“If complexity doesn’t beat you, paradox will.” - Tom Robbins
I pale when the words I fear leave Clara’s mouth. Layne sighs and looks at me with sorrow and defeat. I can see the tears in his eyes, but there is none in Clara’s. Weird. I rub the inside of my arm without thinking and, suddenly, Layne is holding my arm and Clara is pushing up my sleeve, revealing my scars.
“This is how you knew,” Clara breathes.
”How did you know what to look for?” Layne asks.
“There was fear in your eyes,” I explain. “I knew you were hiding something, I just didn’t know what until I saw the blood.”
“You can’t tell Harriet or Lucy,” Clara says.
“Nick knows,” Layne mutters. “Figures.”
“He caught me.”
“You have to tell them,” I tell them.
Clara narrows her eyes. “Have you told Lucy?”
“Lucy knows. She caught me last year.”
“Did you stop?”
“Good,” Layne sighs. “You don’t need this.”
“Neither of you do,” Clara says. “You have the lives I don’t - can’t have, and this-” she gestures around “-is my life.”
“Since when?” I demand.
Layne tenses. “Oh.”
“You shouldn’t have...”
“Zeke,” Clara whispers.
“What?” I ask.
“Go get Lucy, Harriet and Nick.”
She shakes her head. “My room.”
Layne sits next to me on my bed and puts an arm around me. I bury my face in his shirt and hug him. I want to cry, but I can’t. I physically can't. He strokes my hair and, that simple motion, calms me. My door opens and Zeke, Lucy, Harriet and Nick walk in, confusion on their faces.
Zeke closes the door and sits on Nick’s mattress. Lucy sits in front of him and looks at Layne and me with confused but knowing eyes. Harriet sits next to Zeke and keeps her eyes on Nick as Nick leans against the wall. Weird.
“Clara, are you doing what I think?” Harriet asks.
“What are you thinking?” I ask.
“The incident,” Harriet and Nick say.
Harriet sighs. “It’s your story.”
“Lucy, Zeke, I’m sorry that you’re the last to find out.”
“Find out what?” Lucy asks.
I tell them how, that when I was born, my father abandoned me and my mother. I tell them how we barely survived on the streets for five until Robert took us in. I tell them how hard it was to fit in, something I never even told Harriet.
I eventually tell them how my father came back when I was twelve, wanting to make amends. I tell them how he took me out for lunch and was surprisingly nice to me. I tell them how we were walking down an alley and how he beat and burnt me.
I tell them how he left me there to die and how I managed to call Harriet. I tell them how I woke up in hospital about a month later and how Harriet wanted to know what happened. Of course I told her. How, when I went back to school, I was bullied really bad and we had to move.
I tell them everything, except the cutting and personal bits. Everyone, except me, is either crying or teary eyed by the end and, believe me, it is embarrassing to see five people, that are almost adults mind you, crying over something as trivial as this.
“How can you live with that?” Lucy sniffles.
“I can live with it because it really happened,” I say.
“That just makes it worse!” Zeke cries.
“Nobody died, Zeke.”
“You could have!” Nick snaps.
“Nick,” Layne warns.
“If we hadn’t met you, we wouldn’t be here. Luce and Zeke wouldn’t be together, neither would Layne and Harriet.”
“Get out,” I whisper, anger lacing my voice.
“Nick,” Harriet says, the fear clear in her voice. “Go.”
“No,” Nick retorts.
I fist my hands.
“Nick,” Zeke snaps. “You need to go.”
“No I don’t.” Nick growls.
I walk over to him. “Get out!”
“I don’t want to force you to leave, Nick, but I will if I have to.”
“I’m still not leaving.”
”Someone needs to help you.”
I punch him in the jaw and he tumbles to the ground. Zeke holds Lucy back and Layne does the same with Harriet. Nick gets up and glares at me but there is fear in his wide, blue eyes. I point in the direction of the door and he walks out, holding his jaw.
“Harriet,” Lucy sighs. “Go after him.”
Harriet runs past me and follows Nick out the door. Layne pulls me into a hug and I bury my face in his shirt. I have never wanted to cry this much, and I absolutely hate it. We sit on the bed and I hear Lucy sniffle. Layne nods and my door closes.
“I hate him, Layne,” I mumble. “So much.”
“I know, Clara,” Layne murmurs. “Right now I do too.”
“I only started to hate him when he told me that he liked me.”
“Why is that?”
“He didn’t have the courage to say it to my face.”
“All I was going to say is that he did tell you before.”
I pull away. “When?”
“Truth Or Dare. Two years ago.”
“When I was fourteen?”
“Not long after you got out of hospital actually.”
“I honestly don’t remember.”
“You wouldn’t. You were a bit drunk for some reason.”
“It was Truth Or Dare, Layne. What did you expect?”
“To stay sober and-”
“Look after you, Harriet, Zeke, Lucy and Nick? I did that anyway.”
“If I recall correctly, I helped with that.”
“By babying Harriet.”
Layne’s smile fades. “About Harriet...”
My smile vanishes and I look at him. “What did she do this time?”
I jump off my bed and am out the door before Layne can react. He runs after me and grabs me around the waist just before I get to the bottom of the stairs. I yell and fight his hold. I hear footsteps running towards us and I double my efforts.
“Lucy!” Zeke yells. “Help us out here!”
Lucy comes closer and the others loosen their hold slightly. Oops. I jump out of their hold and sprint out the door. Someone tackles me to the ground and I elbow them in the face. They groan and I realise that it is Lucy.
I grin and put on fake tears. Lucy loosens her hold and gets off of me. Idiot. I jump up and sprint into the fine copse of trees. I reach the beach and see Harriet in the distance with someone else. I walk towards them and then I recognise the other person.
“What the actual hell?!” I curse.
I jump behind a tree and get my phone out. I set it to video and Harriet walks my way, with the blonde. I move the camera onto them and a lump rises in my throat. I don’t know how Layne will react when he sees this, but it isn’t going to be good. Their conversation gets louder and I strain to hear what they are saying.
“What am I doing?!” Haz exclaims.
The blonde shrugs.
“A shrug isn’t really helping, blondie!”
“Calm down, Hari,” blondie says.
“I’m with Layne, and I’m cheating on him. With my other friend!”
“How is he going to find out?”
The accent hits me and my face pales. No. Why? All kinds of thoughts are rushing through my head and only one stands out, the one that shocks even me. Why Nick? That’s all I can focus on, but there has to be more to this.
“I love you, Harriet,” Nick says, the adoration clear in his voice.
“I love you more, Nick,” Harriet replies.
What happens next shocks me to the core. Harriet pulls Nick to her and kisses him. On the mouth! I can’t stop the small gasp that escapes me, but they are too consumed by their kiss that they wouldn’t hear me if I started screaming.
For the first time in years, tears sting my eyes. I leave them there and stop recording. I sprint back through the trees and into my house. I slam the front door behind me and dash up the stairs. I run into my room and collapse onto my bed, right next to a frightened Layne.