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Walls Around The Heart - Part Four
Nicole Starleigh Yeager
I was finally allowed to fall asleep a couple of hours later, though with close supervision. While me, Lauren and Brett slept the day away, Kyle rested only lightly on the bed next to me, waking me up every half hour just to make sure I was okay. I had taken another dose of the pills, so the pain was not a problem. There were only enough pills to last me a few days, not like a full prescription, which was probably why they only cost about twenty dollars.
I probably could have slept all day, but Lauren made me get up at 3 in the afternoon. She said if I didn't get up now, tonight would be all screwed up and I would sleep the day away again tomorrow and we wouldn't be able to go out onto the beach. I looked over at Kyle and realized he was sound asleep on the bed, curled up on top of the blanket.
"Are we just gonna leave Kyle here?" Brett asked.
"Yeah, he was up longer than any of us," Lauren said. "I think he stayed up most of the time to wake Keri up every half hour."
"Yeah, he did, for the first couple hours, at least. He must have fallen asleep," I said, not recalling a wake-up since the last one around eleven in the morning.
"Did you guys get along okay last night?" Lauren asked, drying her hair with a towel. She had obviously been up for awhile and already gotten a shower. Which meant Brett had one, too.
"Yeah, for the most part."
"Why don't I like the sound of that?"
"We got into a little fight. But then I learned something pretty freakin' shocking."
"Yeah. And let me tell you, it's a lot easier to hate someone when you think they hate you, too." I gave her a long, steady look.
She got my message. "Oh. Yeah, well. We'll have to talk, I guess."
I sighed. "No, I really don't care. Nothing has really changed, except now I have to figure out how to..." I looked down at Kyle's sleeping face. "Well, I better go get a shower."
"What's she talking about?" I heard Brett ask as I dragged Kyle's bag over to the dresser and rooted through it for my clothes.
"I'll tell you later," she answered. "Just get dressed."
I pulled out shorts and a tank top; there was an awfully warm breeze flowing through the window. At least I hadn't slept the whole day away.
As I got a shower, I kept glancing at the mirror, to see if there were any more messages. Nothing seemed to be happening.
I remembered what Kyle had said about Adam as I dried off and dressed.
What was going to happen? Was Adam going to do something really romantic and ask me out or something? My heart jumped. It couldn't have been anything bad, because Kyle said he wanted to tell me before I got back home and saw Adam. 'What could it be?' I wondered. I came out of the bathroom to find only Brett in the room, and my bed empty. "Where are they?" I asked.
He pointed out the sliding door to the balcony. They had the door shut and they were arguing over something, but I couldn't tell what. "What are they fighting about?" I asked him.
"I don't know. Kyle just woke up and said he needed to talk to her and they went outside and shut the door."
"What, do you know what it's about?"
"Yeah, I know what it's about. Oh, crud."
"What?" he asked.
-"It has to do with... with... It's something that... great!"
"You and Kyle?"
I turned and looked at him. "There is no me and Kyle."
He looked stunned. "You do still like him, don't you?"
I shook my head slowly. How should I answer that? I can't... "No... what is going on, here?"
"I can't say anything."
"You can't say anything or you can't say anything I don't already know?"
"What do you know?"
"Kyle told me last night."
"What did he tell you?"
"That he wants to try again."
"What did you say?"
"I told him I needed to think about it."
"You really don't like him anymore, at all?"
Jeeze, Brett, quit pressuring me! I couldn't let him know that I had been sort of battling myself over whether or not I was falling in love with Kyle again... I couldn't take that chance. I couldn't just set myself up to get hurt again. "No, I haven't since... no."
"What are you gonna do?"
"Figure out some way to tell him, I guess." What was I going to do?
"You gonna be hard on him?"
"Two days ago I would have told him to eat dirt, but after the past day or so... I can't."
"What do you mean, you can't?"
I looked up at him, wondering if he had any clue what I was really feeling inside. I looked out the door at Kyle in a heated argument with Lauren.
"I can't hurt him."
He just stared at me for a minute, as if trying to comprehend what I had just said. "I thought... I thought you...?"
I busied myself with putting my things away. "I don't want to talk about it right now."
He was quiet, but I knew he'd figured out what was going on. He sighed. "Maybe... maybe you should just... take some time to think about everything and sort everything out. You have to give him something to go on, though."
I nodded. "I have to figure out what to say, first."
The loud thump on the glass door startled both of us. We turned to look. Kyle had punched it with his fist, hard enough to make his point but not hard enough to break it.
"Think we should break it up?" Brett asked.
"No," I answered. "We try to break it up and we'll get dragged into it, too. You and me are gonna need to stay on neutral ground."
He nodded in agreement. "Yeah, you're probably right."
"Oh, trust me, I'm right." I hung my towels to dry. I took a pick through my hair and went back into the bathroom to put makeup on.
I was just closing up the bag as I heard the door slide open, Lauren scream something, followed by a yell form Kyle, and another from Brett. Then I heard Lauren calling me. "Keri! Get out here!"
"Leave her out of it!" Kyle shouted.
"No! She needs to know everything that's going on! This is ridiculous! I'm tired of all the bull of dealing with the two of you!"
Nervous and hesitant, I opened the bathroom door and stepped out. Kyle's face was bright red and the veins were sticking out in his scalp and throat. I had never seen him that angry. "What's going on?"
"Tell her," Lauren said.
"She knows," Kyle answered.
"Tell her! Tell her what the voice mail said!" Lauren obviously didn't believe him.
"I know, Lauren. He told me last night," I answered, softly, hoping to calm the two of them down.
"Oh, he did tell you?" She looked at him accusingly. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I just did!"
"I mean, why didn't you tell me when you told her?"
"Like it's any of your business?" he retorted. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that it was!"
"You've made everything else my business! I have had to deal with crap between the two of you since you broke up and I am sick of it! You two are the most screwed up people in the whole world!"
"You're the one who was causing all the problems to begin with!" Kyle yelled. "You lied to her about me! You lied to me about her! You made me hurt her! You broke us up!"
"I never lied about anything!" she screamed. "I never made anybody hurt anybody!"
"Wait, wait," I interrupted, curious. "Lied about what?"
Kyle, huffing and puffing, looked at me and said, "She told you I was out seeing someone else. That... that I was actually meeting some girl for a movie that time I couldn't go with you to the hospital when your mom went in. A lot of stuff. I just never knew about it until a month ago."
I knew exactly what he was talking about. I looked at Lauren. "All that... lies? All those times you told me he was cheating on me... he wasn't?"
She didn't know what to say. "No, they weren't lies! He really was going to see these girls!"
"They were my friends, Lauren! There's a difference there!"
She looked at me for sympathy. "I didn't want to hurt you."
I was aghast. "What?"
"He would have cheated on you eventually, that's just the way he is!"
"It's nice to know your friends believe in you," Kyle retorted.
"What did you tell him? To make him mad at me?" She didn't want to answer. I looked at him. "Kyle?"
Hesitantly, he said, "She... she told me you'd been talking to your ex-boyfriend behind my back."
"And you were!" She spoke out.
"Only because we decided to be civil with each other and be friends again!"
I was disgusted.
"Keri, she made us think that... that we were cheating on each other. That's why I... I wanted to get you back, because I thought you were cheating on me. But I didn't realize it was going to go that far."
I knew exactly what he was telling me. He wouldn't have hurt me the way he did if he hadn't thought I was cheating on him. "How... how did you find out?" I was curious as to how this all came to the surface all of a sudden.
"I think she's trying to tell you exactly what I have been telling you!" Kyle yelled. "If you hadn't dragged it on that far, it never would have gotten so screwed up! It could have been just an innocent little... crush or whatever the heck it was. You knew damn well that I wasn't interested! Why didn't you tell her?"
"Cause I didn't want to hurt her, that's why! She's something special and she deserves somebody who really cares about her!"
"I frieken cared about her!" He looked at me, took a few deep breaths, and said, a little more calmly, "I care about her." I was stunned. He turned back to her. "I thought you knew that! I want to know why you felt it was your responsibility to break us up!"
"Because I thought I was protecting her from getting hurt. I thought I was being the best friend that she has always been to me!"
I was quiet. Whoa.
"Why, then, did you delete my voice mail? Why did you tell her that I was just being me and make her get all pissed off?"
"Cause I know that she doesn't like you anymore and I didn't want you to get hurt either!"
"So, you've been lying to me, again, is that it?"
"I put two and two together and realize you were lying to me to make me think she was cheating on me. Then I decide to forgive and forget, thinking, maybe Lauren didn't know what she was doing. And then we start talking about it and you start telling me she still cares about me. So when I finally come to my senses to do something about it, and put the past in the past, you do everything in your power to keep it from happening. All because you didn't want me to get hurt."
"Yes," she answered, defiantly. "Because she does, even though she's too damn stubborn to admit it. I can see right through her. She still loves you, too, but she's too scared to let herself..." she hesitated, searching for the right words, "fall for you again. And I don't blame her! It wasn't all my fault that you guys broke up!"
Kyle just stared at her for a minute, then looked at me. My secret! My secret was out! I alluded his eye contact and stared at the floor, my heart pounding and my mind racing. This was the "point in the road" that I had been trying to avoid.
I stared into her face, wide-eyed and shocked. "No," I whispered, as if saying that would erase everything she had just said. But, it didn't. She was panicking. "I have been nothing but a friend to the both of you!"
"Bull. You've been playing us both from the very beginning. You have control of the whole situation. Well, you did, until last night. You never leave us alone together so we couldn't figure anything out for ourselves. We never had the chance to find out the truth from each other because you planned it that way."
"You're crazy!" She turned around and looked at Brett.
He shrugged. "I'm staying out of this."
She looked back at me again, a sort of apologetic look in her eyes. My voice quivered as I started to talk. "So . . . everything he just said... does that mean that I've just been blind?"
"You can't honestly believe him, can you?" she pleaded. "I didn't break you guys up. I never wanted to. I was just... trying to protect you because you've been hurt before. Keri, I swear I would never do anything to hurt you!"
"I found the love of my life," Kyle said, with some difficulty, "and you fucked it up."
I didn't know what to do, so I grabbed my cell phone and left. I could hear Lauren call after me as I ran down the hall to the elevator to escape. I ended up out on a pier at the other end of the boardwalk. I held my tears until I passed out of the crowds of people. I wanted to be alone. I had no clue where I was going but I knew I had to get away. I told him not to bring anything up... now look what's happened. Nothing had ever been so crushing in my life.
I sat on an old, wooden bench and stared out over the water. Sailboats and fishing boats and cabin cruisers dotted the water as far as I could see. But they couldn't see me. They didn't know I was there. That was comforting, at least.
I let the first teardrop fall as I thought about all the accusations. Could she have really been doing all this to me the whole time? To Kyle, too?
Was she really the reason we ended up fighting and splitting up? Really? Telling me one thing and turning around and telling him another, getting both of us angry at the other so that he and I both end up getting hurt in the end. Why?
I had a levelling thought just then. Who was there when I got hurt? Who looked like the one in control the whole time? Who was the one who took credit for 'dealing with' all the crap between me and Kyle?
No. I don't want to believe it.
"You already are my best friend," I sobbed to her, even though she wasn't there and I knew she couldn't hear me. Two seagulls swooped at the water in front of me. It must have been feeding time. "You don't have to prove anything, you don't have to protect me! I can't believe this!"
So, Kyle really was still in love with me, not just playing some game with my head. That would explain the jealousy when Eric came to the room. It would explain his hostility toward him. What he said to me on the beach was real. And the worst part, he had never actually hurt me to begin with. But I'd lived with that for so long, it was hard not to believe it. She had me convinced. And he was convinced I was cheating on him. I wasn't.
I could never... but, we broke up... and it was brutal. I'll never be able to forget the things we said to each other. Accusing each other left and right. Both denying it all of course. And now Kyle found out exactly why we accused each other of these things. It all came back to Lauren.
My cell phone started ringing. I was actually surprised to have service out there. I looked down at the little screen... Eric was calling me. I wasn't really in the mood to answer the phone, I just wanted to be alone. I wasn't really interested in dealing with Eric at the moment. But, I supposed, I should at least answer the phone.
"Hey, how are you?" his comforting voice came through.
I swallowed my sobs and said, "Ok, how about yourself?"
"Doing all right... hey, you sound upset. What happened?"
"Oh, yeah, uh... we had some excitement last night. Someone broke into the room."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. Got the concussion to prove it."
"Yeah, when I turned around they hit me in the back of the head."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I will be."
"So, where did they put you?"
"They moved us down to 513."
"Man, you are just having the worst weekend... will you let me make it up to you?"
"I don't know, Eric. I'm not feeling so good." How could I deal with Eric right then?
"Your head hurt?"
"No, it feels fine. I just..."
"You just what?"
"I had to get away from the hotel for awhile."
"You're not in your room?"
"Where are you?"
"I'm... I needed to be alone."
"Ah, I can take a hint. You wanna talk?"
I took a deep breath. "You don't want to deal with this."
"Who said I'm going to deal with it? I can just listen. Sometimes it helps to have somebody just listen."
"Um... it's up to you." I sniffled.
"Hey, don't cry. Just tell me where you are."
"I'm... I'm on a pier, on the boardwalk, somewhere."
"I don't know, I just picked one where there wasn't a lot of people."
"Well, what's nearby?"
"Um," I sniffled again as I turned around to observe my surroundings for the first time since I had sat down. "I'm sort of at the far end. There's not much around. It looks like... an old roller coaster ride. I think there was a French fry stand and snow cones. Oh, and I can see one of those sledge hammer games right next to me."
"Okay, I know exactly where you are. Don't go anywhere... give me twenty minutes, okay?"
"See ya in a bit."
"Bye." I hung up the phone and stood up, taking a deep breath. Maybe talking to Eric would help. Outside advice was sometimes the best thing in a situation like this. Of course, I'd never been in a situation like this before.
I leaned on the railing and looked down at the water. I was far enough out over the water that I couldn't see waves underneath me, only the forever moving surface. It glittered like a disco ball in the afternoon sun. I stared and stared, unable to think about anything other than how Lauren seemed to have betrayed me. My best friend, doing all this, to hurt me.
I was deep in thought, mulling over the situation, when something in the water caught my eye. There was another reflection there, next to mine. I looked up, but could see no one around me. I looked down again, and there she was. A young girl, about my age, with long blonde hair, just like mine. I rubbed my eyes and wiped away the tears. I was just seeing things, I had to be. There was no one on the pier, except me.
What happened next was even eerier. She started to talk to me. "Be careful," she said, and I started to panic. The first thing to cross my mind was the incident with the mirror the night before.
What do I do? Run! I told myself, but my legs wouldn't carry me.
"Please don't be afraid," she said, in a voice so gentle, I just wanted to cry. "Stay away from Eric. He's dangerous!" She pleaded. "You have to get away! Leave the pier, and hide in the crowd on the boardwalk until you find your friends! It's the safest place!"
"What?" I was so confused. This had to be a head game. Since Kyle told me he didn't trust Eric, that was in the back of my mind, feeding into this... hallucination. My crazy mind was making all of this up. I was imagining everything. Hadn't I read something about a concussion's effect on the imagination? Something about how most concussion patients tend to "see" and "hear" things that aren't really there? Things that seem so real they can be frightening? Hadn't I?
I walked away from the water, tuning out her voice. She was calling after me, telling me to run. I walked away from the edge of the pier. I sat on a different bench. Either I had really hit my head hard or the painkillers I was on were something crazy. I swore I wouldn't take another pill. I'd rather deal with the pain. I decided it was either a side effect of the pain medication or a symptom of the concussion.
Then I got to wondering how Kyle saw the message, too, if it was in my head. Nah, he just said he saw it so I didn't feel like an idiot. Eric is so sweet, what's so bad about him? He's a totally cool guy. I don't understand... There's nothing scary or bad or untrustworthy about him. But Kyle doesn't trust him. Or... was he just saying that because he was jealous?
I jumped when Eric sat down beside me.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," he said, in such a sweet, kind, caring voice.
"It's all right," I said, relieved to no longer be alone. "I was in a daze, I guess."
"So, what's up? You wanna talk about it?"
I took a deep breath. My heart had started to pound a little faster. I found myself checking to see how much daylight I had left. "There was a... a big blow-up back at the hotel."
"You and that guy?"
"Wait, tell me about last night... somebody broke into your room?"
"Did you see who it was?"
"No, he got me from behind."
"How-how do you know it was a he?"
"Oh, I don't, I guess I just generalize with that..."
"You have a concussion?"
"You got hit pretty hard, then, huh?"
"Yeah, it was bad. There was blood all over me and Kyle. I felt bad, he got his shirt bloody when he was carrying me."
"So I guess this really isn't such a great weekend for you, huh?"
"No, it's not."
"So, what happened? With that guy, I mean?"
I sighed and nearly started crying again. "I... I don't know if I told you... but I used to date Kyle."
"Oh," Eric said, as if I'd told him I was his long lost sister.
A tear trickled down my cheek as he sat, listening. "Hey, can we... go for a walk? Like down the boardwalk? I'm getting kind of hungry."
"Sure, whatever you want."
Relief poured over me as we started to mingle with the crowd on the boardwalk. As sure as I was about the reason for the reflection in the water, it still made me feel a little bit better to be among the crowd.
"You hungry?" he asked me, pulling out his wallet.
"Yeah, a little," I said as we walked up to the fry stand.
He bought two large fries and handed one to me. "You want salt or vinegar or anything?"
"No, I like them plain."
"I see." He poured vinegar and salt over his fries. When we started walking up the boardwalk again, he said, "So, was it a bad fight?"
"Um, it wasn't really a fight, well, it was, but... I wasn't fighting, I just kind of got dragged into it."
"Wanna tell me about it?"
I took a deep breath after I swallowed a hot fry. "Um, well, Lauren and Kyle were at each other's throats this afternoon."
"I'm guessing it had something to do with you?"
"Yeah. They were fighting about me."
"Do you know what about?"
"Yeah. It's complicated, but, to make a long story short... see I don't even know how to explain it because I can't comprehend it myself." I fought back a tear.
"We... had a bitter break-up, I guess. See, Lauren kept telling me things that weren't true about him, and she was telling him stuff that wasn't true about me, but we both believed her and started accusing each other and not trusting each other anymore... you know?"
"I think so."
"So, then Kyle and me got into a big fight because he went and slept with some girl to get me back. He thought he was getting revenge on me and I thought he just wanted to hurt me. So, we broke up, and then I hated him."
"After awhile, we started getting along again... friends. And last night, I found out that Kyle has feelings for me again, but Lauren's been keeping the two of us apart. She tells me one thing and tells him another. She told him that I still care about him. She had me believing he was just being the biggest asshole."
"Still love him?"
I sighed. "I don't know. I don't think so. That's why I'm so upset, right now. I have to be one of those girls who's just gonna hurt him, because I don't... But then I do... but I'm scared, because when something like that happens to you, you never forget it. Sometimes I just want to be with him again, but then I remember all of that... And it could have all been avoided if Lauren had come right out and told him I didn't care about him from the very beginning. It wouldn't have gotten as far as it did. He never would have had the chance to 'realize' what he was missing. Or whatever. And it would have been a lot easier to get over him..."
"So... you guys broke up but you never really got over him... and you were afraid of falling in love with him again so you hated him. Now you guys were friends again, but this whole thing came out in the open and you don't know what to do because you're scared history is going to repeat itself if you give in and go back to Kyle." He paused for a minute. "Does he know how you really feel? Coming from you, not anybody else..."
"Well, no, I haven't... I don't want to hurt him."
"You mean you don't want to get hurt."
I just looked at him.
"You thought if you could avoid having to answer a question like this you would be safe, you'd never get hurt by him again. Let me ask you something... when you were little, learning how to ride a bike, did you give up after you fell off?"
"No..." Was he trying to say what I think he was trying to say?
"You never would have learned how to ride if you hadn't gotten up and tried again, wearing the right protection, of course, but trying again. Right?"
I just stared at him. As silly as the subject seemed, he couldn't have made a clearer analogy.
"I think you should be very careful about your choice of words with this guy. And you say Lauren is your best friend... I find it hard to believe someone's best friend would do all this stuff."
"Me too. But Kyle said..."
"Yes, he said those things, but that was his side of what was happening. You need to let her talk to you about it. Maybe she was just trying to help after all. You never know. And if I've learned only one thing in life, it's that you should never go by one side of the story. You'll only cause more damage than what was done to you."
I swallowed another fry. "Yeah, you're right."
"And you know what else I think?" he asked as we walked over to the railing and leaned against it."
"I think you're still not sure whether you still have feelings for Kyle or not."
"I can't, Eric... I just can't. I can't do that again..."
"Keri, to me, you're the kind of person who has a hard time falling in love with people. At the same time, you have a hard time falling out of love, no matter how bad you've been hurt. You gave your heart to him because you felt like he deserved it. You got hurt, and you still haven't completely healed yet, but you... you do still really care about him. I can tell. You're just trying to protect yourself."
I didn't know what to say. It all seemed so clear...
He pushed away from the railing. "But you have to do what you have to do. If you honestly believe that you're only going to get hurt again, then you need to make the right decision."
I couldn't believe everything he'd just said.
"You know, I can't believe I'm telling you all of this... I...well, hopefully you'll feel a little better soon, so you can smile again."
Thoughtfully, I smiled. "I kind of feel better already. It's not such a mystery any more. How... how did you do that?"
"I just listen. You'd be amazed what you can get from a person just by listening to them talk. Want to hit the arcade for a little?"
"Oh, I didn't bring any money with me."
"That's all right, I got ya."
"Oh, no, I don't want you to do that."
"Eric, this... this weekend... you're a lot of fun to hang around with. But, I'll probably never see you again after it's over."
He stopped and looked at me, then smiled. "Why don't we just make the best of it while we are here?"
I smiled. "Yeah."
He smiled and we turned into the open-faced arcade.
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