‹ Prequel: I Don't Do Lonely Well
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Inside Your Heaven

high school.

“Fuck, I’m so excited to see what Grace and Gin did to the place,” Jack announces as he bounces in his seat. I glance out the window and watch the Baltimore sign fly past us. “Almost home.”
“I’m beyond excited,” Rian agrees. “Cass said it looked great when she went out to visit.”
The final fifteen minutes home is filled with more excited buzz about seeing our new house and our friends and girlfriends and family.
The house is all lit up when the van pulls into the driveway, and I can see three shadows bustling around through the window with the small shadow of what I figure is Sebastian. We bust out of that van like convicts who finally escaped and full out book it towards the door, knocking each other out of the way. Football style. Jack literally tackled Rian to the ground.
I’m luckily the first one in, and Sebastian greets me immediately with a face full of whiny kisses when I bend down to greet him.
“Jesus, Alex, you have the biggest fucking hole in your underwear,” I hear from my left. I stand up and stare at my fiancée with a smile.
“Hello to you, too.” She smiles and throws her arms around me. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.”
Normally, I’d be all for heading straight upstairs and taking care of some business, but tonight I don’t want any of that. Instead, I stay up and listen to Virginia’s stories from school—how she broke up a fight last week in her own office, how for a private high school there’s a lot more sex and drugs than probably the public school, her lunch monitor hours, and of course, Justin.
Someone I’ve grown to have possibly more distaste for than Jordan. And it’s funny that they all start with a J.
“Oh, and there’s a small group of girls that come into the office almost every morning and ask me questions about you. They’re the biggest fans ever,” Virginia gushes. “It’s really precious, actually. One of them came in and told me that she really relates because her brother did the same thing. I meet with her regularly. She’s one of our ‘troubled kids’.” She puts air quotes around the labels and adds in an eye roll. “She’s really not, though. She just had a rough past, and I totally get that.”
“Well, they tried to label me one, too.” She nods and pulls down the covers of the bed and climbs in, snuggling up to me. I instinctively wrap my arm around her and pull her close. “I’d really like to meet them. Her especially.”
She lifts her head off my chest and looks at me excitedly. “Really?” I nod, and she presses her lips to mine. “Would you be okay with coming in tomorrow morning? It’s Monday, and they’re always rough. It might help give these kids a good start to their week.”
“Yeah, absolutely.”

Despite the struggle of waking up so early in the morning, Virginia and I make it to the high school after a stop through the Starbucks drive thru. There aren’t any students, but almost all of the staff is there, and they greet Virginia cheerily. She introduces me to a few of them. “So, this is my office.” She unlocks the door and pushes it open, flicking on the light.
I stand in the doorway and take it in as she unpacks her bag. Her neatly-kept desk sits in the left corner of the room against the wall. A Mac computer sits in the corner of the desk and faces the rest of the room, like you’d angle a TV. There’s a small pamphlet holder on the opposite corner of the desk next to the three or four chairs set up for students. There’s a coat hanger in the right corner of the room and a mini fridge next to it.
The corkboard in front of the desk is papered in personal things—sticky note reminders, pictures, paper articles with highlighted names, and her Warped all-access pass. The other walls are white and occasionally scattered with the standard inspirational posters and school flyers.
Surrounding the top her large desk calendar are four framed pictures. One of her and Cody, one of her parents and her, the photo Zack took of me proposing to her—my knee on the ground and ring held out, her hand clasped over her mouth—and the final picture is the group photo of the Warped group from New Years Eve.
“I didn’t know Zack gave you this picture,” I observe, entering the room to pick up the frame.
“Well, originally the picture of you and I from Cloussy’s wedding was there, but given the circumstances, I needed a new picture.”
And there’s the little click of things making sense. “Those girls aren’t the only reason you wanted me to come with you today.”
She turns around and shrugs. “Not entirely, but they were a lot of it. They’ll amaze you, babe.” She smiles and continues setting up for the week. I sit down in one of the extra chairs and watch her.
“Knock, knock.” Both of us turn towards the door. “Coffee run on me. Do you want anything?” I take a moment to observe the man in the doorway. Larger, older man. Definitely not Justin.
“I got some already this morning with Alex, but thanks, Kevin!”
“Oh, is this the fiancé?” Kevin steps into her office and holds his hand out to me. “Kevin Dewey. I’m the choir teacher.”
“Alex Gaskarth…I failed choir,” I reply, standing up and shaking his hand. We both laugh and Virginia shakes her head as she boots up the Mac.
“You’re the rock star from Dulaney, right?”
“One of four, yeah.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard great things about you.”
“You, too.”
Kevin exits and I sit back down. “He’s such a sweet guy,” Virginia informs me. “Did you really fail choir?”
“The one year I took it, absolutely. Isn’t that what always happens? Andy Hurley failed band, and look at where he is now.”
“Well, was. Fall Out Boy hasn’t been together in a few years, babe.”
“Regardless, can we talk briefly about the Blink concert coming up?”
“Yes, I would like to go.”
She looks at me with a smile and a look that says ‘please get us good tickets.’ “I’ll talk to them, pull a few strings.”
“I’ll literally love you forever.”
A second knock interrupts our conversation. “Kathy brought donuts for everyone, and I picked you up one.” I’m already glaring at the guy. This is him, and I’m well aware of it. Awkward, overly forward, and looks like a fucking twig. Virginia related him to Gabe from The Office, and that’s totally how he comes off. She’s actually related to most of he coworkers as characters from the show, given her newfound love for it and her new Netflix account.
“I’m on a no-carb diet right now, Justin. I’ve got a wedding dress to fit into,” Virginia answers without looking at him.
“You sure? One little donut isn’t going to kill you. I picked up your favorite before Kevin grabbed it.” She turns around and stares at him for a moment, and I observe the donut in his hand.
Sure enough, it’s powdered, and I’ll bet there’s raspberry jelly inside.
“No, Justin. Give it to Kevin.”
“Alright…is everything okay?” She drops her pen and turns around in her chair.
“Look, I’m trying to get stuff done.” Justin glances at me and then the wedding magazine on the top of her pile of notebooks and books. “Oh, Alex, this is Justin. Justin, my fiancé Alex.”
I don’t make much of an attempt to greet him properly, and he doesn’t either.
In fact, all he has to say is, “better make sure he signs in so he doesn’t get arrested and taken out of the school. That would be a shame.” Then, he turns out of the doorway and disappears to the left.
“He is just so pleasant,” I remark, sarcasm dripping through every word.
“Isn’t he, though?” Virginia rolls her eyes and glances at her watch. “Perfect, the girls should be here soon.” She turns back to her work and takes a sip of her coffee.
I stand up and rest my hands on her shoulders and kiss the top of her head. “I love you, sweetheart.”
She rests her left hand on mine until she finishes her sentence. She looks up and smiles. “I love you, too.”
I peck her lips and sit back down. About ten minutes later, a few girls’ voices fill the silence of the guidance office lobby. Then, sure enough, four girls walk into her office. Virginia looks up from her computer, and I look up from my phone.
“No fucking way,” one with long, blonde hair marvels. Out of the small group, she seems the most composed and put together. Maybe mature is the word I’m looking for. Regardless, she’s the one who lost her brother; it’s absolutely plain as day to me.
The other three look more of the typical pop punk genre, and it makes me wonder how the blonde came to find the three other girls. She clearly doesn’t stereotypically fit into the same group—her nails are neatly done, her hair in perfect waves, and she’s wearing almost all Abercrombie. The other three are just standard skinnies, t-shirt, and Vans. One girl has a side part that’s a little too far, and one of them tipped their brown hair with hot pink. The third’s hair is pulled into a bun with her straight-across bangs covering her forehead.
“I brought in a little something for you guys today,” Virginia smiles.
“Is he going to be here all day?” Pink-tips wonders.
“Not all day.”
“I can’t even get passed the fact that you brought him,” Bun head adds.
“Why don’t you guys just introduce yourselves and chat a bit. I’ve got to do a few things.”
What I’ve learned: Hanna – bun head. Hayley – side bangs. They’re twins. Lauren – pink tips. Charlie – blondie. Lauren, Hanna, and Hayley grew up together, and they ran into Charlie at one of our shows. I’ve met Lauren before, and Jack is in possession of one of Hayley’s bras with her number on it. It may or may not be on his mic stand. Hanna knows Zack’s sister. Charlie wants everyone to think nothing’s broken.

“So, what do you think of them?” Virginia wonders after they all head to class.
“They’re definitely a diverse group. I think they’re pretty cool…Charlie’s a mess, isn’t she?”
Virginia nods. “She’s most of the reason I asked you to come in today. She’s having a lot of trouble, mainly because she lost her brother over the summer, but no one wants to talk to her about it. Other than Hanna, Hayley, and Lauren.”
“Is she coming back?”
“Yeah, in about a half hour.”
♠ ♠ ♠
believing any light you shine
makes their's lesser.
they have to prove to everyone
that their's is better.