. They had to make a start somewhere. She looked so peaceful, drained and tired, but peaceful. And even if sleep was the only place Hunter was capable of finding peace these days, John promised himself it wouldn't be like that forever. He promised himself neither of them would be like this forever.

He could feel her stirring as he looked around her room and tried to remember all of the times he'd been there before. Hell, he could remember all of the times he'd been in this bed before and woken up in similar positions like this. He could recall how those times had always started with one of them waking up before the other and then shyly staring at the other as if it was all a dream. A perfect dream where they both made sense together and where it was easy for them to just be. A little world they'd created in the cocoon of fluffy, down blankets that covered Hunter's bed and hid them from the world. He could remember, how on many of those mornings, the world seemed to stand still for the two of them as they both met each other gazes and moved closer to one another. Meeting for small kisses in shy manners before moving closer to each other and picking up from the previous nights actions; forgetting the world a little longer. He could remember all of those moments and he could probably categorize them by days and weeks of how much he loved her. Because God, did he fucking love her. And as he stared at her room now, like he'd done so many times before, he realized one thing was missing - the photos. All of the photos that had lined her walls and created a collage of moments and memories was just gone. Vanished. Like none of those moments had ever happened before. Like they'd been removed from her life entirely. Like he'd been removed from her life entirely. And he felt a pang in his chest that, even with all the loss he'd felt before, he'd never felt this way. But that's when he remembered, he might have still been John and she still might have been Hunter, but so much was different now. And waking up here, like this, with her, was only the beginning of how different it actually all was.

"John?" Hunter's right arm was moving from John's waist, and even with his body still under the covers, he could feel how much colder everything seemed to be with that one action alone. "What are you doing here?" She was sitting up and holding her probably throbbing head as John watched her with sad eyes at the realization that neither of them could ever be the people they were before. That nothing would ever be that simple. Not at least, until everything was out in the open. Not until they'd escaped their cocoon and faced the real world; together. "Why is the room spinning so fucking badly?" John let out a breath and rubbed his hand over his face as his left hand moved from the small of her back where it was still situated and propped himself up in her bed enough that he, too, was sitting up now.

"You showed up at Halvo's last night and got annihilated." John's voice was even raspier than usual and his own body hurt just looking at her. It was like every nerve in his body was working overtime to try and understand how they had gotten here. How they had both become these people. Like each nerve was pulsating with the knowledge of knowing every part of Hunter's body and how it worked and also pulling back because they didn't even know her at all; not anymore. Hunter's eyes peaked out from her hands and John could sense the embarrassment in her stare. But he could also sense the anger. The anger that he was lying in her bed. The anger that she'd let herself become vulnerable - even for just a moment. The anger that she was still even alive.

"But why are you here?" Her voice was sort of harsh. And whether it was from the alcohol leaving her system or the fact that John was shirtless in her bed, he wasn't fully sure, but he knew they were probably equal at this point. And he didn't give a shit. She'd asked him to stay - and he did. He'd always stay if she asked. He'd always be there, even if she didn't. That was his promise. One that he intended on keeping.

"You asked me to stay." It was that simple and even though it really was that easy, Hunter still looked away. She looked towards her dark violet curtains with the presence of light glowing from behind them and she let out a breath. A sigh really. One that John couldn't quite place in the spectrum of emotions he knew Hunter to have. But he'd gotten this far and he wasn't about to let her push him away or get angry at him or tell him she wanted to die. He knew, in this moment, with her eyes strained on the curtains and her posture so sad and defeated that he had his moment to try and start new. It wasn't the same as all those other mornings where they'd laid in bed and kissed secretly as if they hoped the world would never find them. And how they'd held onto each other for dear life while the world outside changed and moved so rapidly that they were all each other could count on. No, now it was different. They were on opposites sides of the bed with no part of their bodies touching and Hunter's mind taking her places John could only imagine, because his was doing the same, but he wasn't going to let her go. He couldn't. He knew, just looking at her, that he had to fix her. He had to fix them. He wanted to reach out and grab her and pull her closer to him. Back to where she was pressing her body into his and staring straight into his eyes and telling him that she needed him. He wanted to undress her and feel every part of her skin against his. Not even that he wanted to fuck her, because he did, but he just wanted to feel her. To feel her breast move against his chest as her lungs worked to keep her alive. And he wanted to press his hands into her hips and watch as her skin got covered in goosebumps. He wanted to feel her wiggle her cold toes under his legs to try and get warmth, like she'd done so many nights before. He wanted her as close to him as he possibly could have he because he needed to know she was still the same. He needed to know he could make her feel alive. Fuck, he just needed to know he could make her feel anything at all. That anyone could, honestly.

But he knew he couldn't do that. He knew she'd push him away and she'd fight him on it. He knew they weren't back there at that level yet. Fuck, they were still on opposite sides of the bed and that broke his heart a million times more. So instead he did the only thing he could think of to make sure she knew that he wasn't going to let her go so easy. He pushed the blankets from his body and he stood up and reached for his shirt quickly before throwing it over his torso and noticing how her eyes had moved towards him with sadness and longing and desire all wrapped into one. And even if those things disappeared as quickly as they'd shown up, he still knew they were there. And that, god, that was more than enough. "Do you want to get breakfast?" She looked confused at his question, but her brows furrowed at the realization of the simplicity of the words. And after a moment, she took a deep breath and shook her head softly with a smirk settling onto her lips at what he'd just asked. Because no matter what the distance between them was or how much they'd lost over the years, there was one thing that John could never forget about Hunter Champagne and that was this; the girl fucking loved breakfast.

After he'd shown up at her house on her prom night with her face falling at the realization that Chase wasn't coming and her body trying to react quickly enough to not make John feel like second best, once again, she'd smiled at him and told him how handsome he'd looked. And after they'd taken photos with Maggie and Rosa coming up with all kinds of poses and places to photograph them in, he'd smiled at her and asked her if she was ready to go. She'd laughed at him and told him to be more excited, but he wasn't sure he could be. Because as they left the house and drove towards the place where the prom was being held, all he could think about was the boy sitting back at home who would always miss out. And with Hunter's hand holding onto his as he drove, he could tell she felt it also.

They'd shown up and danced and greeted their friends and Shay had eyed them up with such anger while demanding to know where Chase was. And after Hunter had rolled her eyes at the girl and reminded her of the simple fact that Chase was sick and fucking dying, John had pulled her away and taken her to the middle of the dance floor as one of the last slow songs of the night was starting to play. "I'm sorry you got stuck with me," he'd told her as his eyes looked over her shoulder afraid that he'd see the real heartbreak in them from the truth that he wasn't who she'd wanted dancing with her. But instead, she'd placed her head on his chest and pulled his body closer to her own and whispered words that even to this day could give John chills when he'd thought about them, "You're exactly who I wanted to be with, John. This moment is perfect because of you." And then he heard her sniffle a little and he pulled her as close to him as he could, because he knew, even then, that this wasn't easy for her either. That she felt guilty for the truth - it had always been John, even when it was Chase. He'd kissed her forehead and closed his own eyes as their bodies moved slowly together. And even though he could feel the eyes of most of the people around them on the two, he didn't care. Because even if those people thought they understood what was going on - they didn't. They didn't understand how out of all the people who lived on Earth, only those two people - John and Hunter - would ever be able to understand what was actually going on between them. Because it couldn't be described or understood by anyone else. It could only be felt. And as John told her he understood and whispered that he loved her, with the crescendo of the soft pop hit playing over head, he knew that no matter what, from this point on, it'd always been him and it would always have to be.
After the song ended and the DJ started to announce kings and queens and other shit that didn't matter to the two, John had leaned over, close enough so Hunter could hear him over all the commotion, and asked her the one question he'd been dying to be asked on his own prom - "Do you wanna get out of here?" Hunter had nodded enthusiastically and pulled John behind her with their hands intertwined and their bodies moving quickly through the mass groups of people with the eyes of a few still watching them go. And as John shut the door behind them he happened to catch two sets of eyes staring right back at him - Shay's and Eric's, who'd come along as some girls date. And even though John ignored the two, he couldn't help but feel like all the secrets they were keeping would soon bubble over and wash away all they'd held sacred. He knew the seas were turning - he just didn't want to admit it.

"Where are we going?" She'd asked as they'd reached John's truck and he'd helped her climb in without messing up her dress. John thought about it for a moment at he let the keys linger in the ignition long enough for him to decide.

"Anywhere you want, Hunter. I'll take you anywhere you want." And when she smiled back at him and moved her hand to grasp his, John didn't even think twice about the fact that he'd pulled her closer and kissed her softly in a place that so many people could have spotted them. He didn't care because he wasn't lying. He'd go anywhere with Hunter Champagne and that was the Gods honest truth.

"I want pancakes and eggs." She'd said it so seriously that John had to laugh at how easy it was for her to decide and something he should have guessed. John had wanted to get wasted after his own prom, but Hunter, all Hunter wanted was comfort food. Breakfast, to make her feel better about the fact that she'd told John so much about her feelings, while still saying so little.

"Then breakfast it is." He'd answered as he threw the car into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot quickly enough to get them on the main road and towards whatever breakfast place came up first. He wasn't sure exactly where they were going or even what they would talk about when they got there, but he knew that he was with Hunter and dammit, that was enough.

"I do love breakfast," Hunter had answered as she herself got out of the bed and tried to adjust her balance to the standing hangover that she now had. And John just smiled at the words she said because even if Hunter wasn't the same, and neither was he, at least they knew the truth about each other; some things just never change. Breakfast and all.

But they never even made it out of the house for breakfast.

Instead, by the time the two had made it down the stairs they could smell the wafting of eggs and french toast all the way up to Hunter's room and the soft music of Frank Sinatra playing from the kitchen. "Rosa," Hunter had mumbled with a smile looking like the girl John had known his whole life - the one that made his heart melt - before following her quickly moving body down the back staircase and into the kitchen of most people's dreams where they watched as Rosa, like so many mornings before, moved around with such ease and pride. Mixing and stirring and concocting that she almost didn't even notice them until Hunter was walking across the dark hardwood floors and pulling out a chair for herself. John started to follow, but as his eyes caught Hunters he silently questioned if this would be weird. But he never got the answer.

"John, you still like french toast with vanilla in it, right?" John wasn't fully sure how Rosa had known he was there or even remembered that he liked when she added the splashed of vanilla extract into the batter to make it taste sweeter, but she had. And he couldn't stop the smile that creeped it's way onto his lips.

"I do still love that, Rosa, but if you've made it some other way -"

"Nonsense, John, you know you can always have what you want in this house. Hunter, I can make pancakes if you want?" Rosa sounded nervous asking Hunter this like she was expecting Hunter to throw a fit or tell her she wasn't even hungry. Something, John assumed, was common these days around the Champagne house.

"French toast is fine, Rosa." She said it softly and nervous in her own sense like she didn't want to trouble Rosa anymore. Like she was starting to wake up and realize that she'd been nothing but trouble these last few weeks - fuck years - in this house. Rosa nodded and quickly brought over plates filled with food. She laughed as Hunter's eyes went wide and shook her head at the realization that her own plate was filled much more than John's. "I can't eat all of this, Rosa."

"Well, you can try," And that was the end of the conversation for Rosa.

Because as much as Rosa had raised Hunter was as much as she'd never given up on her. She'd never given up on either of them. And when shit hit the fan all those years ago - it was Rosa who'd been the messenger in telling John that Hunter had left town and it was Rosa who'd held him as he'd cried when he'd come to the house looking for her. It was Rosa who'd understood the apologies John had babbled out and kept repeating. It was Rosa who'd told John the one thing he needed to hear then, "Hunter loved you, John. She loved you, but she loved Chase, too. And even if the love was equal sometimes, she knew she'd never stop loving you. She had to stop loving Chase, John. That was God's plan. But this - this mess you two have gotten yourself into is something that neither of you need right now. You need to grieve, John. He was your brother, your only brother and he loved you so much. And Hunter needs to grieve, too. You have to let her do that. Even if it means you have to let her go."

"But I need her." He'd sobbed as Rosa had held him closer to her body. Something he knew she'd done for Hunter so many times before. He'd witnessed it after her mom died and after she'd broken her wrist falling out of that tree or even after her father had yelled at her over something that father's do. He'd watched Rosa care for Hunter more than anyone else and he knew that she was heartbroken over her disappearing also. But she was caring for John now, because someone had to. Because she somehow understood that sometimes - fuck - sometimes you just can't help who you fall in love with.

"I know you do, John, I know, but she'll be back. I can feel it in my bones. I know my Hunter, John, and you know her too. She needs to be on her own to figure it out, but she'll be back because only you can fix her. You just have to let the world take it's course, John. You just have to believe." John had wiped his eyes and nodded his head at her words. He didn't fully understand them and he didn't think that the world really had a course or a path for everyone. That was Sunday school shit, and John had broken so many commandments and violated so much trust that at this point he didn't think his sins warranted him the allowance to even believe like that anymore. Because what kind of sick path was the world on that it needed to take his younger brother from him for no reason?

It didn't make sense.

"Chase needed to be loved, John, and Hunter did that for him. And someday, when you really need to be loved, when you are at your weakest and you can't even fathom going on, the world will set it's course right for you. And you will find the love you need to be fixed. You just have to believe." She'd said it like she knew John wouldn't be fixed for a long time. Like she knew that all of his grief and anguish and pain would take years to understand and get over. She said it like she knew, that in the future, it would still come back to Hunter and John. And in that moment - that was all he needed to hear. Just the simple possibility that Hunter would be back. And that would be enough for him to keep trying to move forward.

And as he sat with Hunter, here now, across from him at the table cutting small pieces of French Toast and placing them delicately in her mouth, he realized something he almost thought he never would. He realized how much he needed to be loved by Hunter no matter what the cost of that love might do and no matter what people said. He needed her because, god, she needed him so much, too. Because she was the only reason he'd even kept attempting to move forward. She'd always made him want to move forward; and that was not something you just let go easily.

They'd finished breakfast with mild conversation with Rosa about what their plans for the day were and how happy she was to see John's truck in the driveway that morning. Rosa had eyed them both up as they spoke individually to her and not to much to each other, but she'd let it slide. She was just happy that Hunter was alive and even conversing with John. She was just happy that her two kids were still here, eating breakfast together and trying to right all the wrongs. Even if there were so many wrongs and even if one of her kids was missing. Rosa just knew her prayers of desperation for Hunter to be okay would finally be answered. The world was righting it's path.

"You two should go out and get some sun, God knows you could use some color, Hunter." Rosa said to the girl with a smirk on her lips as Hunter pushed away the last few bites of her plate leaving it with much less than any of them thought she'd be able to. Something that John was thankful for witnessing.

"Every time I leave the house I only end up in trouble, Rosa, I'm not sure why you keep insisting that I continually do it." Hunter had said it in a matter of fact way. One that made John cringe at the truth and close his eyes quickly as if he was trying to push the image of Hunter leaving with the man from the wedding, crying on the front driveway as they fought, being put into that ambulance, and puking out of his window all from his memory.

"Well, you stayed here and almost killed yourself, so honestly, I'm not sure you're safe anywhere, but at least I know you're with John if you go out. At least I know the trouble you'll find might be the kind that will fix you." Rosa was gathering the dishes as she said this and her words cut Hunter to the core, John could tell that, but he was thankful someone had said them. He was thankful that someone knew Hunter was a mess, also. He was thankful that someone else cared about her enough to let her know the fucking truth. That all the shit she'd done didn't just hurt her - it hurt everyone.

"Maybe we could go for a drive." John had asked her softly as she kept her vision on the table in front of her picking at the crumbs that were left behind. He could tell she was embarrassed, but he didn't care. He just needed to spend time with her. He needed to say so much. They both did.
"I guess." Her voice was raspy like she was trying to hold back the cry in her throat. He wanted to tell her it was okay, but he wasn't sure himself that it was. He wasn't sure of so much when it came to Hunter. He moved from the table and walked towards Rosa who was washing the dishes silently and he hugged her in a way that you would hug a mother or your favorite aunt. The kind of hug that lets them know how much you love them and how thankful you are for them even if you can't say the words. Rosa hugged him back and told the two of them to be careful. Before John walked across the room and held out his hand for Hunter to take. And when she put her smaller hand inside of his larger one, hesitantly of course, he still felt the spark that he needed to know she was still his. He pulled her up from the chair and out of the house without stopping. They made their way to his truck and despite the fact that Hunter had hurled her guts up out the window last night, the car wasn't a complete disaster. So he helped her into his front seat and he shut the door behind her, but not before he'd leaned in and kissed her softly on her un-expecting cheek. Maybe they weren't the same kids they were all those years ago, but they were still John and Hunter and they still needed each other more than anything in the world. Hunter held her hand over the spot that John had just kissed her and even as John walked around to the drivers side door he caught a glimpse of her in the rearview mirror and he could see her smiling softly. And no conversation could make him know more than that symbol alone that things, between them, would eventually be okay. No matter what came next.

They'd been stopped at the overlook for the town, they'd grown up in, just off the common hiking mountains in the east part of the valley for long enough for both of them to have had the need to say something; but they didn't. They'd climbed out of John's truck after he'd stopped it, wordlessly, and pulled down the back hatch of the car to sit. John had backed into one of the few spaces that even existed there so the two could take in the view of the the town. The place, where if you looked closely still, you could see remnants of their lives happening; together. Hunter's legs were dangling from the car and John's feet were scrapping the dusty pebble ground. They both looked at if they were staring at something. As if, to any passerby, it just seemed as if they were focused on something below. However, John was really just looking for something to say that wouldn't send Hunter running and pummeling off the side of the cliff that started only feet away.

Hunter, on the other hand, was trying to remember what it felt like to be happy. Or rather, content. Because in this moment, with the silence around them and the light swirl of the wind running it's way over her face and hair and down her back leaving a gently, kissed feeling behind, and nothing just the sun beating down on her skin - that's how she felt. Content. She knew John wanted to talk, and fuck, she knew there was just so much to say, but she wasn't sure she was ready to hear it. Hell, she wasn't sure she even wanted to hear it. And she wasn't sure when she'd be ready. She knew that so much of the past had gotten fucked up and there were still so many secrets left to unfold, but here, basically alone - with only the boy who held her whole world in the palm of his hand and could crush it any minute - she didn't want to have those conversations. It wouldn't end very well. But then she felt it; John's hand covering her own fingers as they pressed palm down into the bed of the truck. She felt his fingers intertwine with hers in a way she hadn't experienced since the life before Chase died. It felt like compassion - she didn't even know what that word was anymore at this point. And somehow, despite the time and circumstance between them - Hunter felt like she was actually glad to be here; with him. Her stomach calmed and her head stopped spinning, and for just a small moment, she felt like she'd be okay. Like they'd be okay. She was ready, it seemed, in her mind, to own up to her past. Because that's what he deserved. Because he deserved to be fixed, too.

"I missed you while you were gone," John's voice was so soft that the slight summer breeze that was still hitting them almost took his words and pushed them in the opposite direction of Hunter's ears. The world almost pulled his confessions away, but with the world realigning it self like it seemed to be doing so often recently, that the world had placed them together for a purpose and nothing was going to stop them from figuring it all out. She didn't answer him. She didn't see the point and part of John was so thankful at her resistance. Because it meant, in a way, that she cared enough to be scared of what happened next. John was terrified. "I missed you, but I hate what you've become." And there it was; the truth. Hunter closed her eyes tightly and tried to block out the truth of John's words. She tried to block out the blatant harshness and she tried to imagine that they weren't true. But even she knew, god even she knew the truth, she, too, hated who she'd become. She just never imagined she'd ever live to experience John's hatred first hand. It was something she didn't enjoy.

"Hunter, you have to say something." John was almost desperate now, his voice rising an octave so there was no chance the wind could take it in a different direction. His grip on her hand seemed to loosen, but at no point did it ever seem to get stronger; it just stayed constant. John had always stayed constant. He'd been there when Chase was too sick and he would have been there for her to figure it all out after he'd died. He'd have fought for her, and loved her against everything everyone would have said about them. He'd have been able to figure it all out. Teach her not to worry and care about what other people thought. He'd had made it all okay. But Hunter had abandoned that, and honestly, she wasn't sure why John was even still trying. She didn't deserve it. "Say something, Hunt." Pleading. She'd never heard John plead and it chilled her to the core. In all those years of John having to watch Chase, his baby brother, die, she'd never once heard John plead for the roles to be reversed. She knew he had always felt that way, deep down of course, but she'd never actually witnessed it. But here, for a girl who was still alive and apparently couldn't die no matter how much she tried and wished, John was pleading. It made both of them realize the importance of this situation.

"There's nothing to saw, John."

"Nothing to say, Hunter? Nothing to say? Are you fucking kidding me?" Again the decibels of his voice were rising and Hunter tried to pull her hand away from under Johns, as a desire to avoid the oncoming fight, but John gripped her hand harder and turned his body so he was staring at her full on. "Hunter, you fucking left. You just vanished. I needed you and you left. You owe me an explanation. You owe me my whole fucking wasted time on you."

"I owe you nothing, John." Her voice was raspy and her eyes were starting to well with saline and in any other situation John would have stopped, but this wasn't any other situation. This was his life she was fucking with. This was his brother, who had died in a tragic, pathetic, way, and she didn't seem to give two shits about the truth that came out after. He lost his family for so long because of her and she owed him nothing?

"No. No. You owe me all of the love I gave you back, Hunter. You rung me dry of ever being able to love another person. Don't you see that?"

"Please, John, I'm sure you could find some girl to bone you and fall for your charm." John shook his head and threw her hand back at her as he stood from the truck and paced in front of her. Gripping his hair and huffing out breaths.

"Fuck you, Hunter." He screamed the words into the air as his voice betrayed him and showed the signs of weakness in his bones. And that's when Hunter saw it - the fact that he wasn't the same carefree John he'd been all those years before. He wasn't the same person; and she was the reason. "Fuck you. I loved you. I've always loved you. I did everything for you. I ruined my relationship with my brother, Hunter, my fucking brother, for you. When - when you left and the truth came out about us, my mother couldn't look at me for weeks. Don't you get it, Hunter, I did everything for you and I gave everything for you. And all you gave me was a vanishing act and taillights into the dark of night to who the fuck knows where. If you didn't love me you shouldn't have let me believe I had a chance. Because I never had a chance, did I?" John was standing over her and screaming the words in a voice Hunter had never heard. He was screaming and echoing in the canyon below. Birds were flying off cacti and crows were calling and Hunter felt like this wasn't real. That this couldn't be real. Because nothing John was saying way true.
"Of course I loved you, John." Hunter went to say more, but John laughed. Laughed an evil laugh that shut her up on a dime and made her shake her head and look away from him. He didn't even care. He wanted to hurt her. Hurt her the same way she'd always hurt him.

"No, Hunter, you didn't. People who love each other don't just leave when you need them most. Don't you get that? Can't you think of anybody but your fucking self?" And that's when Hunter lost it. John's eyes were filling with tears and the fight in him seemed to be coming to and end. He was giving up on her. Realizing the things she'd known about herself for so long, but not the things that were true when she'd been the girl he'd grown up with.


"Don't. Don't. I don't need to be pitied anymore and I don't need to be fixed. Not by you. Not by someone who can't even fix them self." John's back was towards Hunter at this point and his hands were sitting on his head as his chest heaved in for breaths. "I'm tired of letting you run shit. I'm tired of loving you and always coming up empty handed. I'm tired of being second best. Because that's what I was, wasn't I, Hunter, second best?"

"John -"

"Chase was dying and you had no one else so you used me. I loved you and you used me. You left when I needed you. You walked out on me so many times to try and fix a relationship with someone who you knew you'd lose. And when you lost him, you walked out on the only person who would have been there for you no matter what. Do you know what that's like, Hunter?

"John -"

"Answer me! Do you know what that's like? Do you know what it's like to lose your brother and go to the one person who you have left who understands your losses house and find out they just left without a word? Do you know what it's like to be second best? Do you know what it's like to lose to a person who isn't even alive? Hunter, do you even give a shit?" John was facing her again and Hunter could see the streams of tears on his angled cheekbones. Hunter could see the pain in his body and on his face and she could feel every moment of hurt she'd caused him in her words. Because she couldn't understand. She'd never been walked out on, just pushed away for mistakes she made out of love. She'd never realized how awful she was really being until this moment in time.

"No." Her voice was so quiet John almost missed it, but his body wouldn't betray him like that. His body needed the truth. His mind needed the peace.

"Say it again."

"John." She was pleading with her own tears falling and her breathing becoming labored.

"Say it." His face was stoic and his eyes looked nothing like she'd ever seen before. Hunter didn't know this John and by god, did she never want to know him again.

"No. No I don't know what it's like to be left behind when you had nothing left." Her shoulders quaked and her head fell towards her chest. "But you don't know what it was like to be me, John."

This was something that made John laugh. Laugh that same astonished, evil laugh that he had all those moments before. The laugh that made Hunter's skin crawl and her veins get cold with anger.

"I don't know what it was like to be you? Fuck yourself, Hunter."

"No, John, fuck you. I loved Chase. I loved him and he was my best friend. We grew up together and we had - we had this bond. He knew things about me that I could never even explain to anyone else. He just - he just knew. And - and then he got sicker as we got older and everyone knew he was going to die, John. Do you know what that's like to know in your bones that you're supposed to be with someone for some purpose and that they are going to leave? Do you know what it's like to love someone so much that you can't imagine even losing them, but knowing, inevitably that you have to? No matter what, there's nothing you can do to stop it?"

"Of course I know what that's like, Hunter, Chase was my brother. He was my blood." John scoffed at her stupidity, but he couldn't deny how much her words hurt him. Hunter had felt like she was supposed to be with Chase? What about John? What about all those nights he'd laid with her in full contact of her body and kissed her lips with a passion that he knew no one else could compare with. He knew she'd felt the same about him, too. So hearing her say she felt like she was supposed to be with Chase more was undeniably the worst thing he'd ever heard.

"But he became mine, John. He became my blood. And then - then there was you. You were the only person who I could count on. You knew how to fix everything. You know how to laugh when everything was tough. You knew how to be independent and functioning under all the pain. You know how to take care of me. God, John, you knew how to love me when I couldn't love myself. You still do." She was full on crying now and John was confused. He didn't understand exactly how he didn't understand all of this in Hunter's mind, but he knew she needed to get it out, so he let her. Because sometimes, in fixing each other, you need to know the whole story. "I loved you, John. And that minute you first kissed me, every thing changed for me. I'd always thought I was destined for Chase, but in those moments we shared, the kisses and the sneaking around, I realized I wasn't put here for Chase, I was put here for you. I was just supposed to love Chase because he deserved to experience that, John. I needed you and I loved you, but I owed it to him. Because even if I was destined to be with you, Chase deserved to have the love and the life we'd still be able to have after he was gone. But - but then it got complicated. People started to judge and I tore apart a family, John. A fucking family. I was selfish and foolish and I loved you too soon and too quickly. I - I always chose you, John. Even when I was choosing Chase, I was always choosing you. Because he was your brother and he deserved that. And even if you wanted it to be you all of the time, you knew, that in his last few years, it had to be him. It had to be, and you would have done the same because he was your brother; he was your blood. He deserved happiness even if that meant we had to give up our own. You were never second, John. Never. Fuck, you were everything." Her shoulders were wracking with sobs and her head was falling into her hands and John wanted to reach out and touch her; to let her know he was there. But he couldn't. He couldn't get himself to save her this time. She had to know what it was like to be on your own when all you wanted was someone to comfort you. Even if this would never compare to how he felt for all that time.

"I left because I didn't deserve you, John. I left because I loved you too much to watch you get destroyed by me. I left because I knew you'd be okay. I knew people would forgive you. They always forgive you. I left because it would always be easier for you. You weren't the whore who fucked two brothers and tore a family apart. You weren't the slut that cheated on her dying boyfriend. You'll never know what it's like to be me, John, never. So don't you dare try to compare our losses. Don't you dare."

"Our losses? Our losses? Are you kidding me, Hunter? I lost my brother and my family and all I wanted was you. I wanted to be with you. I needed you. I needed you to help me, Hunter. I needed you and you left. And you took every part of me with you. I'm a fucking shell, Hunter. I knew I'd lose Chase, Hunter, but I didn't know I'd lose you, too."

The two of them stayed silent for a moment with only the sounds of Hunter's sniffles and sobs coming between them. She knew John was right. She knew she'd bailed when he needed her most, but she needed herself. She needed to fix herself. But even that hadn't happened. And by the time she'd realized leaving was a mistake, it was too late.

"I should have stayed, John." And there it was, the truth that they'd both known for so long. The one stupid decision that had gotten them to this point. She should have stayed.

"I hate who you've become," he repeated as he took a cautionary step back towards her and watched as she tried to wipe her tears with the back of her palm as roughly and strongly as she could. "I hate this drunk girl who hates herself. I hate watching you destroy your life when you're even so lucky to be alive. When we're both so lucky to be alive. Because isn't that what the moral of this all was? Us losing Chase, don't waste your life or something biblically as important and similar?"John watched as Hunter shut her eyes so tightly and shook her head as if she was trying to avoid the truth in John's word, but she couldn't hide from the realization that he was right. That everything she'd been doing had only been hurting, not only herself, but him, too. Fuck, it was only hurting all of them, Chase included. Because even if Chase was gone, both of them know, that sometimes, people never really leave you.

"Then I hate you, too, John." Her voice was small and John let out a sigh at how she was fighting him on this. He thought he'd gotten to her, but apparently, Hunter couldn't let it be that simple. Something John knew far too well.

"Hunt -"

"I hate who you are. I hate that you're saying all of these things about me being a drunk and a disaster, but you're just as bad. That first night we had sex - you were wasted. The night you told me you loved me - wasted. All of those sloppy, hidden, secretive moments - wasted. Everything important between us has always been because you were drunk. So don't you tell me I'm a disaster when you've always been just as bad." Her jaw was so tight and her eyes, despite being glazed over, were full of fire and fury and even John knew that part of her words were true, but he knew she wasn't looking at it in the way she should have been. Yeah, he'd been drunk so often in their relationship, but he'd only done it because he'd never have been able to will himself to be that confident without the extra help. He'd only gotten him self wasted so he could be as honest as possible with her. No matter how stupid that sounded.

"Hunter, you have it all wrong," he paused as he moved another step closer to her so her head was now leaning back and her eyes were looking up at him; big and blue and full of everything he'd always loved about her - feeling. "I was drunk and stoned and fucked up those times, not because they meant nothing to me, but because I was positive you'd never look at me the way you'd always looked at Chase. I was just trying to not be second best, Hunter. I was trying to be smooth and strong and confident for you to notice me. I was never the person you'd look twice at. Not the way you looked at Chase. I did all of the things I did with you out of love and want and desire - not out of intoxication." He was shrugging as he said it and blushing shamefully at how stupid it all sounded. How foolish he sounded. How pathetic he looked. He was moving his line of vision from her and keeping his eyes downcast because he didn't want to see her pitying him. He didn't want to see her feeling sorry for him and the person he was always afraid of letting himself be around her. He was afraid she'd see the truth; that he never deserved her - not even once. That she'd realize he was still second best.

"That's stupid, John." She spoke quickly and forcefully. Strongly enough that John's brows furrowed and his eyes shot up to meet her now standing body with confusion. It's stupid because you let those moments between us seem so insignificant. You let us be an intoxication of shame and stupidity. You never needed to be drunk or high or anything, John. You were never second best. It was always you, John. It's always been you. Even when we were kids, despite the fact that I thought I needed to be with Chase, it was you. You - you always intrigued me and haunted my thoughts. I wanted you to notice me. I wanted to be cool enough and smart enough to hang out with you and your older friends. I wanted to be part of your life. God, John, It'll always be you, John, always."

They were both standing so close to each other. Close enough that they could reach out and touch the other person's skin and pull the other person closer if they had wanted to. Close enough that they could see each other's chest's rising and falling with the intake of each new breath and exhale of the last. Close enough that the could have fit together like the puzzle that they'd always been, but neither bridged the gap. Neither moved because they couldn't. Neither moved because they didn't know where the story went next - they only knew where the story had come from. They'd only always know each other's past.

"I want it to always be you, too, Hunter. Always." John spoke with a firmness that Hunter could remember him always having. With a kind of constant belief that she knew him to have always carried that no other person she'd ever known had been able to copy or reproduce. "You just have to stay alive for that to happen." John spoke the words, but at the same time made the move that would change everything from this point on. He reached out and grabbed her hand. And with intertwining fingers and a grip that only tightened as he pulled her closer to him, Hunter knew that John was bridging the gap. They both knew that from this point on - it was only where the story went that mattered to them, not where it had come from. But the issue is, even if two people believe that truth to be true, it doesn't mean everyone else will be just as accepting or willing to see the story the same way.
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So Ketely and I are trying to pick this story back up and move it along pretty quickly. We want people to still enjoy it and read it and love it, the same way we still love it, but it's honestly so depressing that we never get any comments and we're truly putting our hearts and full attention into this story. So if you could, please, leave some feedback and just let us know what you think about the story we'd probably be more inclined to work harder and faster to provide you with these quick updates. So please, for the sake of writing and all that is good in this world, leave us a comment. Drop us a line. Tell us what you hate, what you don't hate, what you want to see happen - anything. We're truthfully begging!!! We want to write this story and we want to enjoy you, but we don't want our hearts broken also!!! Thanks so much for reading! We love you all!!!