8.34: Big News

Sorry for the big delay with this one, guys! I’m hoping it won’t happen again, but as my wedding gets closer, things start getting busier! I’m gonna try my best to keep up with my five-day schedule until June (when I will likely end up on a month-ish hiatus… more on that later!) but some weeks it might be a full week or so between chapters instead of five days.

Just know that, despite any delays or hiatuses, I’m never gonna vanish forever and just abandon this story. Even if I die, my ghost will probably stick around to write it… After three and a half years, I can’t stop now! 😛

Thank you all for your patience! (And for reading! ❤ )

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Emberlynn failed to suppress a yawn as she took a seat in front of her laptop, already longing for sleep. Most nights, staying up past midnight would have been easy, but with how busy and stressful the past few days had been, Emberlynn was exhausted (especially since she was due at the theater by ten o’clock the next morning).

But no matter how tired she was, Emberlynn knew she couldn’t bail on Xander. Not again. And besides, with how crappy things had been lately, she knew she really needed to see him, even if she ended up dozing off in the middle of their conversation (which she’d already done on several occasions during the years they’d known each other).

She logged into Skype, and her ears were soon full with the familiar tones that indicated she had an incoming call. The moment Xander’s face came into view on the screen, Emberlynn knew she’d made the right decision. She felt a rush of warmth wash over her instantly at the sight of her friend.

“Hey, stranger.” She smiled sweetly as she spoke.

“She’s alive!” Xander cried out in mock surprise. “I was worried you’d been chatting with me from beyond the grave or something. Guess Charlotte really DIDN’T murder you though, huh?”

Emberlynn laughed softly. “She didn’t. I was shocked!”

“Might wanna make sure you set an alarm or something from now on though… You might not always get so lucky!” Xander teased.

“Oh trust me, I know… I literally have five alarms set for every morning now.” And she wasn’t exaggerating either. Better safe than sorry, right?

Xander nodded approvingly. “Smart move… So, besides not getting murdered, how did the first round of previews go? Knock everybody’s socks off?”

Another laugh passed Emberlynn’s lips. That wasn’t an expression she was entirely familiar with, but she got the gist. “Yeah, it was great! Everybody did an awesome job… Or, that’s what they say.” She added. “It’s pretty hard to see from backstage.”

Xander smiled at her. “I’m sure they did… But what about YOU? Your costumes?”

“Oh!” She felt slightly embarrassed at not realizing what he’d meant. “It was amazing. Having MY designs up on the stage, in front of an audience… It was crazy.”

“I bet!” Xander seemed to hesitate for a moment. “That, uh, probably helped cheer you up after the other night, huh?” 

Emberlynn’s face fell instantly at his words. All she’d told him the other night was that she was too tired to talk, and then about being late for previews the next morning… but not that there had been anything wrong.

“How did you know?” She asked at last, not even bothering to pretend.

Xander shrugged. “Because I know you.” He replied simply. “So… you wanna talk about it?”

It was Emberlynn’s turn to shrug. “There isn’t a lot to talk about, really. It started with all the usual shit with my parents. And then…” She paused. She hadn’t told anyone about Mason yet. Not even Zelda. “I got a call from my friend Mason. He proposed to his girlfriend. And I’m really happy for him, but it’s also kinda… weird.” Emberlynn finished lamely, not sure how else to explain it.

To her relief, Xander nodded in understanding. “I remember Mason… You guys used to be a thing, right?”

“Kind of… But it was over a long time ago. I shouldn’t have let it bother me.”

“Hey, I get it.” He assured her. “I’d probably feel a little weird about it too.”

“Even if it was Connie?” Emberlynn asked with a small smile.

Xander burst into laughter at her question. “Okay, anybody but her. God, in THAT case, I’d probably send flowers and a sympathy card to the poor bastard she tricked into proposing.” It was a few moments before his laughter finally died away.

“Anyway, now you know why I was being a shitty friend the other night…” Emberlynn continued apologetically. “Congratulations, by the way!” She cried out, her face lighting up with excitement. “I’m very flattered that such a big YouTube celebrity is still willing to talk to lowly peasants like me.”

The warm sound of his laughter filled her ears once more. “Okay, first-off, you’re not a shitty friend. Second, thanks! And third, this is probably a good time to let you know it’s fifty bucks per Skype session now. Gotta pay up if you wanna rub elbows with the stars.”

“Sorry, no dollars, just euros. Guess I can’t pay!” She teased.

“Damn… I’ll have to let it slide this time. But only for you.”

“I’m honored, thank you.” Emberlynn replied sarcastically before bringing the conversation back to Xander’s milestone. “Did everything go alright with the livestream? And the giveaway?”

Xander nodded eagerly. “Yeah, once you tell people you’re giving away free shit, they’re interested. It was probably my most-watched stream ever, all for a few cover requests and a chance to win some free DLC.”

“Well, you’re obviously giving people what they want! Don’t question it!” She smiled at him. “Were your parents excited when they found out?”

Xander seemed to ponder her question for a moment. “Sort of. Mom ‘gets it’ a lot more than Dad, obviously. They were both happy though. But not as happy as they were about my other news… Clearly they don’t have their priorities straight.”

“Oh! That’s right!” Emberlynn had almost forgotten. “What was it you were gonna tell me about?” She tried her best to ignore the anxious twisting sensation in her stomach as she waited for his reply.

Her friend took a deep breath. “Okay, so… I got an A in French last semester.” Xander announced excitedly.

Emberlynn stared at him blankly for a moment. “Wait, seriously? THAT’S your ‘big news’?” The anxiety that had been building inside of her vanished in an instant, replaced by a mixture of confusion and amusement.

“You didn’t let me finish! I got an A in French… Which is good news, since I’ll be using it a hell of a lot pretty soon.”

She furrowed her brow as she started to make sense of what he might be implying. “Wait…”

“I’m studying abroad this year. In Paris!”

“What?! No way!” Emberlynn practically jumped out of her seat in excitement. Xander had always been open about his wish to travel and see the world — this would be an incredible opportunity for him to finally do so. “That’s amazing!”

“Thanks!” Xander beamed at her. “I can’t wait. This program is so amazing… Composition and guitar classes at ENMP, workshops at IRCAM… Not to mention, y’know, being in fucking Paris!” His smile widened even more.

Emberlynn had no idea what those acronyms stood for, but her heart leapt in excitement for him. “How long are you gonna be there?”

“Eight months.” He replied happily. “October to June.”

“Oh, wow!” That wasn’t the answer she’d been expecting. “So… Next month?!”

Xander nodded. “I knew I got accepted back in July, but we’ve been working on money and my visa and stuff, so I didn’t wanna say anything, in case it all went to shit or something. But now it’s official!”

Emberlynn’s cheeks almost hurt with how much she was smiling, and her smile grew even wider as another thought suddenly crossed her mind. “So… in between all those music classes and meeting all those French girls, how would you feel about meeting your biggest fan in person?” She asked. “As long as she pays the meet-and-greet fee, of course.”

“Hmm… I might be able to pencil her in…” Xander tapped his finger to his freckled chin for a moment as he pretended to consider her request. “Seriously though… I was kinda hoping you’d ask that.” He confessed. “I looked it up — Flights really aren’t so bad, and they’re only like an hour and a half. Or there’s always the train too… That’s gonna be longer, obviously, but probably not awful, right?”

“I’m sure it beats an eight-hour flight! Good luck with that, by the way — I still remember basically dying of boredom on a flight to the US back when I was a kid… Hopefully it’s a little more bearable as an adult though.” Emberlynn said with a small laugh.

“Well, even if it isn’t, it’ll be worth it.” Xander assured her.

“It will!” Emberlynn agreed happily, then paused for a moment, marveling at how she’d been so worried and anxious for nothing. “Wow… so we’re really gonna meet in person? After all these years?” It felt surreal even to say the words out loud.

“Right?! I told you this was big!”

“I know… And it’s way better news than what I thought it was gonna be. I mean, after what happened with Mason, I was almost expecting you to tell me you’d ran off and gotten married or something.” Emberlynn explained with a laugh.

Xander eyed her thoughtfully for a moment before replying. “Hmm… And would that’ve been ‘weird’ too?”

“Maybe.” She confessed. “This is way better.”

“Yeah, you say that now. Just wait til you meet me in person and see what an awkward mess I am!” Xander laughed.

“You think YOU’RE bad?! Oh man… You have no idea.” Emberlynn shook her head in amusement as she launched into a very animated retelling of the time she’d embarrassed herself in front of Charlotte on her first day of her internship.

Xander laughed at all the right times, asked questions, and waited until she’d finished before finally confessing that he’d already heard the story twice before.

“It’s okay, I love that one.” He assured her. “And I’ve probably told you this one already too, but oh man, it was so bad…”

He quickly launched into his own hilarious story of awkwardness and embarrassment (which, as he’d correctly predicted, Emberlynn had already heard too).

As she so often did, Emberlynn stayed up for hours talking with Xander — Sharing more stories, laughing together, and discussing his plans for his time in Europe.

It was nearly four AM when she finally climbed into bed, exhausted, excited, and incredibly grateful for the many alarms she’d remembered to set for the next morning.

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8.33: Dodged a Bullet

Okay, seriously, how am I NOT dead right now?

I know I say stuff like that all the time, but you have NO IDEA what it was like walking into work yesterday. I might as well have been walking up to the freaking gallows.

It was our very first preview show of the season — ALMOST as big a deal as real opening night’s gonna be. It was huge for me — my first time actually using any of my design or costuming skills like, publicly. We’ve spent the last two months working our asses off on those costumes, and (more importantly) I spent those two months working my ass off sucking up to my boss and trying to impress her. And I was doing a damn good job of it too…

Until yesterday.

I showed up almost two hours late. They had to get all the costumes ready without me. And I felt like total shit (in more ways than one… that hangover headache was no joke. Ugh).

But believe it or not, Charlotte DIDN’T murder me. Maybe she was too busy worrying about all the costume changes and stuff to plan my horrible demise? Who knows.

I DID get a huge freaking earful from her last night before I went home though. All this stuff about me being “irresponsible” and “not taking this internship seriously” and how if SHE were as late as I was, the theater would fire her (which makes sense… She’s the head costume director. I’m just an intern!). And anyway, her bottom line was that I’m lucky that she’s giving me another chance.

… And then, after that giant angry rant, she complimented me on how nice one of the costumes I worked on ended up looking onstage.

I swear, this woman is worse than Jekyll and Hyde. I mean, she’s like, a huge idol of mine and I can’t believe how lucky I am to get to work under her. Over thirty years heading the costume department of one of the most famous theaters in the entire country? Damn. That’s insane!

But working for her for the next eight months might end up driving ME insane too, so… Interesting trade-off there I guess.

Anyway, the point is, yesterday could have been the end of everything I’ve been working toward for the past four years (or of my actual life too, if Charlotte had been feeling a little more on the Hyde-side). All because I let myself get way too drunk the night before. Ugh.

Apparently I’ve gotta start scheduling my pity-parties a little better in the future. I just ended up letting things get to me way more than I should have. So much that even snuggling Gucci wasn’t enough to make me feel better (yes, really — that bad!)

It all started when I went over to Mama and Papa’s for lunch the other day. Yeah, big mistake there. I had a feeling it was gonna be bad, but it was even worse than I thought it was gonna be. I should’ve listened to Tristan. He’s been warning me it’s getting ugly… And he wasn’t kidding.

It really kills me to see my parents like this. They’re SO miserable now. Like, worse than I’ve ever seen them before, if you can believe it. Tristan says Oma and Opa keep trying to talk to them both about it, but it just makes things worse. 

I’m seriously not sure how much longer they’re gonna be able to go on like this. And I know I’ve been saying for years that they’d be better off if they weren’t together any more or something, but… Is it awful that the idea of them splitting up scares the shit out of me?

I know, I know. It doesn’t make any sense. I hate the idea of them staying together and being so miserable, but I also hate the idea of them getting divorced too… UGH. You see? This is why it’s all a trap. They let themselves get totally stuck in this stupid marriage, and now there’s basically no hope for them. Things are gonna suck for all of us no matter what happens now, whether they stay together or not. All because they let themselves get fooled into falling in love, or whatever (Pretty sure you can’t even call it ‘love’ at this point though).

So after all that, you’d think I’d be relieved when Mason called to tell me he and Caroline got engaged, right? This means I’ve officially dodged that bullet. I mean, I already kinda did back when they started dating, but this just confirmed it. And I should be grateful, shouldn’t I?

Or maybe I should pity him for letting himself get tricked so easily. Feel sorry for him for falling into something that’s pretty much destined to lead to heartbreak and doom.

But instead I feel… Okay, ‘jealous’ isn’t the right word. It’s really not. Just… sad. Empty. Maybe a little lonely? All the stuff I totally should’ve been over ages ago. Or better yet, never even felt in the first place.

I don’t love Mason. I never did. Not as more than a friend, at least. But I can’t lie — It’s hard not to let myself wonder what it might be like if I DID love him.

I still remember that second summer we spent together… You remember too, right? Before he went back home, he asked me if I wanted to try the whole ‘long distance’ thing. He wanted to give it a chance — to try and be more than just friends or fuck buddies or whatever we were.

And, well… You know what my answer was. And luckily it didn’t change anything between us. Not til he got with Caroline.

But the other night got me wondering again… what if I’d said yes?

Ugh! Why do I let myself do this? I should be grateful I had enough sense to turn him down. Like I said, I dodged a major bullet.

Unfortunately I was too busy feeling sorry for myself the other night to realize that though.

I ended up totally bailing on my plans with Xander, getting way too drunk, bringing home this guy who turned out to be a major asshole, and, well, you know the rest (or most of it… Not even gonna MENTION the messed-up nightmare this whole thing gave me. I’m already freaking scarred for life!)

Anyway, things smoothed over a lot better than I thought they would. I felt a lot better about the whole Mason thing the next day (fearing for my life at the hands of my boss was a nice distraction, I guess), Charlotte didn’t murder me OR fire me, and Xander wasn’t mad at me for bailing on him either.

That last part wasn’t much of a surprise though — Xander never lets anything bother him. He’s one of the chillest people I know. I don’t know how he does it, but nothing ever seems to get him down. The shittiest trolls from the scummiest depths of the internet come clawing their way into his comment section with the meanest, nastiest stuff you could imagine, and you know what Xander does?

Laughs his ass off, takes a screenshot, and sends it to me like it’s the funniest thing in the world (and, okay, yeah, some of them ARE pretty hysterical, actually).

The point is, if he doesn’t let a bunch of stupid hate and insults get him down, I knew he wouldn’t take it personally if I missed out on Skyping with him and watching his livestream the other night. And he didn’t. He was a little bummed, I guess. But not mad.

I messaged him last night after work, and we’re supposed to Skype later tonight to make up for it. It’s been over a week since we’ve actually talked to each other, so we’re definitely overdue. I can’t wait to tell him all about Charlotte’s rampage face-to-face (Oh, and congratulate him on all those subscribers too, obviously! I still can’t believe he finally did it!).

Not gonna lie though… I’m a little worried too. Xander told me he has some kind of ‘big news’ he wants to tell me — big enough that he even put off sharing it in his livestream, he said. Because he wanted to tell me himself first. “But it’s good news,” he told me. “Don’t worry.”

Uh-huh. Sure. I tried to sound all excited or whatever (luckily it’s pretty easy to pretend through text), but how is that not supposed to make me feel terrified?! The last time someone said they had ‘big news’ to share, Mason told me he was getting married!

Last I heard, Xander hasn’t had a girlfriend since he dumped that stalker Connie girl last year (good riddance!). But with how things have been going for me lately, who the heck knows? Did he run off and elope or something? Knock up some girl and now they’ve gotta get married?

God, I hope not. But I guess I’ll find out tonight…

8.32: Rise and Shine

Note: One NSFW shot in this one

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He’s your Papa. You’ve gotta be happy for him. Emberlynn reminded herself for what felt like the hundredth time as she watched the newlyweds fall once more into each other’s arms. And… at least he’s not miserable with Mama anymore? She tried to tell herself.

Feeling like she was going to be sick, Emberlynn took a few hesitant steps toward her father and his new wife. “H-hey Papa…” She muttered. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks, honey!” He replied brightly, pulling her in for a hug.

“And, uh, you too, Serenity… I’m really happy for you.” She tried to force the best smile she could muster as the lie passed her lips.

A high, shrill laugh filled the air in reply. “What’s that you called me? ‘Serenity’?”

“Um, yeah? That’s your name. Duh.” Emberlynn shrugged in confusion.

“Mmm, I don’t think so.” Serenity shook her head slowly as a cruel smirk slowly spread its way across her lips. “It’s ‘Mama’ now.”

Emberlynn threw her hands into the air in reply. “Are you for real?! You’ve gotta be fucking KIDDING me!”

Emberlynn!” Phoenix snapped scoldingly. “That’s no way to speak to your mother!”

“WHAT?! You too?! You guys are INSANE!”

Trent suddenly appeared at his sister’s side, though Emberlynn was certain he had not been there moments before. “You hear that, Ren? Still bullying us after all these years…”

“Guess she hasn’t learned her lesson… Maybe a few of these will do the trick though…”

A cellphone had materialized in Serenity’s empty hand, its screen full of explicit photos of Emberlynn and Mason during those summer nights they’d once shared together.

“What the hell?!” She cried. “Where did you get these?!”

Serenity ignored her question. “It’s time you learned some respect… How about we send a few of THESE to your little friend Xander? And all his YouTube followers?”

“What?!” A panic unlike anything she’d felt before had begun rising in Emberlynn’s chest. “You can’t do that!”

But it was too late. Serenity’s finger was already about to hit ‘send’…

“NO!”

Emberlynn’s breath was harsh and ragged as she shot up in bed, still reeling from her nightmare. It had all seemed so real… and so terrible too.

It was just a stupid dream. Waves of relief washed over her as the realization struck her. Emberlynn swung her legs over the side of the bed, shaking her pounding head.

She didn’t need a psychology degree like her father to know what had sparked the awful nightmare. Even years later, she’d occasionally find her subconscious traveling back to all that terrible drama with the Ziegler twins in her teenage years.

Combine that with all the emotional stress she’d been under lately with her parents and Mason and, well… Recipe for a pretty terrible nightmare.

Through the fog of her hangover, Emberlynn could still remember how upset she’d been the night before. She’d begun the day in a terrible mood, thanks to a poorly-timed visit home, during which she got a front row seat to her parents’ current state of misery. Now that she had moved out on her own and Tristan, though still technically living under their roof, was so busy with starting University, it was like things were unraveling worse than ever.

Emberlynn had always secretly known that she and her brother were like the glue that was holding her parents’ marriage together. And now… Well, the cracks were coming out full force. It was so painful to see.

And then yesterday evening, still reeling from her visit with her parents, Emberlynn got a call from Mason that immediately dropped her mood from bad to worse — He’d proposed to Caroline. And, of course, she said yes.

Emberlynn tried so hard to sound happy for him, but in truth, it felt like losing him all over again… Though she always tried to remind herself that it was impossible to lose something that was never truly yours in the first place.

Still, ever since that fateful summer three years earlier when Mason had told her he had a girlfriend, Emberlynn’s mind had been flooded with so many ‘what ifs’. What if she’d been braver back when she was a kid? What if she’d let herself open her heart to him? Could she have loved him? Could they have been together? Could they have been happy?

The news of Mason’s engagement sent all those questions and more flooding back through her mind.

She’d been so upset that night that she’d completely skipped out on her plans to Skype with Xander and join in his 100,000 subscriber ‘party’ on his YouTube channel. She was so happy and proud of him, but she was a total mess. She couldn’t bear to ruin his special moment with her stupid moping, so she’d made up some BS excuse about ‘being tired’ and totally bailed on him. I’ll apologize later, Emberlynn had told herself. He’ll understand.

So instead, she’d found herself out at one of the clubs downtown, drinking and dancing until all thoughts of Mason fled her mind. In fact, it seemed that all thoughts had fled her mind, period. Try as she might, Emberlynn could not remember what had happened at the end of the night. She couldn’t recall what time she’d gotten back home, or how she’d managed to do so, or —

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a deep, rumbling snore filling the air.

Then she remembered…

Sort of.

Emberlynn looked down at the stranger’s sleeping face for a moment, wishing she could remember more details from the night they’d spent together. He’s pretty cute… Maybe I’ll give him my number. Or, with any luck, maybe he’d be up for another round before he left.

Wonder what time it is… She headed over to retrieve her phone from the pocket of her shorts, which lay crumpled in a pile on the floor beside her bed.

The moment Emberlynn’s weary eyes hit the screen, her stomach gave an enormous, sickening lurch.

It was nearly 12:30. And, to her horror, she had four missed calls from the theater.

“Fuuuuck!” She cried as she began frantically pulling on her clothes from the night before, not caring that they were neither clean nor appropriate enough for work. It didn’t matter. She had to go. Now.

“Hey… Rise and shine.” Emberlynn called out, giving the man’s shoulder a nudge as soon as she’d finished getting dressed and turning on the lights.

“Huh?” To her relief, he jolted awake with a start and sat up immediately.

“Sorry… But you’ve gotta go.” Emberlynn explained apologetically as she began picking his clothes up from the floor and practically throwing them at him.

He still appeared to be half-asleep. “What? B-but I…”

“Look, I was supposed to be at work over an hour ago!” Emberlynn explained desperately. “Like I said, I’m REALLY sorry, but I’ve gotta go NOW. And so do you.”

“You’re not even gonna make breakfast or anything?” The young man asked irritably.

Emberlynn sighed heavily. She didn’t have time for this. “Didn’t you hear what I said? No!”

He looked so much more offended than Emberlynn felt he had any right to be. “Wow. Seriously? Rude…”

“I told you, I’m late for work!” Emberlynn repeated. “I’m not trying to be rude!”

“Yeah, well you do a pretty good job without trying…” He muttered bitterly.

OH MY GOD, just get dressed and GO!”

Thankfully, he did not argue this time, though Emberlynn could hear a great deal of unpleasant muttering under his breath the entire way to the front door. Ugh. So much for giving him my number… Jerk.

As Emberlynn hurried through the living room, she heard Gucci gave a little meow of indignation that she knew translated to “Give me attention, human slave!”, but there was no time for that.

“Sorry, baby.” She looked down at her furry companion apologetically. “Snuggles and catnip when I get home though, okay?”

He simply glared at her, then resumed licking himself.

By the time Emberlynn had finally shuffled her one-night-stand out the door and watched him disappear grumpily down the steps, Emberlynn had her phone to her ear. It nearly made it to voicemail before someone answered.

“Emberlynn?! Where the hell are you?!”

“Hey, Anneliese…” Emberlynn muttered weakly to her coworker as she finished locking the apartment door behind her. “So, uh, on a scale of one to ten, how dead am I?”

ELEVEN. Charlotte’s on a RAMPAGE. Curtain’s in less than two hours!”

“I know…”

“It’s our first preview show!”

“Yeah, I know…”

“We need you, Emberlynn!”

“Yeah, I know!” She sighed in exasperation, letting her own frustration at herself get the better of her. “I’ll be there in like ten minutes. I’m sorry. Tell Charlotte not to have a cow, okay?”

“Too late.” Anneliese replied darkly. “I can hear the mooing already…”

Emberlynn rolled her eyes as she hung up, finally stepping out the front door of the apartment building and making her way down to the sidewalk below. She didn’t own a car, since she lived downtown now, where the public transportation system was excellent and most major things were within walking distance. And luckily for her, the theater was just two blocks down the street from her apartment.

God, I’m so dead. Emberlynn was still kicking herself for her carelessness as she made her way down the street. This internship was the only thing left standing between her and her Masters degree. But what if this screw up was enough to ruin everything? Charlotte’s employer evaluation was critical, and if she was really that mad…

“No. It’s gonna be fine.” Emberlynn muttered out loud to herself. “You can do this. Don’t let Charlotte get to you. You’ve got the next eight months to make it up to her.” Assuming she doesn’t fire you for this… Ugh. A small voice whispered.

She shook this thought aside as quickly as it had come, determined not to let herself lose focus. She just had to show up, kick ass, and everything would be fine.

Still, Emberlynn couldn’t help but marvel at how unbelievably shitty the last twenty-four hours had been.

She just hoped that meant there was nowhere else to go now but up.

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Hope everyone enjoyed my little April Fools joke 😉 (Sorry to anybody who was left freaking out over this one haha (or to the handful of you who were actually rooting for this 😛 ) Forgive me!) Like I said to some of you, it WAS a real, canon part of the story though! A 100% canon dream 😛 I wasn’t lying! Hehehe

I will now be going back to my normal five-day schedule 🙂 Next chapter will be next Monday, the 8th!

I’d also like to give a HUGE shoutout and thanks to the incredibly-talented Nobbi (Echova on the gallery!) for creating Emberlynn’s gorgeous apartment for me (and not just the apartment itself, the entire lot!) It came out beautifully, and I’m excited to get to finally show it in the story! ❤

8.30: Okay Again

For the first time in like, ever, I finally feel like I can breathe again. Because it’s all finally over.

And I don’t just mean all that stupid drama either. I mean everything that’s been going on the past few months. Neglecting my friends, hanging out with Serenity’s clique, messing around with Jace… All the stuff that got me into this mess in the first place. It’s all behind me now (Good riddance! Ugh).

It DID start with making sure there was no more drama though. That was the first thing I had to make sure I took care of. After I finally talked to Papa, I knew what I had to do to make things right again. Even though I also knew it was totally gonna suck (which it did).

I managed to corner Trent and Serenity after school, and tell them I was sorry for what I said. Of course, I also told them that I still hated them for what they did to me too (maybe not the best thing to say, but I had to be honest!), but that no matter how mad I was, what I did wasn’t right. I even apologized for the whole thing with Jace.

Then I took out my phone and deleted those pictures (risky, I know… But it just felt so wrong to keep them).

Then I asked for a truce. And not like the one we had before… A full-on, honest-to-God “let’s just put this behind us and pretend nothing ever happened” truce.

Yeah, bold move, right? And, big surprise (not), Serenity wasn’t having it. She went into this giant rant, and I kinda started to panic a little. What if she still had a copy of that picture and was gonna send it to everybody? What if I totally messed up and my apology wasn’t good enough?

But you’ll never guess what happened.

I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I guess that part doesn’t really matter now anyway… What matters is, Trent told her to stop. He didn’t yell at her or anything, he just looked her dead in the eye and told her to leave me alone. That’s the one part I do remember — “She said she was sorry, Ren. Let’s leave her alone.”

I bet if it was anybody else in the whole world saying that, she never would’ve listened. But she did. She backed down right away. Stopped threatening me. Stopped yelling. She just gave me this super-bitchy glare and walked away.

And Trent… He just kinda gave me this look.  It was almost an “I’m sorry too” kinda look. And I was really, REALLY hoping he’d actually say it. But he didn’t. He just followed his sister and disappeared.

That was almost two weeks ago now. And neither of them have even looked at me since.

But honestly? It’s so much better this way. It’s like I’m ‘free’ now or something. I finally feel like I’m Ember again.

I still can’t believe I let things go this far. They were totally shitty to me, obviously. But still… that stupid ‘counter-blackmail’ revenge was just WAY over the top and so… not me. Especially making fun of them for going to therapy. Like, seriously? What was wrong with me?! I could’ve found another way to handle it. And that’s what I should’ve done. But I didn’t. I never even considered any other option but revenge.

It’s like I told Papa… I’ve been like, changing ever since last summer. And I dunno if it was the boobs or the sex or what, but I just started feeling so much more ‘confident’, or whatever. Strong? Or comfortable? Do those two things even go together?

Whatever. However you wanna explain it, I was essentially like a kid who suddenly developed these superpowers overnight with no clue how to control them or whether they should use them for good or evil. I let myself get WAY too carried away, and after months and months it all just kinda built up into… this.

I’m working on fixing it now though. Trying to get Cleo and Athena to talk to me again after I basically ditched them. Spending more time with Zelda. Even being nicer to Tristan (that part’s still a work in progress though).

Me and Jace are still friends now too… But all ‘benefits’ have officially been taken off the table (he’s not too happy about that part, but hey, he’ll learn to deal). It just didn’t feel right to keep it going. Not after all the trouble it caused. And I think he kinda gets that, much as he likes complaining about no more sex stuff (typical guy, right?).

He actually ended up being a great person to open up to about all that stupid drama. I know he felt really bad once he found out what the big ‘secret’ was all about and I told him everything that happened. He seriously had zero idea what those mysterious Thursday afternoon appointments were all about. Serenity never told him. He just tipped Tristan off hoping it would lead to something, but it didn’t end up leading to anything he’d been expecting it would.

Turns out Jace goes to therapy too, so… Yeah, it all felt pretty confusing and messy for him too.

But at least it’s behind us now. God, I couldn’t even imagine trying to make it through the rest of the school year wrapped up in ANY of that crap. No thank you.

For now, I guess it’s back to the same old Ember for me… Mostly.

I’m definitely sticking to my REAL friends from now on. The ones I can actually count on, not some popular jerks who pretend they like me. I need friends I can trust.

And I’m never gonna try and change myself for anyone ever again. That was probably like, the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life. From now on, I’m just gonna be me. And people can take it or leave it. Whatever.

And sending a naked picture of myself? No. Freaking. Way. Lesson learned, in the shittiest way imaginable. And I’m definitely not gonna let myself get fooled into believing in love or relationships or any of that garbage again. I should’ve followed my gut on that one… It’s just not worth it, and this whole mess totally proves it.

But it’s not like I’m never gonna talk to any guys ever again. There’s still plenty of cute ones at school, and if any of them ask me out, I’ll probably give them a chance. As long as I make sure they know I just wanna have fun, why not? I’ve just gotta make sure I don’t lead anybody on like Dominick (that’s another one that still stings. Ugh).

Plus, I still talk to GeekWithAGuitar almost every day. He still hasn’t even told me his real name yet, but I’m really starting to think of him as a friend (and I think he feels the same way about me… I hope).

Like I told Zelda ages ago, I totally think she’s onto something with this ‘stalking cute guys online’ thing. Guys cause WAY less trouble when they’re thousands of miles away, and thanks to webcams and stuff, you still don’t miss out on the eye candy part. Best of both worlds. Isn’t modern technology great?

And there’s always Mason. We still talk a lot too. And actually, he just told me the other day that he’s coming back to Germany with his Papa this summer. He’s gonna come with me and Zelda to GeekCon again, and hopefully we can both pick up where we left off last summer too… And since we’ve both had a little more practice since then, something tells me things are gonna be even better this time around.

I know this whole thing probably won’t be the last crazy mess I have to deal with in my life. I mean, I’m only sixteen. I still have decades and decades ahead of me for life to try and trip me up or screw me over again. It’s gonna happen. And when it does, it’s totally gonna suck, just like this time did.

But for right now, things finally feel okay again, and I’m gonna let myself enjoy that for a while. I’ve totally earned it after the huge mess I just had to deal with. Plus, what’s the point of worrying about the next shitty thing that’s headed my way? It’s not like I can stop it from coming.

It’s like Papa says — the only thing I can control is what I choose to do about it.

———————————————–

Goodbye teen years, next stop, YA! 😮 Time jump coming your way!

Some quick shoutouts to the creators of some of the casting call sims with bigger roles this arc!

Thank you to sherbimel for creating Mason and YJB19299 for Dominick!

Thank you so much to Damaro for giving us Jace!

And of course, a huge thank you to pammiechick for the Ziegler twins!

We’re gonna spring ahead now six years to 22-year-old Emberlynn (same age as Phee during his YA arc!). Can’t wait 😀 

Also, as a special treat, we have a bonus chapter next week, in celebration of the YA arc beginning! Next chapter will be MONDAY, then we’ll have a second chapter Wednesday! See you then! Thanks for reading! ❤

8.29: Alignment Shift

Oh shit. Emberlynn felt her heart sink as her father approached, his face etched with worry.

She’d been counting on being able to sneak up to her bedroom unnoticed and simply cry all this out. She’d forgotten that Phoenix didn’t work on Mondays — she hadn’t even expected him to be home.

Why did he have to be walking through the foyer NOW? And worse — why did he have to be walking toward her with that look on his face? Ugh.

“Hey, Papa.” Emberlynn hastily wiped her tears with the back of her hand, knowing it was pointless. Phoenix had obviously seen them already.

“Hey…” He replied softly, trying to smile at her. “Rough day?”

She nodded. “Yeah… But I’m okay.” Emberlynn lied as her stomach gave an unpleasant lurch. “I just wanna be alone right now, if that’s okay? But I promise I’m fine. So like, you don’t have to worry or anything… Okay?” She muttered very awkwardly.

To her relief, her father chose not to push things. “Sure… But if you change your mind, you know where to find me, right?”

“Okay. Thanks, Papa.” Emberlynn turned on her heel and practically sprinted up the stairs without another word, grateful for the chance to escape.

Once she was safely tucked away in the solitude of her bedroom, she once again let the heavy weight of her exchange with the Ziegler twins come crashing down upon her. The guilt was almost suffocating. How could she have been so cruel? In that moment, what she wanted more than anything was to just be able to talk to somebody about it all… But who?

She could try writing in her journal, of course. That always seemed to help her feel a little better. But it just wasn’t the same as talking to a real, live person about how she was feeling. Emberlynn would have plenty of time to write about this whole mess later. For now, she needed something more.

Zelda, Tristan, and Jace would all have to be caught up to speed on what happened, of course. By just picking up the phone (or, in her brother’s case, walking across the hall) she could easily talk to any of them now, even Jace. For a moment, that realization helped to temporarily soothe a bit of her guilt and anxiety. It was a relief to know that she could be friends with whoever she wanted to again.

But somehow, the thought of talking to her friends right now didn’t make her feel much better. Something in her gut told her that none of them would understand how she was feeling. They’d all been so invested in this plan for revenge — even eager, almost. They’d been just as caught-up in the whole thing as she had been. But they hadn’t been the ones who had to go through with it, who had to say all those terrible things that she didn’t even believe. How could any of them see how sick and wrong it made her feel?

Her thoughts then shifted to Mason and GeekWithAGuitar. Both of them knew only the vaguest version of what had been going on. It would be so easy to vent to either one of them, and they were always such great listeners… But thanks to stupid timezones, they were both still at school right now, and Mason had football practice that afternoon anyway. It would be hours before she could get ahold of either of them. And she probably would, once she had the chance.

But in the meantime…

Emberlynn rose slowly to her feet, resigned to her fate. There was only one choice left. And much as she hated to admit it, it was the one that made the most sense, wasn’t it?

As she’d expected, Emberlynn found her father out back in her Opa Dev’s meditation garden, reading. It was either going to be this, or sitting downstairs playing video games. But with the streak of warm weather they’d been having now that Spring was returning, Emberlynn had a feeling he’d choose to enjoy the fresh air. And there was no quieter or more relaxing spot than the garden.

Phoenix did not look even remotely surprised as his daughter approached him. “Hey, honey.” He said with a small smile, as though he’d been expecting her.

Emberlynn eyed him skeptically for a moment. “You totally knew I was gonna change my mind and come talk to you, didn’t you?”

Her father chuckled heartily at her words. “I… had a feeling it was a possibility.” Phoenix confessed. “Or at least, I hoped it’d be. You know you can always talk to me.”

Most of the time… But not always, Emberlynn wanted to say. But she didn’t. Because this time, she knew he was the only one she COULD talk to.

“So… What’s up?” Her father continued when she remained silent.

Okay, here goes, I guess. Emberlynn took a deep breath as she lowered herself into a seat beside her father. “I just… I had a really bad day at school today. And it was my own fault, but it still just SUCKS. I feel awful.”

“What happened?” Phoenix asked, his voice calm.

“I did something really bad, Papa.” She explained. “I mean, I didn’t like murder anybody or anything!” She added quickly. “But I… Okay, wait. Let me back up.”

“It’s alright, take your time.” He assured her gently.

Shit… I’ve gotta tell him don’t I? So he understands… “Okay, so there are these two total jerks at school, Trent and Serenity… And I used to think they were my friends.” She explained. “I sat with them at lunch and hung out with them and stuff. And they were pretty nice to me, at first… But then I did something that really pissed them off. That’s when everything started going like, WAY downhill.”

Her father eyed her thoughtfully. “What did you do that made them so upset?”

“I, um… I… kinda-dated this guy who used to date Serenity.” Emberlynn explained. She wasn’t being entirely truthful, of course, but ‘kinda-dated’ was a hell of a lot easier to say to her father than ‘casually hooked up with multiple times’.

“Oh…” For moment, Phoenix almost looked uncomfortable. Emberlynn wondered whether he’d somehow managed to read between the lines. “And why do you think that upset her so much?”

Emberlynn rolled her eyes. She’d been afraid of this. “Papa, you’re doing it again!”

“Doing what?”

“You’re getting all therapist-y on me! Asking all those touchy-feely questions and stuff. It’s annoying!”

Her father seemed unfazed as he gave her a small shrug. “Is there really that big a difference between ‘therapist-y’ and ‘concerned parent-y’?” His voice was almost teasing. “I’m just trying to help, that’s all.”

She sighed softly. “I know. And yeah, I know why it made her so mad, and I know I probably shouldn’t have done it… But then she decided she wanted to make my life a living hell. She decided to get revenge on me.” Emberlynn found a bit of anger suddenly creeping into her voice as she spoke.

Phoenix’s brow furrowed slightly in concern. “What kind of revenge?”

Emberlynn hesitated this time. “Her and Trent, they, um… They got a really embarrassing picture of me.” Not technically lying, right? “REALLY embarrassing. And they threatened to show it to everybody in the whole school if I didn’t do what they wanted. They were like… blackmailing me, basically. It was awful.” For a moment, she felt her tears threatening to return, though this time it was for a different reason.

“Wait a minute… Is THAT why you’ve been so down the past few weeks?” Her father asked slowly. “That’s been what’s going on?”

She nodded slowly. “I know I said I was just stressed with school and stuff, but that really wasn’t it.” She confessed. And to her surprise, it felt strangely freeing to do so. “It was because of them.”

Her father’s face fell instantly. “Oh honey, why didn’t you tell us about this sooner? Your mother and I…  You know we’ve always got your back, right? We could’ve helped you.”

“I know, Papa. I was just… I didn’t want you guys getting involved, okay? I wanted to handle it myself.” Again, not an outright lie, but not exactly the whole truth either.

“I see…” Phoenix paused for a moment, his eyes lighting up slightly in understanding. “And… this ‘bad thing’ you did… Was that the way you decided to ‘handle’ it?”

Emberlynn nodded once more. Sometimes it was almost like her father could read her mind. But then, that was practically part of his job, wasn’t it? “Yeah, I… I found out something about them. A secret they were trying to keep from people. And I thought if I just got them back for what they did, it’d make everything better. I thought I could fix things.” This time, she failed to stop a few tears from slipping out.

“And did it work? Did it fix things?” Phoenix asked softly, though Emberlynn had a feeling he already knew the answer.

“I dunno. Kind of?” Emberlynn sniffled slightly as she replied. “I think they’re gonna leave me alone now, which is what I wanted, but… I was so MEAN. Meaner than I’ve ever been in my life.” She let out a tiny sob as she spoke. “I thought this whole thing was gonna make me feel better, but I don’t. I feel SO much worse.”

Her father looked almost worried. “When you say ‘mean’…?”

“You’re gonna be so mad…” There was a tiny voice in the back of Emberlynn’s mind screaming for her to not say any more, but another voice won out. “I found out they go to therapy… In the same office where you work.” She explained softly. “But they were keeping it a secret from everybody. And I made fun of them for it. I got so caught up in how mad I was, I didn’t even know what I was saying anymore. It was like nothing else mattered anymore — just hurting them. And it was awful.”

Her father’s brow, already furrowed in concern, seemed to sink even lower. “How bad?” He asked, as though fearing what her answer would be.

She took a deep breath. “Well, I threatened to tell everybody at school. And then I told them nobody would ever wanna be with them because they’re ‘crazy’. And… I don’t remember everything I said.” Emberlynn confessed with a small shrug. “I just know I said all these horrible things and I…” Once more, her voice was broken by a small sob and she was unable to finish her sentence.

Phoenix closed his eyes for a moment before replying. It almost looked as though he were in pain. “Emberlynn, that’s…”

“I know.” This was exactly what she’d feared. She knew how strongly her father felt about mental health and acceptance. The thought simply made her feel more ashamed.

“I can’t believe you’d do something like this… That type of ridicule is probably the reason they were keeping it a secret in the first place!” This time, her father’s brow furrowed in anger as he continued. “It’s things like this that that make people think there’s some kind of awful stigma against them… You know that!”

“You’re right, I DO know! I know I messed up, okay?” She cried. “But I didn’t actually MEAN any of it! Why do you think I feel so bad?”

Her father took a deep breath, his anger finally starting to fade. “I’m just so disappointed in you. I know they were being awful, honey. But you could have come to your mother and I about it. We could’ve helped you. You didn’t have to resort to this type of behavior… It’s terrible. And it’s not like you, Emberlynn.” He said seriously.

She shook her head. “But that’s the problem. I think maybe it IS like me.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I… I don’t even know anymore. I used to think I knew who I was. Like, as a person.” Emberlynn struggled to articulate her thoughts aloud. “Like when you make a D&D character, right? Your alignment and stuff?”

Phoenix nodded, and even smiled slightly, despite the gravity of the situation. “Oh, I know exactly what you mean.” He assured her. “Onkel Tam would be proud…”

For a fleeting moment, Emberlynn returned her father’s smile before continuing. “And then ever since last summer, everything’s just been… different or something? I dunno. I just got sucked into hanging out with Serenity and her clique and… and wanting guys to notice me…” Her cheeks grew warm for a moment. “And I think it changed me or something. I wanted to be like Serenity, I wanted Trent to like me… So I started acting different. Mostly little things, nothing huge, but… I was acting the way I thought they wanted me to. So they’d like me.” It was so humiliating to admit, but Emberlynn could not stop the words before they were already flowing freely from her lips.

“Believe me, I get that.” Phoenix replied with a warm smile. “More than I think you’ll ever know. I struggled a lot with that too, when I was around your age…”

Emberlynn shook her head. “But were you ever a bully to anyone, Papa? Did you ever make anybody cry?” The image of Serenity’s sobbing suddenly filled her mind again, sending an unpleasant twisting through her stomach. “What if I had like, an alignment shift or something? What if I finally let myself change so much that there’s no going back?” Emberlynn voice began to rise slightly with panic. “I used to think I was Chaotic Good, but maybe I’ve really been Lawful Evil the whole time.”

To her surprise, Phoenix laughed heartily in reply.

“It’s not FUNNY, Papa!” She snapped angrily at him.

“I know, I know… I’m sorry.” To her relief, his laughter quickly died away. “Look, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret about identity and ‘alignment’, alright?”

Emberlynn nodded.

“First off, everybody makes mistakes. Everyone. And if doing just a few bad things in our lives were enough to change a person’s entire alignment, well, the world would be full of nothing but Chaotic Evil maniacs.”

“Hmm, okay. Fair point.” She admitted.

“And secondly, who you are isn’t JUST about what you do, or what mistakes you make.” Phoenix continued seriously. “It’s really about how you FEEL. How do you feel when you make a stupid mistake, or do something bad? And what kind of choices do you make based on those feelings? Do you change your behavior? Try to do better?” He asked. “That’s what really shows who you are. That’s all that matters.”

Emberlynn was silent for a few moments as she considered her father’s words. “So… Since I feel so bad… That means I’m NOT a terrible person?”

Once more, her father laughed. “Well, that’s PART of it… The other question is, what are you gonna do about it?”

She shrugged, staring down at the floor for a moment. Emberlynn could already guess the type of answer her father was expecting. And she KNEW it was the right thing to do, but… “I dunno… Maybe like… Tell them I’m sorry or something?”

“Impressive — full on Lawful Good, I’d say.” Her father smiled playfully at her as he spoke.

“But they never apologized to ME for what THEY did!” Emberlynn suddenly felt a small flare-up of anger in her chest.

“And that’s not right.” Phoenix replied, nodding. “None of this makes what they did to you okay, Emberlynn. But you can’t control what they do… Just yourself.”

Emberlynn still wasn’t entirely sure whether she was brave enough to give the Ziegler twins any sort of apology. Or whether they even really deserved one, after what they’d done. But… I was so mean. Ugh. “I’ll think about it.” She replied at last. “Okay?”

Phoenix smiled. “That’s my girl. I know you’ll do the right thing.“ He paused for a moment as his smile faded slightly. “But listen, Emberlynn. I really, really wish you’d come to me sooner about how those other kids were treating you. And the next time something like this happens — if you’re in trouble or you need help or somebody’s bothering you, anything at all… Please tell your mother and I, okay? We’ll help, no questions asked. And that includes if those two kids at school decide to bother you again, alright? We’ll take care of it.”

“Okay… I will.” Emerlynn promised. And maybe she even meant it too. “Thanks, Papa. That really helped.” Talking to him had already made her feel so much better, so much lighter. It was moments like these when she understood why he was so good at his job.

“Good. Just promise there won’t be any more surprise alignment shifts?” He teased. “Even temporary ones.”

“I promise.” She replied with a smile. “As long as you promise that you’ll keep giving me all these Papa-therapy sessions free of charge?”

“Don’t worry.” Her father assured her with a small wink. “You’ll always get the family discount.”

8.28: Not So Sweet

Note: This chapter might be a little sensitive, and was definitely hard to write at times. Please proceed with caution, and be sure to check out the note at the end. Thanks.

——————————

Emberlynn felt her palms growing sweaty and her heart rate beginning to climb with each second that passed by as she stood in the empty grass behind the school, waiting.

During lunch earlier that afternoon, she’d told Trent and Serenity to meet her in the same spot where they’d already met a couple of weeks before, when they had begun their terrible torment. Serenity seemed almost amused at the request, but agreed. And her brother, of course, followed suit.

Emberlynn pulled out her phone to check the time. They were already three minutes late, and dismissal had been over five minutes ago. Where could they be? Were they standing her up? Would this all be for nothing?

Her nerves only began to rise as she realized what she was about to do. It was almost laughable to think that she’d once almost admired Serenity, wanted to be like her… But if being like her meant being heartless and cruel, Emberlynn knew there was no way she could ever do it. This was already torture enough, and she hadn’t even done anything yet.

Ugh. Where are they?! I just wanna get this over with… She thought miserably.

As though on cue, the Ziegler twins finally emerged from around the edge of the building, smiling as they approached. Emberlynn had never been so relieved to see Serenity’s smug face in her entire life.

“So what’s this little ‘meeting’ all about?” Serenity wanted to get right to the point, it seemed. “Trying to negotiate? Or beg?” She let out a shrill little laugh that made Emberlynn want to punch her in the face.

Emberlynn took a deep breath. Alright, she told herself. Time to find your inner bitch. “Nah, just wanted to share an interesting bit of information I found out.” She explained with what she hoped was a cruel smirk.

Clearly neither Serenity nor Trent was impressed. “Uh-huh… do tell, then.” Serenity smirked back at her with much more genuine cruelty than Emberlynn.

Beside her, Trent merely looked on with mild interest.

“I’ve always thought it was kind of weird…” Emberlynn continued. “All these mysterious ‘appointments’ and ‘plans’ you guys have like, every single Thursday. Every week, it’s the same bullshit excuses. Lots of ‘nail appointments’, huh, Serenity? Except… Your nails never look any different the next day. Pretty weird, don’t you think?”

The smile slowly fell from Serenity’s face. “What are you getting at?” She asked with narrowed eyes.

Emberlynn carried on as though Serenity had not spoken. “You really thought no one would ever start to wonder why? Well, I did. I wondered…” She hoped that the twins would buy her story that she’d noticed this herself, rather than learned this information from Jace. “So I did a little detective work… And now, I know your little secret.”

Trent’s smile finally died away as well, while a flash of what could only be described as panic flashed across Serenity’s eyes.

You’ve got ‘em. Emberlynn told herself. Don’t let yourself feel guilty. Don’t back down now.

“It was only a matter of time before I figured it out… You guys DO know who my Papa is, don’t you? And where he works? I doubt you’d be stupid enough to come after me if you guys were HIS clients… But I’m sure you’ve seen his name on the door tons of times on your way to all those appointments…”

All the color seemed to have drained from the twins’ faces. They said nothing.

“In fact, I just so happened to be dropping by his office last week when I saw the STRANGEST thing…” Emberlynn was shocked by how easily the lie came, but there was no way she could tell them the truth — That Tristan had essentially stalked the two of them after school last Thursday. “Who would have ever thought I’d see the Ziegler twins walking out of a therapist’s office? And did I see that right? Were you crying, Serenity?” She asked coldly.

“You lying bitch!” Serenity finally spoke, taking a step forward as she did so. “You weren’t there. You didn’t see shit! We would’ve seen you!”

“Really? I wasn’t there?” Emberlynn raised an eyebrow at her, reaching into the pocket that held her phone. “Because these pictures on my phone say otherwise…”

Trent glanced down at the phone screen in Emberlynn’s outstretched hand. “What the hell?!” He cried as she returned her phone to her pocket. “Were you stalking us or something? That’s fucked up!”

Emberlynn couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Oh yeah? Like what the two of YOU are doing to me isn’t?! And… And who are you to talk about being fucked up?” For a moment, she almost stumbled over her words. “When apparently the two of you are fucked up enough that you need therapy!” She spat at them.

“Shut up!” Serenity cried out suddenly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Y-you… You…”

For one fleeting moment, Emberlynn felt an almost sick feeling of satisfaction at seeing just how deeply she’d gotten under Serenity’s skin. She knew that Serenity and Trent had kept their need for therapy a secret from their peers, but she’d been worried that it wasn’t going to be enough. That it wasn’t something she could hold over their heads, something they were truly ashamed of. But it was now clear that they were.

This was exactly the revenge she’d been waiting for.

“You do know what they always say, right? ‘Don’t stick your dick in crazy’?” Emberlynn continued, feeling nothing but glee as the words passed her lips. “Well, you might think I’m a ‘slut’, Serenity, but at least guys will still want me. And that goes for you too, Trent. You really think I would’ve let you fuck me if I knew?” She lied as her cold gaze flashed back toward him for a moment. “Yeah, well the whole school’s gonna know as soon as I send them these pictures. Good luck finding anyone who’ll want either of you once they know you’re a couple of fucking nutcases.”

To her absolute horror, Serenity suddenly burst into tears before her eyes. The spell was broken in an instant, and Emberlynn felt nothing but guilt and extreme disgust at herself. Oh my God… what the hell am I doing?! She hadn’t really meant a word of what she’d said, of course, but what else was she supposed to do?! Her heart sank as she imagined what her father would think if he could hear the terrible things she was saying.

No, Emberlynn told herself firmly. This is all one of Serenity’s stupid tricks, isn’t it? Don’t fall for the waterworks. Stay strong.

“Hey… it’s okay, Ren.” Trent immediately placed his hands on his sister’s shoulders, rubbing them reassuringly.“Don’t listen to her. She’s the crazy one, okay?”

Serenity gave her brother a quick nod of gratitude before turning to face Emberlynn once more. Though tears continued streaming down her cheeks, the look she gave her was not one of sorrow, but pure loathing.

“How DARE you.” Serenity snarled dangerously. “Do you have ANY idea what we’ve been through?! WHY we need to talk to somebody? You don’t have a clue what it was like! You don’t understand…”

“You’re right.” Emberlynn replied softly, already having difficulty staying true to her promise to stay strong. “I don’t.” And honestly, she really didn’t want to. Surely knowing the specifics would only make her feel worse.

“And now you’re treating our fucking trauma like it’s some kind of game? Or a joke?!”

“I don’t think it’s a joke.” She insisted seriously, her face falling even more.

Trent appeared angrier than Emberlynn had ever seen him. “Then how the hell can you call us crazy? Or threaten us like that?!”

Emberlynn felt her own anger flaring up once more at his reply. “I don’t know, how the hell can the two of you call me a slut and then blackmail me?” She shot back at him.

“That’s not the same!” Serenity insisted.

“Isn’t it though?”

None of them spoke for several moments.

It was Emberlynn who finally decided to break the silence. She couldn’t take it anymore. She just wanted it to be over.

“Look, I’m sorry the two of you have been through some rough shit, okay? I really am.” And Emberlynn meant it too. “But I’m not gonna let you keep walking all over me and blackmailing me. That’s criminal, okay? Like… literally illegal.

“Yeah, well… That means this is too, isn’t it?” Trent replied almost nervously.

“Probably.” Emberlynn admitted with a small shrug. “But at least I don’t have potential child pornography charges stacked against me too…”

Serenity let out a sound between a hiss and a growl at these words. “You wouldn’t dare tell your parents about that picture. I know you wouldn’t.”

“Honestly at this point, I just might.” Emberlynn replied seriously. “Because I am so fucking sick of this shit. And of you.” Her eyes flicked between both of them as she spoke. “But I’m hoping I won’t have to. I’m hoping those pictures I took at my Papa’s office last week will be enough of an incentive…”

Serenity shook her head slowly, as though in disgust. “This is what you wanted all along, isn’t it? First you fuck Jace behind my back. Then you fuck my brother. And now…” She paused as though at a loss for words. “I never should have trusted you. You’ve been jealous of me this whole time! You’re trying to… To…” Serenity was practically raving at this point, once again struggling to find the right words.

“Dethrone you? Or take your place or something?” Emberlynn finished for her, shaking her head. “Sure, maybe part of me used to want that. You might be right. Maybe I was jealous, at first. And maybe I did wanna be like you…” It felt so strange to finally say it aloud. She wasn’t even sure it was something she’d fully admitted to herself before, let alone anyone else. “But now that I’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like, I don’t think I have the stomach for it.” She finished coldly.

There was a moment or two of silence before Trent finally replied on his sister’s behalf. “Look, just leave us alone, okay? Delete those stupid pictures and we’ll delete ours.”

Oh God… Did it actually work? For a moment, she allowed her cold, cruel mask to slip. “So… if I don’t tell anybody what I know, you’ll get rid of that picture?”

Trent nodded. “And we can just like, pretend none of this ever happened… right?” He glanced over at his sister uncertainly as he spoke.

Serenity nodded slowly at the ground.

“Fine.” Emberlynn tried to hide the relief that washed over her. “But show me. I wanna see you do it.”

She made them each pull out their phones and watched as they deleted both the original and edited versions of the picture. She even made them go into their ‘recently deleted’ folders and delete them there too, so they were really gone for good. Emberlynn desperately hoped that neither of them had a copy of the original picture on their computers at home, but there was no way to be sure.

“There, happy?” Serenity practically spat at her. “Now it’s your turn.”

Emberlynn hesitated. As terrible and sick as going through with this blackmail had made her feel, there was no way she could trust the two of them yet. “No, I don’t think so.”

“What?! B-but you promised!” Trent spluttered.

“I didn’t promise anything.” Emberlynn corrected him. “I think I’m gonna hang onto these as… What did you call it? Insurance.” She hoped she looked menacing as she spat Serenity’s previous words right back at her.

There were a few more moments of stunned silence from the twins after that. But it was clear the battle had finally been won. After a few more hastily muttered insults, Trent and Serenity both stalked away, leaving Emberlynn alone at last.

The moment they were gone, it was like a switch had been flipped. All the anger and hatred she’d felt toward the twins melted away as the floodgates finally opened.

Emberlynn felt so sick and disgusted with herself as she thought back on all the awful things she’d said. Huge sobs shook her entire body, and try as she might, Emberlynn could not get them to subside.

The idea of getting revenge had felt so much easier when she saw Trent and Serenity as nothing but a pair of mustache-twirling, evil villains. But now… Well, now Emberlynn wasn’t so sure.

Whatever struggles the twins had experienced would never excuse their actions, of course. But still… It was jarring to see them so vulnerable, and knowing that they’d been through something terrible — something bad enough that they needed therapy — made her see them in a whole new light.

How could she use something so deeply personal against them? And, worse, even for a fleeting moment, actually find enjoyment in doing it?

I’m just as bad as they are, aren’t I?

Emberlynn wept the entire way home, marveling at the fact that in the end, revenge was not nearly as sweet as everyone always made it out to be.

—————————————

Note: I understand that this was a really rough one, and also a sensitive subject for many people.

I just wanted to clarify that I do not agree with any of the statements Emberlynn made in this chapter and honestly, neither does Emberlynn herself. The next chapter will touch heavily upon this, including the very harsh wake-up call this has been for her and how truly terrible this whole thing was for her to do.