My fingers tapped against my lips anxiously as I sat in my parked car. I looked out at the parking lot and watched the building before me, trying to build up the strength to get up and walk toward it. Everyone else was going on like any other normal day, and it made me sick. A piece of hair fell from the bun on the top of my head, tickling my cheek. I brushed it back and the small, familiar motion gave me a bit of strength. It was now or never.

Mustering all the courage I possessed, I flung the door open, being careful of the pickup truck beside it. I bit down on my lip, watching my navy flats take the first step on the pavement in the direction of the old brick building that was Roseno High School.

“I can do this,” I breathed, taking another tiny step. “I can do this.” Somehow, my foot reached the first stair leading to the double glass doors, and I inhaled sharply. “I can’t do this.”

I pushed my bangs out of my flushed face, feeling the panic coming over me. I didn’t, I couldn't understand it. Right at that moment, my father was at his office, my mother was at a meeting, and Aven was god knows where. They were going on as if nothing had ever happened. As if they hadn’t sat down in the living room and announced no one had a clue if Mom was going to live to see Christmas.

I didn't know how they did it, but I sure as hell couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t. I had no idea how I could swat away the cloud of terror and depression hanging over my head. I didn’t know, but I had no choice but to figure it out, and soon. Gallaghers did not show weakness, especially in public places. And it certainly felt like all eyes were on me.

“Is that Rylan I see, getting here the same time as me?”

I turned, watching a smiling blond girl approach. I took a deep breath and tried not to look like a deer caught in headlights. I gave a half-hearted smile before my gaze turned again to my feet. I knew if I met the cheery gaze, it would give me away and I would lose it.

“Yeah, Aven messed with my alarm clock. How was the early Thanksgiving at your grandparents, Cam?” I asked quickly, desperate to get the attention off of me.

I quickened my pace to match my friend's as we walked into the school. It was filled with students, trying to waste another twenty minutes before the morning bell chimed. I felt like I was being suffocated and swallowed whole by the crowd.

“Boring as hell,” Cam replied, rolling her big, brown eyes. “What did I miss here?”

“Not much,” I said nonchalantly, my eyes darting around. I tried to look normal, but I could feel my eyelids drooping from a lack of sleep and my hands sweating.

I saw a mop of golden curls sitting at a table across the commons, completely oblivious. Brent was immersed in his notes, trying to study last minute for a test, just like always. I almost smiled at the look on his face, but my thoughts kept chanting the same thing. Each time, it stabbed me through the heart and that smile was forced farther and farther back.

“Ry, did you even hear a thing I said?” Cam asked suddenly, and my eyes widened apologetically. I knew I just should have faked sick for a few days and took the easy way out, but it was too late for that now.

“Sorry. I don’t know where my head is,” I said lamely, crinkling my nose.

Cam chuckled, leading the way over to where Brent was. Vera had materialized by his side, and a large, black travel mug filled with what could only be something highly caffeinated clutched tightly in her hand. I did my best to keep my face indifferent as I slid into the spot next to Vera.

“Morning,” Cam chirped, perching on the faux-wood bench. Brent looked up from the literature book, giving a sleepy, crooked grin.

“Hey Cam. Have fun in New Hampshire?” he asked, earning him a death glare. Once she was sure Brent had gotten the full effect of her resentful look, Cam buried her head in her arms, resting against the tabletop. She let out a muffled scream and we all jumped a little bit.

“Shh, it’s too early for all this noise,” Vera whined, rubbing her temples with one hand as she took a sip of coffee.

Brent raised an eyebrow, turning his gaze to me. I panicked and quickly averted my eyes, knowing he’d figure out something was wrong with just that one glance. Something about growing up together gave him the ability to recognize my fake smiles, and as thankful as I was for it most of the time, right now I couldn't handle it. If he saw, he'd ask what was wrong. If I had to talk about it, I wouldn’t be able to stay strong and composed. All I wanted was to make it through the day.

“What did I say?” he whispered. I knew was talking to me and pointed at Cam to clarify. Once he nodded, I rolled my eyes. I didn't get a chance to help him out though, because Cam popped up and launched into a rant

“It’s bad enough that I have to make up all of the homework and tests I missed, but I was stuck squished on a couch between my aunt the cat lady and my mother, who can't stand each other, by the way, listening to Gran pressuring my cousins to get married—don't give me that look, it's not to each other—and to make matters worse, I was in the middle of nowhere! No Internet. No cell reception. No mall.”

Cam slammed her head against the dark linoleum of the table, another small scream escaping her glossed lips. Next to her, Vera’s eyes were drooping, and she was at a hazardous angle off the bench. My gaze flickered between the two, and I couldn’t help but notice the pure ridiculousness of the whole scene unfolding before me. My eyes met Brent’s, and my lips curved into a legitimate smile. Before I could even realize it, my own laughter echoed in my ears.

It only lasted for a moment, only until I realized what I was doing. My subconscious was yelling at me, and my whole body just seemed to freeze. What was I doing? How could I laugh, actually be joyful, when Mom was dying? What kind of a person did that make me? My answer to the last question made my stomach churn.

I abruptly pushed away from the table, swinging my jean-clad legs over the bench. Apparently it had been a good day to skip the skirts. I took one last look at the table and saw a glimmer of concern flash through Brent’s eyes, but I could care less. Just another thing to add to my growing list of things to feel guilty for. As I drew a shaky breath, I turned my back to them, trying to think through the crippling guilt. Even now, letting my guard down was not appropriate. God, I must have looked like a lunatic.

“I have to ask Mr. Casper a question about the homework,” I mumbled, not caring that we all knew Mr. Casper didn't get to his room until the bell rang or that we hadn't even had homework in that class.

I didn’t wait to hear their responses. I could not deal with any questions or facing up to that blatant lie I just told. It didn’t feel real as I pushed my way through the sea of people and backpacks. I didn’t hear the people screaming or cursing at me as I knocked into them or cut them off. It just sounded like I was underwater, and it felt like I was going to drown.

I practically knocked down the door to the girls’ bathroom in my escape. I quickly checked around the corner for any girls primping or washing their hands and breathed a sigh of relief. I was alone. I leaned against the oak door for support, but to no avail. My slim figure slid right down against it, and I landed in a heap on the gray tiled floor.

In normal circumstances, I would never have pictured myself being so…pathetic. The tears were running mercilessly down my face, staining it shades of black as my mascara washed away. My whole body convulsed with silent sobs and I could hardly breathe. My stomach ached and I felt like puking with all of the emotions and evil thoughts. My fingers clawed at the grimy flooring, desperately trying to escape my own head.

You’re pathetic, my mind taunted. I squeezed my eyelids shut, but it was no use. The image of my mother’s tears filled the darkness I had created.

You’re just as despicable as Aven, laughing like your mom isn’t battling a disease with no cure.

“S-s-stop. I’m not!” I cried to no one, tossing my head against the cool brick walls. As my shrill scream echoed around the tiled walls, the voice in my head sneered, cruel laughter echoing around my brain.

Don’t you care about her? She’s dying, Rylan. There’s not a thing you can do about it, either. You’re useless; can’t even help your own mother.

“Stop!” I whimpered, pulling my knees to my chest and hating myself more and more with every passing second. It was getting harder and harder to breathe, and the walls felt like they were closing in on me. I wasn't even sure if that would be so terrible right now.

“Rylan!” The door behind me shook as someone pounded against it, and I recognized the voice anywhere. I didn't want him here, not now. I just wanted to be alone.

“Go away!” I sobbed, not even bothering to calm my voice. Even if I had wanted to, I don't think I could have.

The pounding didn’t go away, and I could feel the door being pried open beside me. Despite me being a pretty good blockade, I was pushed farther against the wall and a shadow cast over me. I made no attempt to move or look up; I didn't need to see the look of pity and disgust crossing his face. A pair of cool arms enveloped me, and before I knew it, Brent was beside me on the floor of the girls' bathroom. He held me tight so that the sobs couldn't shake me and whispered soothing, pretty words against my hair. I mustered all the courage I could to meet his eyes, and all I saw was concern reflected back at me.

“You shouldn’t be in here. This is the girls’ bathroom; you could get in trouble,” I whispered slowly, my senses returning to me as the demons inside my head retreated back to the dark corners of my mind.

Brent pursed his lips, and I could see him fight the urge to smile as the corners of his lips tugged up. I was too tired to be upset with him; I don't think I could have anyways since I was too busy hating myself.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about right now,” he muttered, and I hiccuped against his chest. I didn't know what to say or how to thank him in that moment. I knew there were no words great enough, so I stayed silent and sniffled a bit in a failed attempt at composure.

He kissed the top of my head gently, holding me closer to him. As I buried my face in his shirt, I felt safe for the first time since the family meeting.
♠ ♠ ♠
Not sure how I feel about this one, might fix it up later. Yes? No? What do you guys think?

xxxo, Sara