It was quite strange how the universe worked, Adam thought to himself as he sat alone in the living room on Sunday night. Usually he could not wait to go to school on Monday, just so he could see Elena. Now, after what had transpired, the thought of going to school filled him with a sense of dread. It was oxymoronic, the way he both craved and feared being in her presence. Adam could not even find it in him to make a call or send a text, because in his heart he knew that he was wrong and Elena was justified in not wanting to speak to him.
"Hey." Adam jumped as Bree hit his shoulder and dropped next to him on the couch. She was wearing pajamas and, for once, did not have her phone glued to her hand. Perhaps Ryan had gone to bed early that night. "What are you doing out here? Shouldn't you be resting up for school?"
"I've decided I'm not going." He pointed to his freshly casted arm. "Arm still hurts- OW! What the hell was that for?" The look he gave his sister was reproachful, resulting from the uncalled for punch she had just bestowed on him.
"For being a baby and not wanting to face Elena," Bree clarified. She flexed her hand and promptly folded her arms. "You're running from her. Don't do that."
Adam rolled his eyes. The last thing he needed right now was judgment from his baby sister. "No disrespect, Bree, but I really don't think you understand-"
"Not understanding is your thing, but okay," she muttered. He glared at her fiercely. "I guess you'll do anything to avoid taking responsibility for your stupid actions."
Adam winced. "Bree-"
"No, seriously. You and Chase think everything's about you two! He's been sulking all evening and you've been isolating yourself. Don't think I didn't feel the tension when you two bumped into each other on the way to the bathroom. God knows what would've happened if I wasn't there to smooth things over- and by the way, you two better patch things up because I am not going to spend the rest of my life playing peacemaker to-"
"Breezy, Breezy," Adam reached out to place a concerned hand on her shoulder, "calm down." He would say that Elena had taught him how to comfort worked up girls, but Adam had always been good at calming his sister. She had been an emotional girl growing up, quick to cry and lash out, and Adam had often been the one she went too. It was how he had come to know when, like now, she was mad about something but projecting onto his situation. "What happened?"
"Nothing." She dried her tears before they could fall.
Bree fixed him with a defiant look. Finally, after a few seconds of staring at each other, her chin wobbled and her head dropped onto his shoulder. "Ryan cheated on me."
"What?" Adam was taken aback. Ryan had never been his friend and the two had not interacted outside of sharing a few words about sports when he came over to pick up Bree. Once he had done his due diligence on Bree's boyfriend's to ensure they would not hurt her, he usually stayed out of her love life. So how had this one managed to be the exact opposite of what he had assumed him to be? "When?"
"While we were saving those people from that burning building." Bree pinched the bridge of her nose. "He was at a party and got drunk and slept with Stephanie. Called me on Sunday and said he was sorry and he wants another chance... but I don't want to be with a cheater."
Adam put a hand around her shoulders. She wanted to cry, he could tell, but seemed too tired to do so. "I'm so sorry, Breezy. Why didn't you tell me?" He realized the answer not a second after he asked. "Because of everything that happened with me and Chase… Right."
She sniffled. "Yeah."
Adam kissed her forehead. "He's an asshole for doing that, I don't care how drunk he was. And Stephanie of all people. Everyone knows how much she used to torment you." Bree nodded against his shoulder. "As far as I'm concerned it's his loss. You were way too good for him anyways." She looked up at him with near amusement.
"Adam, Ryan's on the student council, is a track star and will most likely get a full ride scholarship to any school he chooses. If anything he was too good for me-"
"No he is not." His tone was sharper than intended, the result of knowing that academic achievements and a bright future did not make you a good person. "I don't care how smart he is or how many colleges want him. He cheated on you, he fucked up, and I won't let you sit here and feel bad for a mistake he made."
Bree stared at him for a long time. "Thank you," she whispered tearily, placing her head on his shoulder again. "You always know how to make me feel better."
"Yeah, well, at least I'm good at one thing." That managed to elicit a chuckle from the sad speedster. The two were silent for a while, sitting in each other's company, until Adam decided to share some information with her. "On Sunday, right before you came outside, I told Elena that I was in love with her."
Bree paused for a second. "Did she say it back?"
The memory of her practically fighting to get away from him disgraced his mind. "Nope."
"Oh," Bree said softly, "I'm sorry." She lost herself in thought for a few seconds. "If it's any consolation, I think she does love you. I've seen you two together at school and even here. Just give her some time to forgive you for what you did. All she needs is time."
"But what if she never forgives me? Bree, she's been hurt before, by people she hardly even cared for. Can you imagine how she must be feeling right now?" And there it was, his one true fear revealed. He was afraid that she would never forgive him, and he would lose her forever. "All I want to do is drive over to her house and hold her, beg her to forgive me and give me another chance-"
Bree quickly interrupted him. "So that is a perfect example of what not to do." She sat up and clasped her hands together. "What you're going to do is go to school tomorrow and act normal- not nonchalant or douchey- normal." Adam lifted an eyebrow. "If it feels right you can try to talk to her, but don't force her. Apologies are a good way to start. Just please don't keep yelling that you love her. Focus on one thing at a time and let everything else fall into place. You just have to play the waiting game now."
"The waiting game?"
"Yes, the waiting game." She placed a hand on his good arm. "Be there for her without making it obvious. Don't be too pushy or too laid back. Eventually, she'll forgive you, and when she does you can feel free to thank me for the excellent advice by getting me those shoes I wanted." She gave a brilliant grin. Adam flicked her hair good-naturedly.
"You're very smart, you know that?"
Bree shrugged and snuggled up on his shoulder again. "So I've been told."
Deep breaths, Adam. One in, one out. It's only forty minutes. You can sit next to her for forty minutes, can't you? He was not quite sure he could, especially when she walked in looking like that. Adam almost sighed at the sight of her dressed in a black jumper- dress over a white tee that stopped just above her knees. Her head was directed down at the floor, and he saw her having to slide her glasses up her nose a few times, but she refused to look at him as she approached their shared desk.
Elena pulled her chair out and slid in next to him, immediately letting her hair fall over her shoulder to create a curtain between the two. She began taking out her books for the lesson, completely ignoring his presence, and he decided he should at least try to break the ice. The worst she could do was ignore him. "Morning," he said, then tentatively, "You look beautiful."
Her eyes flew to his. She had been in the middle of heading up her notebook when he spoke, and now she was paused with the pen resting atop the page. Adam slumped in his seat. Stupid, he thought to himself, stupid, stupid stupid- "Thanks." He nearly jumped out of his chair. She had responded. Elena had actually responded to him.
"Y-you're welcome," he stuttered. She nodded, then returned to her books. Desperate to keep the conversation going, he lowered his voice and asked, "I know I messed up and you're still upset, but I was wondering if we could talk?" Elena looked at him again. "Maybe during lunch? We can meet up in the library, if you want…" Adam trailed off, because Elena's face was doing things he did not like. Her expression was a mix between disbelief and sadness, with a little bit of wariness in it. She opened her mouth to give a reply- most likely one he would not be a fan of- when a male teacher walked into the room.
Adam lifted an eyebrow at the unfamiliar blond man. A pen clattered to the floor at his feet, and he turned to see Elena staring rigidly ahead. After a while, he realized she was looking at the man. "Elena?" She did not answer.
"Good morning, class," the man said. "My name is Mr. Stevens and I'll be your substitute teacher for today…" The sub continued explaining something about Rodriguez being sick but Adam barely heard him. He was too focused on Elena to care much. Her white knuckled fists gripped the sides of her chair, eyes wide with fear as they glassed over. Adam knew just by looking at her that she was no longer mentally in the classroom with him.
"Elena, relax," he leaned in towards her, "just calm down." Maybe it was the combination of the day before and whatever had triggered her, but Elena did not relax. Instead her chest began rising and falling at an impossible rate. Her face, Adam noticed with a start, started turning a weird shade of red, and that was when he took her by the hand and yanked her out of her seat. He ignored the shouts of the sub behind him as he hustled her out of the classroom towards the girls' bathroom where he knew the sub would not follow.
Adam pushed open the door, breathing a sight of relief when he found the bathroom empty. He could not deal with angry girls yelling at him right now. Elena had still not calmed down and for some reason, he felt that holding her hand was not going to do the trick this time. "Elena," he took ahold of her shoulders, keeping her from hunching over, "I need you to listen to my voice. I need you to come back to me."
She made a noise that was somewhere between a frustrated yell and a groan. Her hands came up to clutch at her throat, just as tears began falling down her face. Adam crushed her into a hug. At first she struggled against it, probably the part of her that was still angry with him, but soon enough he felt her clutching the back of his Henley for dear life. This little action indicated that she was beginning to snap out of it, so he rubbed her back and whispered words of encouragement into her ear. "That's it, babygirl. Just hold on to me, and come back."
"T-the teacher," she choked out. "He reminded me of Ge-". She could barely say his name. Adam held her closer, letting her head rest in the crook of his neck.
"He's not here," he told her softly, "I am. I'm here and nothing bad will ever happen to you when I'm around, okay?" Those words seemed to get through to her. He heard her breathing decrease, felt her chest slow, and then they were just standing together. Adam gave a small sigh of relief. He was immensely glad that he had once again managed to control her rising panic attack, as he had no idea what he would do if it turned full blown.
"Hmm?" he replied, enjoying the feel of having her in his arms once again. He allowed himself to bury his face in her hair. The smell of it and the softness of her body was enough to make him forget, just for a second, about the harshness of the day before. Being here with her, holding her close, it was like it had never happened.
"You can let go now." The music in his head stopped. His eyes flew open to see her attempting to pull away from his strong grip, so he reluctantly released her. Adam stood there awkwardly as she dried her eyes, not quite sure where they stood now. "I'm okay."
"Are you sure?" Against Bree's advice, his hand came up to cup her cheek. He stroked away the rest of her tears with his thumb. "I can stay with you if you want. We can skip the rest of class, too." Desperation hung off his every word, but he could not find it in him to care.
Elena looked very unsure of herself. "I-" her eyes darted to the door and back. "I really shouldn't stay at school after that…"
"Let me take you home, then," he suggested quickly. "We can stop for ice cream on the way-"
"There you are!" The door burst open, and in strode an unusually sweaty Aubrey. Her hair was a mess, shirt untucked, and there was an anger in her eyes that Adam knew was directed at him. "What are you doing in here? I ran around the entire school looking for you two-"
Adam screwed up his face in bewilderment. "Why were you looking for us?"
"Because I saw you guys through the window in my class door hauling ass like the building was on fire," she snapped. "And I don't want you anywhere near my best friend after what you did. Get away from her!" Before Adam could protest, the blonde walked up and snatched Elena away from him. "We're leaving."
"No, you're not," he reached out to take Elena's other hand. "She had a panic attack. I'm taking her home."
Aubrey tightened her grip on Elena. "You are not taking her anywhere. You've done enough!"
"That has nothing to do with you," he said scathingly, "mind your damn business!" Aubrey gaped at him, as did Elena. Soon enough, she recovered, and that was when she let him have it.
"This is my business," she hissed. "It is my business when my best friend's mom calls me in the middle of the night asking me to come over because her daughter was so inconsolable she locked herself in her room and would not come out. It is my business when my best friend cries herself into a fitful sleep because the boy she liked offered her up on a platter to his little brother like a piece of meat."
Adam stole a glance at Elena, who was looking down at the tiles. He had an idea of how badly this would affect her, but hearing it out loud was something else entirely. "Elena," he tugged on her hand to get her attention, "I am so, so sorry. I didn't know-"
"Wow, like every girl hasn't heard that before." Aubrey wagged a finger at him. "Stay the fuck away from her. I mean it." She started pulling Elena towards the door again. Seeing this, Adam rooted himself to the spot. There was no way she would be able to take Elena away from him. "Let go of her!"
"You let go!" he hissed back.
"Both of you let go!" Elena exclaimed. They obliged. "God," she rubbed her wrists, "I'm not a toy." Aubrey winced.
"Sorry, El. Let me go talk to your aunt and see if she'll let me take you home."
"I can do that," Adam butt in, "take her home, that is."
"Like hell you will- Hey!" As she was speaking, Adam sidled up between the two girls and turned his back to Aubrey. In doing so he effectively shielded Elena from her sight and influence. "Davenport, what they hell!"
"Laney, please hear me out." Elena's brown eyes were wide behind her lenses. "I fucked up, one hundred percent fucked up, and I'm sorry. I should have never made a promise like that to Chase and more importantly, I never should have kept it from you."
He cupped her face. "Please, just listen-". She stepped away.
"No, you listen," she stressed. "I heard everything you said yesterday, and I believe you." He stopped short.
"You do?" She nodded. Adam nearly slapped his thigh in delight. "Well, that's great then!" Elena made a face, and his excitement faded as fast as it came. "That's not all you were gonna say, is it?" She shook her head, and clasped her hands together.
"Adam, just because I believe you, doesn't mean I forgive you. I still don't agree with what you did." Oh.
"You hurt me, Adam, and that kinda thing doesn't go away just because I have feelings for you too." He looked at her in surprise. "Yes, I remember what I said. I remember saying that I love you, and while it's true, in some ways it makes what you did so much worse. So just- just please let me be. I need time to process things and I cannot do that with you constantly around me."
Adam took a step back. His head felt light, like that time he had forgotten to eat lunch because he was too busy playing video games with Leo. "What am I supposed to do without you?" he whispered. "You're the most important person in the world to me."
Elena shook her head sadly. "Adam, you'll never know how much you mean to me. I just can't do this." He waited for her to add the 'right now', but she never did.
"Laney," his heart was beating out of his chest with fear, "when you say you can't do this-"
"DAVENPORT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THE GIRLS' BATHROOM, MEATHEAD?" Adam groaned. As if this day could not get any worse, Aubrey just had to go and get Perry involved.
"I had a panic attack, Aunt Terry. Adam was just making sure I was okay." He guessed he should be grateful to Elena for stepping in, but his mind was too preoccupied by the words she did not say. What did she mean when she said she 'can't do this'? Did she mean not now, or not ever?
"Well, he needs to leave," Perry snapped. "Now." A meaty paw landed on his shoulder, tugging him towards the door.
"Wait, Elena," he called, struggling against a freakishly strong Perry, "what do you mean by-" Perry pushed him out, and the door slammed shut in his face.
Whilst Elena ended up staying at school, Adam did not. Her aunt had taken her back to English class after the debacle and explained everything to the teacher. Elena kept waiting for Adam to pop his head in the door, but he never did, and she knew it had everything to do with what she had told him.
To say she felt terrible was an understatement; Elena felt like the devil. She felt like Lucifer himself come back to Earth to wreak havoc on a poor, unsuspecting boy's life, because that's exactly what she did today. Elena knew that purposely remaining ambiguous as to what she 'couldn't do' would send him up a wall, and the tiny part of her that wanted to hurt him back rejoiced in it. The larger part- the part that loved him- was aching to pick up the phone and call him. Beg him to come over so they could patch things up, because of course she wanted to be with him. That had not changed.
"Honey?" Elena looked up and gave her mom a smile. After putting the woman through the wringer the night before, she decided to leave her door fully open for the time being. "Your aunt just called. She said you had a panic attack today."
"A small one," she amended, not wanting to frighten her mother again. "Adam helped me through it." If her mother was surprised by the name drop, she did not show it. She simply took a seat on her bed and starting smoothing back her hair.
"I take it you two talked." Elena shifted uncomfortably. "Okay, okay. I can take a hint. Let's talk about something else," her mother suggested, "specifically what you said at the hospital yesterday." Elena bit her lip. "Baby, were you serious about going back to New York? Because you know why we left-"
"No," she said quickly, "I was just upset. At least, I think I was. Either way it's not like I can go back. Not with him still up and about."
Her mother lifted her chin. "Sweetheart, if you're not comfortable here-"
"But I am. I am comfortable here." She took her mother's hand and squeezed it tightly. "It doesn't make sense to move. Lizzie just settled in, I only have a semester and a half left and I would never ask you to move away from Cal." Her mother stammered.
"Cal and I are just friends!"
Elena rolled her eyes. "Mom, I've been saying that about me and Adam forever. Come on."
"You know what," her mother said, "it's late. You need to get some sleep." Elena chuckled, but slid down under her covers either way. Her mother stroked her hair and leaned down to give her a kiss. "Good night, baby. And I know it's not my business, but I want you to remember that you do deserve love. Don't deny yourself just because you want to punish Adam."
Elena did not reply to the advice. She simply said, "I love you mom. Good night," and waited for the older woman to leave. Once her door was pulled in, she sat up once again and made her way over to her desk. The top drawer was half open, revealing the card her father had sent her for her birthday about a month go. Deciding it was now or never, she ripped it open and reached inside.
It was not a card as she had originally thought, but a letter. With shaking hands, she unfolded the page and began reading the words written in her father's handwriting.
I want to start by wishing you a happy birthday. You're eighteen today, an adult, but in so many ways I still see you as my little girl. The one who cried when she fell of her bike that day in the park, the one who would always make me check her closet for monsters so she could sleep, and now, the one who I failed to protect. For that I could never express to you how sorry I am, and I truly am sorry for not believing you. I'm sorry for failing to see how you had been hurt.
Elena's eyes filled with tears at his words, and she wiped her eyes before continuing to read.
I tried calling you a few weeks ago to tell you this, and I got your mom instead. She said you didn't want to speak to me and I respect that but Laneybug, you need to know what I have to say. That's why I sent you this letter under the guise of a birthday card. I knew your mother would give it to you.
Laneybug, Gerald is in jail. He got caught hurting another girl at a party and he was arrested soon after. When this happened I didn't want to believe it because that would mean you were telling the truth, and I didn't want you to be telling the truth. I didn't want to- couldn't- wrap my mind around the fact that this had happened to you, but now I see how wrong I was.
I would never ask you to come back here and testify, nor do I deign to hope that our fractured family can be whole again. I just want you to know that if you decide too, you can. The lawyer I got to fight the case against Gerald made sure he would be in jail for a very long time. Other girls even started coming out with their own stories against him and this just added to the fire. You don't have to be afraid anymore. You don't have to keep running.
I feel like I'm rambling at this point, so I'll end this soon. Again I want to say how sorry I am for what I let happen to you. You are my first little girl, and whilst your mother and I have grown apart, I never have and never will stop loving you and Lizzie-bear. So please, just consider coming back home. It's safe to do so. I made sure of it.
By the time she finished the letter, Elena was full on sobbing. Finally, her father had believed her. He had actually apologized to her, and also gotten justice for her along the way. It was everything she had ever wanted him to do.
She felt lighter now, in a way. A weight that she had not even noticed had been on her chest was suddenly not there anymore, and for the first time in months Elena could take a full breath. And it was exhilarating. Gerald was in jail. He was no longer going to be a hampering presence in her life. He was gone. She was safe. He was gone and she was safe.
With more anxiety than she expected, she made a mad dash for her phone on her shelf. She dialed a number she knew by heart and put the phone to her ear. The line picked up on the first ring. "Hello."
"Hey," she said. "It's me. I was wondering if we could talk."