6.33: Interlude – Dangerous

Note: One use of a racial insult in this one (in German)


“Ha! Kicked your ass again!” Harper threw her fist above her head in triumph as she stepped back from the arcade machine.

Beside her, Devin seemed to force a smile. “Heh. Yeah. Guess you did.” He muttered.

His voice was so quiet, she’d had to read his lips to understand.

A soft sigh passed Harper’s lips. He’d been so… blah all day. It was sucking the fun out of everything!

And honestly, Rylie hadn’t been much better. She’d been so much quieter than usual, and opted to sit by herself at one of the tables instead of watching Harper and Devin’s rematch.

Harper couldn’t understand what had changed. They’d been so excited that she was allowed to hang out with them again, and her friends had been fine the last few times they hung out together… So why were they being so weird?

Still annoyed, Harper followed Devin as he headed back to the small table where Rylie waited for them. As they drew closer, she noticed her friend had ordered refills on their beers.

“Thought we could all use another round.” Clearly Rylie had noticed her staring at their now-full glasses.

“Thanks.” Harper tried to smile as she took a seat.

The three of them each took a few sips of their drinks, saying nothing. The more time that passed, the more uncomfortable Harper began to feel. She couldn’t take it anymore! She needed to find out what was going on.

Harper took a breath, then opened her mouth to speak. Unfortunately, Devin and Rylie decided to do exactly the same.

“Alright, spill. Why are –”

“So, uh, guess who I–”

“Guys, can we cut the –”

The sound of their bright laughter mingling together helped to ease some of the tension that had been building up between them. It took a minute or two for the sound to finally die away.

“Okay,” Rylie broke the silence at last, “You first.” She gestured toward Harper as she spoke.

She shrugged slightly, the brief high from her laughter suddenly vanishing. “I just noticed both you acting like, super weird today. And I wanna know why.”

Rylie and Devin exchanged a brief look.

“Um, well…” Devin mumbled uncertainly. Harper had given up on being able to hear his words clearly. Instead, she stared at his mouth as he continued. “I… I don’t really…”

Rylie gave him a swift kick under the table.

“Ow!” He cried, glaring at her for a moment before turning his gaze back toward Harper. “Okay, um… so… Guess who I talked to yesterday?”

She simply shrugged in reply.

“My cousin.” Devin answered for her.

“Julia? That bitch who ratted us out to our parents?” She raised an eyebrow at him, feeling her anger beginning to rise. Harper was still so bitter about the huge mess they’d gotten into back in January. “Why the hell would I care about that?”

Devin practically winced at her words. “I know, I know. She still feels like shit about that. But she just panicked. You’ve met my Papa, Harper… He’s…”

She sighed softly. “Intimidating.” She admitted, shrugging. “Yeah, I know.”

He paused for a moment before continuing. “But anyway, uh… Speaking of intimidating… When I was talking to Julia, she told me about this guy. His name’s Simon…” Though he’d finally raised his voice to a normal level, Devin still seemed to have a hard time meeting her gaze. “Real scary guy, I guess. Dangerous…”

Beside him, Rylie rolled her eyes in annoyance. “He’s a drug dealer.” As always, she got straight to the point. “And we’re not talking weed… Really heavy stuff, according to Dev’s cousin.”

Harper felt like she was going to be sick. She knew exactly who he was, of course. But she tried her best to keep her voice and body language casual. “Okay… But why are you telling me this?”

“Well, Simon lives in Julia’s apartment building.” Devin explained. “And I guess she heard him talking on the phone… And it sounds like he was saying Erik owes him a ton of money…”


“I’m just telling you what she told me.” He continued. “She said she was sure she heard him mention the name ‘Erik’, and…” For a moment, Devin seemed almost reluctant to go on. “He, um… He was complaining about some, uh… ‘dreckiges Schlitzauge‘ who’d been skipping out on payments…”

She winced inwardly at the racial slur. It simply made her hate Simon even more.

“Harper…” Rylie’s voice was almost pained. “I hate to say it, but it sounds like Erik might be one of his customers. And if he is…” Her eyes flicked toward the boy beside her.

Devin simply shook his head, letting her leave the thought unfinished.

Despite having finished almost half of her drink, Harper’s throat suddenly felt so dry. Fuck. They know. For one wild moment, she considered telling them the truth. After all, Rylie and Devin were her best friends. She couldn’t lie to them… Could she?

But listen to the way they’re talking… A soft voice in the back of her mind seemed to whisper. They’re judging him. They’re jumping to conclusions. This is why you couldn’t tell them about the stealing, remember? They’re just as bad as your parents…

“That’s ridiculous!” Harper replied at last. “You guys know we can’t trust Julia anyway… And even if she really DID hear that, it’s not like there’s only ONE Asian guy in Windenburg! Or one guy named Erik either!”

“I know.” Devin said gently. “But like… We already know he’s into weed and stuff, right? And then there was that X from the party…”

Harper rolled her eyes. “That’s nothing. And you guys didn’t seem to mind that shit when he was sharing it with you!”

“We don’t mind it!” He insisted. “That’s not what we’re saying.

“Yeah, it’s just… Well, if he’s into that shit, is it really such a huge jump to think he might be into other stuff too?” Rylie finished the thought for him.

“You don’t think I’d know if he was?!” The lies were coming so much easier than she’d expected. “I’m telling you guys, it’s not like that. Julia’s wrong.”

“She probably is.” Devin agreed, though his voice sounded anything but certain. “But like… if you found out he was… You’d do something about it, right? You’d tell somebody?”

Harper shook her head. “Why would it be anyone else’s business what he does?”

Rylie sighed, leaning forward slightly in her chair. “Because shit like that’s a big fucking deal, Harper. People get hooked. They turn into pathetic junkies. And it leads to all kinds of trouble… And I don’t mean just for them.”

A sudden heat began rising up Harper’s neck and into her cheeks. “I don’t know when the two of you decided to turn into my parents, but you’re being ridiculous! First off, you’re jumping to conclusions, okay? I already told you, Erik isn’t into that shit, and Julia’s a fucking liar.” She sounded so sure, Harper almost believed it herself.

“Look, we didn’t mean to –”

“And if he did get into that kinda stuff, who the hell cares?!” She continued, talking over Rylie’s reply. “I never thought you guys would be so judgmental!”

“We’re sorry, okay?” This time, Devin was the one who replied. “We didn’t mean to piss you off. We really didn’t.”

“Yeah, and we know Erik’s not stupid enough to get involved in shit like that anyway.” Rylie added with a gentle smile. Her words only made Harper angrier.”We just wanted to let you know what we heard, and make sure everything was okay.”

“Yeah, we’re just looking out for you.” Devin assured her. But there was something in his voice that Harper didn’t quite trust.

“Yeah, whatever.” She muttered uncomfortably as she rose to her feet. “I’d just really appreciate it if you guys didn’t start spreading lies about my boyfriend, okay?”

“We’re sorry.” Devin repeated. “Seriously.”

“Yeah, and we probably shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that.” Rylie admitted. She looked up nervously at her friend. “We’re still cool, right?”

“Yeah. It’s fine.” Harper lied. “Look, I should probably head home. Gotta stick to my stupid curfew.” She forced a tiny laugh. “Thanks for the beer… And the concern, I guess.”

“Sure…” Devin’s expression was so difficult to read. “Later, Harper.”

She could barely manage a small nod at her friends before turning and heading out the door.

Harper felt sick the entire way home.

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6.32: Maybe

Okay, I seriously don’t even know what the hell to think anymore. Everything makes no fucking sense lately!

I know I should be happy about all this… But instead, I’m just frustrated. Or confused? I don’t really know how to feel about it…

Alright, I’m totally rambling. Let me back up.

So, Saturday was insane. Like, I’m still kinda processing everything that happened… The good, the bad, the ugly… and the confusing-as-fuck.

I spent most of it with Erik, of course. Just like always. But… this Saturday was definitely a little more eventful than usual.

Let’s just say I learned a lot about him this weekend.

Like… that he’s maybe involved in some not-so-great things. Drugs, I mean. And I’m not talking stuff like weed or X…

And even worse, he maybe does business with some not-so great people too…

That part was so scary. I seriously thought that dealer guy was gonna kill us or something. I guess Erik owes him a lot of money. And I don’t even wanna write the name of what it is he owes him money for.

I told Erik the other day I was okay with it. And I’m trying to be. I mean, he said he isn’t gonna let it get out of control. And that he’d try cutting back.

And like, I do some shit that isn’t exactly legal either. So how can I judge him for this?

I think I’m still in shock… I mean, I know Erik likes getting high and stuff. But smoking some weed with friends or taking some X at a party is different than this. It’s hard not to be a little weirded out by this whole thing…

But you know what? That bad stuff wasn’t the only thing I learned about Erik that day.

I learned that he isn’t gonna judge me for who I am. That he’ll accept me no matter what.

I learned that he loves me. And that I love him too.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters? Isn’t that enough?

Anyway, when I left Erik’s apartment Saturday, I was already feeling pretty overwhelmed by everything. All the scary drug stuff. The beautiful romantic stuff. And the amazing sex stuff too.

We didn’t go all the way, but I’d say we’ve gone as close as you possibly can to the real thing. And it was incredible. That was one more thing I learned about Erik, I guess — that his tongue is good for a lot more than just kissing…

Overall, I was pretty much on cloud nine when I got back home, even with all the bad stuff that happened. I don’t care how cheesy this sounds, but the high of just being with Erik is better than anything any drug could ever do. And him telling me he loves me… I almost couldn’t believe it. I kept replaying it again and again in my mind. I just couldn’t stop thinking about him.

And maybe if I wasn’t so distracted, I would have noticed there was something weird going on with my parents. But instead, I didn’t have a clue.

They let me get all the way through dinner before they told me the truth. They figured out about me and Erik. And the second they told me, I totally braced myself for a huge screaming match. I figured that’d be the end for me. They’d put literal bars on all the doors and windows and never let me leave the house again.

But instead, you know what they did?

They un-grounded me. They apologized to me for overreacting! They even invited Erik over for dinner later this week. At first I thought it was a joke or something, but they kept telling me they were serious.

They asked me a few questions too, about how I’m feeling about everything. “Talk to us,” they kept saying. What the hell was I supposed to say to that?! I tried to be honest, but… it was really weird. I kept asking them what the hell was going on, and their answer was always “we’re just trying to understand”. Um… what?!

Then they gave me a little speech about drugs and alcohol and being “responsible” with them… And being ‘safe’ with Erik so I don’t get pregnant or something (Oh my God!).

The only thing they really asked was that I tell them the truth about where I’m going, stick to a 9pm curfew on school nights, and talk to my doctor about starting birth control.

And that was it.




It’s like they can’t even make up their minds anymore! They’ve been so weird lately. Way worse than they’ve ever been, honestly.

I mean, they spent forever pressuring me about uni. Then as soon as I started showing ‘responsibility’, they decided to just let it go.

And for years they were these total pushovers whenever I got in trouble. Then after ONE stupid party, they put me under fucking house arrest.

And now, they’ve changed their minds on me all over again! Suddenly they’re totally fine with me and Erik being together?

All they’d tell me was that they “jumped to conclusions” and “overreacted” by grounding me for so long. They even apologized for not hearing me out sooner about the whole Erik thing. They were so… cool about it. Understanding. Where the hell did that come from?!

Okay, okay. I know how this sounds. Obviously I’m happy about all this too.

I mean, all I’ve wanted since I started dating Erik was to not have to keep him a secret. I’ve been wishing since the beginning that my parents could be on my side. And I guess I finally got what I wanted.

I’m happy… for now. But part of me is just waiting to see when they’re gonna turn on me again, y’know?

It’s like they can’t decide whether to treat me like a kid, or like an adult. Or whether to smother me or let me do what I want. Why can’t they just make up their minds?!

It’s driving me crazy. It makes me feel like I’ll never be able to trust them again… And I hate feeling that way.

I’ve tried talking to my friends about it, but I’m the only one who thinks it’s a big deal, I guess.

Erik keeps saying it means they’re finally starting to trust me. Devin says I should try giving them the benefit of the doubt. And Rylie just keeps going “shhh, don’t question it!” like it’s a big joke or something.

But honestly, I think she and Dev are just happy we’re allowed to hang out again. And so am I. I love Erik, but I’ve missed hanging out when it’s just the three of us too. And now, we finally can.

See? The more I write about it, the easier it is to be happy about it… And to forget how fucking weird my parents are being. But should I forget about it? Should I really give them the benefit of the doubt?

Ugh! I dunno. Maybe I’m just over-thinking everything.

Maybe my parents really do trust me now. Maybe they’re finally done treating me like a little kid.

Maybe everything’s gonna be okay with Erik and this whole drug thing. Maybe he’ll even start cutting back, like he said he would.

Maybe my life can finally start feeling normal. Maybe things are finally gonna start making sense again.

… Or maybe not.

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6.31: Interlude – Try

Zayne couldn’t help but smile as the smell of the sizzling garlic wafted up from the stove beside him.

It was such a simple thing to find joy in — the smell of garlic. Yet he always did. The smell of garlic, the sound of clanging pots, the feeling of warmth radiating from the stove… To Zayne, there was nothing like it. No matter how many years passed, he never tired of being in the kitchen. And he doubted he ever would.

Zayne was so caught up in preparing dinner for his family that he nearly jumped at the sound of the phone on the counter ringing. Probably a telemarketer… Few people ever called the Rosebrooks’ landline, except those looking to sell them something or scam them out of money.

He sighed softly as he stepped away from the stove to glance at the caller ID. The only landline phone in the entire house happened to be the one sitting on the kitchen counter, so the responsibility of screening the call automatically fell on him.

His brow furrowed in confusion as he realized that the name on the screen was one he recognized — the drug store where his daughter worked. Must be Harper… Wonder what’s up. The whole situation made Zayne feel uneasy before he even answered. Why would she be calling their home number? And why was she using her work’s phone instead of her cell?

Zayne pressed the button for speaker phone. “Hello?” He said uncertainly as he got back to work by the stove.

“Hi, Mr. Rosebrook.” To his surprise, it was not Harper’s voice who addressed him, but another familiar voice he had not heard in quite some time.

“Nyla?” Zayne asked as he continued chopping up some vegetables to add to the pan. “What’s up?”

“Sorry to bother you… My boss wanted me to call.” Nyla explained apologetically. “One of our coworkers is really sick, so he’s going home early. We were wondering if Harper could come in for a couple hours to cover the rest of the shift?” She paused for a moment before continuing. “I know she doesn’t usually work Saturdays, but we’re really in a bind right now…”

Zayne nearly dropped his knife as the meaning behind her words finally hit him. “What?” He asked softly, drawing closer to the phone as he spoke. “But… Harper…” She’s already at work today… isn’t she?!

“Is she home?” The girl’s voice asked hopefully. “She didn’t answer her cell… And normally I would’ve just left it. But we’re like, super desperate.” Nyla continued almost guiltily.

His throat felt so dry, it was almost a struggle to reply. “She’s… She’s not home. Sorry.” He said at last. “You said… She doesn’t work on Saturdays? Never?”

“Yeah, that’s why I feel so bad about calling.” She replied. “If you hear from Harper before like, six, can you ask her to call the store? And we’ll try to find someone else for now.”

“Sure, Nyla.” Zayne replied weakly. “Thanks.”



“Zayne… Sit down.”

He ignored his wife’s request, continuing to pace back and forth across the living room. “How the hell could she do this?” Zayne asked for what felt like the thousandth time. “What’s gotten into her lately?!”

“I know, honey. Believe me.” Hope replied gently. “This is… bad.” She admitted. “And we’ve gotta do something about it. But you’re starting to stress me out even more… Please sit down?” She asked again.

With a bit of reluctance, Zayne finally took a seat beside his wife. Harper would be home from her “shift” any minute, and he was already struggling to figure out what he was going to say. Where could he even begin?

“We are driving her to work from now on.” Zayne fought to keep his voice steady as he spoke. “Dropping her off at the front door. Hell, walking her in if we have to!”

Beside him, Hope nodded slowly in agreement. But before she could reply, a soft, gravelly voice reached their ears. “No, you’re not.”

“Tante Joce?” Zayne looked up toward the living room door in surprise. “How long were you standing there?”

The old woman shrugged as she made her way toward the couch. “Long enough.” Jocelyne replied. “And the both of you really need to think this through before you do something you’ll both regret.”

Zayne sighed. This was the same sort of lecture his aunt always loved to give him. “What else are we supposed to do?” He asked. “Did you hear what she’s doing this time?”

She nodded sadly. “Sneaking off to go see that boy…” Jocelyne paused for a moment. “But honestly? None of us should be surprised this happened.”

“I know I’m not.” Hope confessed, turning toward her mother-in-law. “But I agree with Zayne… We can’t let Harper keep up all this lying and going behind our backs. It’s not like her. We need to do something about this.”

“You’re right.” Jocelyne agreed. “Harper can’t keep lying to you like this. And you do need to do something… You need to sit down and listen to your daughter.” She said seriously. “And she needs to listen to you too. You need to meet halfway on this. You need to support her, not push her away. Because I hate to say it, but that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

Zayne just shook his head. Why couldn’t she understand? “Tante Joce, I appreciate the advice. But I don’t think you really get it.” He explained gently.

“Oh, I think I do.” She assured him. “Or have you already forgotten what your Opa told you all those years ago?” Jocelyne asked before turning her gaze toward her daughter-in-law. “Hope, I don’t know if Zayne ever told you this… But he made a promise to my Papa before he passed away. Back when Harper was really little… Maybe three years old?” Jocelyne turned her eyes back to her nephew. “Do you remember what that promise was?”

He nodded slowly. How could he ever forget his grandfather’s words?

“Just… promise me you’ll be there for Harper, Zayne. Don’t judge her. Don’t turn your back on her. Support her no matter what. Never let her forget how much you love her.”

“I promised I wouldn’t turn my back on Harper.” He replied at last. “That I’d always be there for her…” Zayne paused for a moment. “But that’s what I’m doing! I’m helping her stop all this nonsense before it’s too late!”

“You thought you were helping.” She corrected him. “But if she’s still going behind your back like this, you haven’t helped, honey. Not one bit.”

Zayne sighed, torn between sadness and frustration. “Tante Joce… You remember what happened to me, don’t you?” He asked softly. “Back when I was Harper’s age…”

“Of course I do.” Jocelyne smiled sadly at him. “How could I ever forget?”

“Then you know why we can’t just go along with this.” He explained. “I’d like to think Harper’s a hell of a lot smarter than I was, but…” Zayne shrugged, memories of his time running drugs for Eun suddenly so fresh in his mind. “I just don’t want anything bad to happen to her.”

“Neither do I.” His aunt agreed. “And I’m not expecting you two to go as far as I did back then. I know it was a mistake… But so is what you’re doing right now. All you’re doing is pushing her away, right toward everything you’re trying to protect her from.” Jocelyne’s voice was gentle, but firm.

Zayne opened his mouth to reply, but stopped himself. He hadn’t gone to therapy in years, but he still remembered the advice Dr. Hall gave him about communicating. Listening to others. So that’s what he tried to do.

She had a point, didn’t she? Forbidding Harper from seeing Erik had done nothing but push her right back into his arms… And if they continued to try to bar her from seeing him, what would she do? Probably just find another way to go behind our backs. More lies. More secrets…

While Zayne continued considering his aunt’s words, his wife finally broke the silence.

“I understand what you’re saying, Joce.” Hope assured her. “But this is all so much easier said than done… She’s our daughter. We want what’s best for her. We don’t want her around someone who’s such a dangerous influence on her… Surely you understand that.”

Jocelyne nodded. “I’ve been in your shoes before, trust me. I know how hard it is. But… I’ve been in Harper’s too. And she really needs both of you right now. But not to scold her or shame her for what she’s doing…” She shook her head. “She just needs you to listen. You don’t have to like what you hear. You don’t have to agree with her. But you need to respect her side of things.”

At last, Zayne seemed to have found his voice. He took a slow, deep breath before speaking. “You’re right.” He said at last. “I know this probably isn’t what Opa wanted. And the last thing we wanna do is push Harper away. But… Hope’s right too. This isn’t as easy as you’re making it out to be. I’m not sure how much we can really let slide on this whole thing.” He paused for a moment, sighing in frustration. “I mean, drugs? Partying? Sneaking off with some older guy? She’s still a kid, Tante Joce.”

“Not for much longer.” She reminded him.  “I’ve been trying so hard to step back and let the two of you handle this. But the fact is, Harper turns eighteen in less than two months… You’re running out of time.”

The thought sent a sickening wave of panic rushing through Zayne’s stomach. His baby girl would be an adult in no time. It was a fact he’d been too afraid to face until now. And judging by the look on his wife’s face, so had Hope. It was so easy to forget what turning eighteen would mean for their little girl… If they could even still call her that.

“Shit. She’s right.” Zayne turned to face his wife. “Pretty soon, it won’t really matter what we think, will it?”

His wife shook her head.

“We can’t keep letting things escalate like this…” He admitted as the panic in his stomach churned and bubbled unpleasantly. “Shit, we’re losing her already, aren’t we?”

“Hey, it’ll be okay. We’ll try talking to her, as soon as she gets home.” Hope promised. “And we’ll… we’ll figure something out.” She sounded anything but confident.

“What a fucking mess…” Zayne muttered. How had any of this happened? How, in the span of less than six months, had his little girl changed so much? “I just hope we’re not too late…” He glanced hopelessly toward his aunt for a moment.

Jocelyne sighed sadly. “Me too, honey. But right now, all you can do is try.”

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6.30: Interlude – No Harm

Warning: Lots of sexual innuendo in this one, and partially-clothed screenshots. Talk of drugs too.


Erik leaned forward, pressing his lips gently against the top of Harper’s head for a few moments. She closed her eyes, and smiled slightly at his touch. Erik said nothing, but the sound of his heavy breaths said it all.

Harper continued smiling to herself as she rose to her feet and took a seat on the edge of Erik’s bed, watching as he put his boxers back on. She couldn’t help the strange sense of pride that swelled up inside her. It had been very scary at first and, as Rylie had warned her, quite messy and strange as well. But she’d done it. And seeing how good Erik felt made it all worth it.

“Thanks, Babe.” Erik spoke at last as he took a seat beside her on the bed. “That was amazing.”

“Really?” Harper’s voice was almost hopeful.

He nodded in reply and leaned forward, wrapping his arms around her and giving her a slow, gentle kiss.

Harper couldn’t help but laugh as they finally broke apart.

“What?” He asked, smiling.

“I just wasn’t expecting you to wanna kiss me after that…”

Erik rolled his eyes and simply kissed her again.

Harper melted into his arms. He always made her feel so safe. So appreciated. So loved. It was a feeling she knew she’d never grow tired of.

As they broke apart a second time, Erik leaned forward, whispering into her good ear. “Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’d like to return the favor…” His voice was low and sultry in her ear. “If that’s okay with you?”

Oh my God! Erik had never touched her below her waist with anything but his hands before… The thought of him doing more sent a burst of white-hot fire rushing through her whole body.

“It’s more than okay.” Harper assured him, giggling with a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

She felt so comfortable with Erik. Their past two months together had been amazing. And she felt so ready to take this next step with him... And maybe go even further. They had been so intimate with each other already. Could they finally be ready to go all the way?

Erik had risen to his feet and began leaning her back on the bed, looking deeply into her eyes as he did so. He brushed his fingers gently against her cheek as his other hand began creeping slowly up her thigh. Harper let out a soft sigh and smiled up at him…

Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock! 

The sound was so faint to Harper’s ears, she almost though she’d been imagining it.

But Erik’s reaction confirmed her fears.

He broke away from her and stepped backward instantly, his face falling as he glanced toward the bedroom door. “Fuck.”

Harper’s brow furrowed in confusion for a moment. Who the hell could that be? She wondered. “Can’t you just ignore it?”

Erik shook his head as a second round of heavy knocking filled the air. “Stay here, okay? I’ll be right back.” He assured her.

“Um… Okay, but –”

“Just… Stay here.” Erik repeated as he headed for the bedroom door.

Harper felt like she was going to be sick. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t good. That much was certain. She was on her feet in an instant, but did as Erik asked — she stayed inside.

Harper stood very close to the door and strained her ears as much as she possibly could, wishing more than ever that she had normal hearing.

She could make out the high-pitched creak of Erik’s front door being pushed open. Then, voices. Only two. Erik’s, and another man’s. It was difficult to distinguish between the two of them as she fought to make out as much of the conversation as she could.

“…ey Simon. What’s up?”

…ut the crap, …rik.” The other man did nothing to mask his anger. “..id you …ink you could …nore me, huh?”

“I …sn’t ignoring you, …mise. Just … really busy.”

“Busy? Yeah, better be …sy  …aying me ..ack my …oney!”

“Look, I’m …orry.” Even through the door, the fear was apparent in Erik’s voice. “…ive you …at I can…”

There was a pause, then. Harper closed her eyes, straining her ears to try to make out more of the conversation.

“…otta be …king kidding me. Is this …ome kind of …oke?”

“… all I’ve got this week. …orry.”

“Bullshit. …ere’s the rest?!”

She heard banging and clattering then. Like furniture being moved or things being pushed around on the counter top. Harper reached for the doorknob, her heart racing. Erik was in trouble, wasn’t he? Shouldn’t she go out there?

The banging of footsteps suddenly grew louder and louder.

“…ey! …othing in there, okay?!” Erik cried out.

“Yeah, I’ll see about that.”

Harper jumped backward just in time as the bedroom door flew open.

The man who stood in the doorway was tall and slender. Not quite as menacing as what she’d been expecting… Minus the terrible scowl on his face.

“Hey there, Beautiful.” For a moment, the man’s scowl was replaced with a sickening smile. “Sorry to interrupt.”

Erik rushed to her side immediately and reached down, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. Harper wanted nothing more than to ask him what the hell was going on, but she knew that now was not the time.

The man’s dark eyes scanned the room for a moment, finally falling on Erik’s wallet, which lay on top of his dresser. He crossed the room in two long strides.

“Let’s see what we’ve got in here…” He reached inside, and pulled out a small wad of bills.

Harper couldn’t quite tell from where she was standing, but it looked to be at least fifty euros.

“No!” Erik suddenly released her hand, closing the distance between himself and the stranger. “Simon, please… I –”

With one sharp strike of Simon’s hand, Erik was on the floor.

“That was for lying to me.” Simon practically growled as he pocketed the money and put his foot on Erik’s chest. “You’re lucky this pretty little thing was watching, or you’d have gotten a hell of a lot worse.” He narrowed his eyes for a moment before finally lifting his foot.

Erik said nothing as Harper helped him to his feet. What the hell is going on?! She wondered.  She felt like she was going to either cry or throw up… She couldn’t decide which.

Simon was already heading for the door. “I’ll be back next week… Don’t even think about pulling this shit with me again, you understand?” He glanced over his shoulder for a moment, then left the room without another word.

A few seconds later, they heard the opening and closing of the front door.

“A-are you hurt?” Harper broke the silence at last, her voice shaking. She reached a hand tentatively toward Erik’s face as she spoke.

Erik shook his head. “I’m fine.” He promised her. “Just pissed about that money. It was for my nephew’s birthday…” He continued sadly.

She wrapped her arms around him for a moment, pressing her head against his shoulder. She was sure Kaleb would understand. What mattered was that Erik had made it through the encounter in one piece! “Thank God you’re okay.” She breathed. “I was so scared.”

“I’m so sorry, Harper.” He replied seriously. “I never wanted you to see that…”

“See what?” Harper pulled away from him at last, her worry finally giving way to suspicion. “What the hell was that, Erik?”

He sighed softly. “Okay, let’s sit down for a second.” Erik muttered, his voice pained as he led the way back to the bed. “I can explain.”

“Erik, who is that guy?” Harper asked as she took a seat beside him. “Someone you owe money to?”

Her boyfriend nodded. “His name’s Simon.”

“I got that part… That’s not what I meant. What I mean is, who is he?” Harper repeated her question, terrified she already knew the answer.

For a moment, Erik seemed unable to meet her gaze. “My dealer.” He whispered.

She felt her heart sink at his words. “You mean for weed?” Harper asked almost hopefully.

As she feared, Erik shook his head. “N-not for weed.” He replied nervously. “Or X…”

“Something worse?” Harper’s voice was very small.

Erik nodded. “Way worse.” He admitted.

Harper bit her lip as a hazy memory from the New Years Eve party suddenly found itself at the forefront of her mind. It was one she’d been trying not to think of, ever since that night.

Erik, alone in the bathroom, wiping his nose.

Three small lines of white powder on the edge of the sink…

“Oh God… that night at the party…”

“Harper, please. I’m sorry.” Erik reached out for a moment, taking one of her hands in his. “I just didn’t know how to tell you. It’s not exactly something I’m proud of… And it’s definitely not something I want you getting mixed up in.”

Harper felt herself buckling under the weight of his words. She knew smoking a little weed or taking some X at a party wasn’t really a big deal. But this… Wasn’t it dangerous? And not just because of angry dealers either…

“So… once you pay this Simon guy back… Can’t you… Can’t you just, like… stop?” She felt like a stupid little girl as soon as the words left her lips. Harper knew it couldn’t be that simple.

For a moment, Erik almost laughed. “I wish it were that easy.” He replied. His voice sounded so sad, despite his smile. “Look, it’s not… It’s not like, terrible, really. It’s fun. It makes me feel good. I just wish I didn’t need it, y’know? And I wish it wasn’t so damn expensive…” He paused. “But now that I’m in this deep, I don’t really have much of a choice… I just hoped you wouldn’t have to find out about it this way.”

Harper did not immediately reply. It was just so much to take in. She wasn’t really sure what to say…

“I know this is probably freaking you out a little.” Erik continued, his voice almost desperate. “But I hope this doesn’t change things between us… Because I really really like you, Harper. More than that, actually.” He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. “I… I think I love you.”

Harper’s eyes widened. It felt like her heart had stopped beating. “What?”

“I love you.” His voice was much more confident this time. “This isn’t exactly the way I wanted to tell you… But it’s true. And I don’t wanna lose you. Especially over something stupid like this. Just… try to understand. Please.”

Harper took a slow, deep breath before replying. “It’s okay.” She said at last. “I mean, I can’t lie. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it right now.” Harper admitted. “It might take a while to like, ‘process’ it, y’know? But I’d be a bigger hypocrite than my parents if I judged you for something like this.” Her lip curled slightly into a smile for a moment.

“I have a… habit that I’m not super proud of either.” She confessed, her smile suddenly fading. “But it’s like yours… It makes me feel good, and I wish I didn’t need it, but I do.”

Erik looked at her questioningly.

“I… take stuff sometimes.” Harper clarified. “Like… without paying for them.”

“You mean stealing.” The way Erik spoke worried her.

“Just little things!” She assured him. “Like a bottle of nail polish, or a lollipop, or a magazine… Nothing anyone would miss. And nothing I actually need.” Harper explained. “And it’s not like I do it ALL the time. Only when I need it…”

“Need it…” Erik repeated her words. “So… you’re kind of… like… addicted?”

Harper visibly cringed. “I hate that word. But… kinda. I dunno. It’s hard to explain. It just helps me feel better when I’m stressed and stuff… It’s all about the rush, I guess.”

His expression was so hard to read. “The rush… Kinda like getting high, you mean.”

She nodded. “Exactly. And I can’t tell anybody about it, because I know they wouldn’t understand… But I trust you, Erik. More than anybody.” Harper added with a soft smile.

His lips stretched into a slight smile as well at her words. “Guess we’re in the same boat… I’d be a total hypocrite if I judged you for this.”

He paused before continuing. “But I’ve gotta admit…” Erik’s smile faded for a moment. “It might take some time for me to process too. I mean, stealing’s not good, Harper. You know that, don’t you?”

“It’s not.” She agreed almost reluctantly. “But… neither is doing drugs.”

The edge of Erik’s lip twitched slightly. “Touché.”

“It’s not the end of the world or anything though, is it?” She asked, hoping she sounded confident. “I mean, yeah, maybe these aren’t the greatest things to get caught up in. But like… we aren’t gonna let this stuff get out of hand or anything, are we?”

“Of course not.” He assured her.

Harper hesitated for a moment. “And… we can both work on stopping right? Or cutting back or something?”

Erik’s smile was just as unconvincing as her own. “Sure.”

“And… neither of us is hurting anybody, right?”

He shook his head.

“Well… what’s that old expression they always say?” Harper furrowed her brow for a moment as she struggled to remember. “No harm…”

“No foul.” Erik finished for her, smiling gently. “And… you’re right. We shouldn’t let this change anything. I meant what I said before… I love you. And I’m not gonna stop because of something like this.”

“Me neither.” Harper promised, closing the distance between them. “‘Cause, for the record… I love you too.”

She could feel him smiling against her lips, and the thought sent a rush of warmth soaring through her. Harper never dreamed she’d find someone who could understand her like he did, or love her so unconditionally…

Still, now that she knew the truth, it was hard not to worry a little. Harper bit her lip nervously as she pulled away from him. “So… what are you gonna do about the money?” She asked softly.

Erik’s smile vanished instantly. “I dunno.” He confessed. “I lined up another tutoring job, so that’s been helping… But I still owe Simon about four hundred.”

Yikes. Harper hesitated for a moment, thinking. “Well… What if I help out a little?” She offered at last.

“Wait, seriously?”

“Yeah, why not?” She shrugged. “I’ve been saving up my paychecks for the past couple months… It’s not like I have to pay rent or anything. What else am I gonna do with all that money?”

Erik shook his head. “That’s super sweet of you, but… I can’t ask you to do that.”

Harper smiled. “You’re not asking, I’m offering.”

“You’d seriously do that?”

She nodded.

“God, you’re the best, Harper.” Erik’s relief was apparent on his face. “I love you so much.”

Her heart was bursting with joy at his words. “I love you too.”

“And I promise I’ll find some way to thank you for this.” He continued seriously.

Harper just smiled. “Well, what was that you said before? About returning the favor?” She teased. “Do a good enough job, and how about we call it even?”

Erik reached over, smiling as he unfastened the button on her jeans. “Deal.” He whispered.

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6.29: Dive Right In

It’s been over a month now, and I’m still so fucking mad.

My parents think they know everything. They think they’re so smart. They think I’m just sitting here quietly and going along with their bullshit new rules.

But they don’t know everything. And there’s no way in hell I’m going along with any of this.

I can’t believe what an idiot I was. How could I think we’d get away with going to that stupid party without getting caught? I just about died the moment Rylie and Devin’s parents walked out the front door on New Years Day. And the second I saw my parents’ faces, I knew we were done for…

But it ended up being so much worse than I could even imagine.

Rylie and Devin each got grounded for two weeks. And the only time any of us got to see each other was at school. It really, really sucked. But guess what? Their two weeks were up a long time ago. They’re already back to hanging out with each other after school almost every day.

But my punishment? Not even close to being over. I’m still grounded ‘until further notice’, my parents say. What the fuck!

How the hell did they go from being the two biggest pushovers on the planet to a couple of freaking tyrants who basically put their kid under house arrest?! I know I’d said before that I was worried they’d do something like this if I ever got caught… But I thought I was exaggerating. I didn’t really think they’d ever do it!

Even Tante Joce thinks they’re taking this too far. She keeps telling me to ‘be patient’ and ‘be on my best behavior’ while she ‘works on them’.

And I appreciate that she’s on my side. I really do. But there was no way I was gonna just sit around and wait! Not while I was stuck at home and my friends were free to do whatever they wanted! It just wasn’t fair.

And Rylie and Devin weren’t even the worst part…

The worst part was Erik.

My parents called him and fired him as soon as they found out about the party.

Can you believe it?! All because of one stupid night?!

They’ve convinced themselves Erik is some kind of pervy asshole who was just trying to get in my pants or something. It’s absolutely ridiculous! They’ve met him ONCE, way back when he first started tutoring me. They don’t even know him!

Erik was still able to contact me through Facebook… my parents didn’t think of trying to make me defriend him or anything, thank God! And he just kept apologizing again and again. But he doesn’t have anything to be sorry for! It’s my parents who should be apologizing to HIM!

At first, I really didn’t know what I was gonna do.

Walking home from Erik’s party, I really thought I’d started figuring things out. I mean, that night… it changed everything for me.

It helped me figure out what all those weird feelings meant.

It helped me figure out that it’s okay to have a crush on more than one person… Even if one of them’s a girl.

And most importantly, it helped me figure out what I want. Or… who I want. More than anybody else.

But thanks to my parents, he was the one thing I couldn’t have.

Except… I figured out that I can have him.

They just don’t have to know about it.

Like I said, my parents think they know everything.

But they don’t know that the drugstore’s a ten minute walk from Erik’s apartment.

And they don’t know that my boss didn’t really add a Saturday shift to my schedule.

Every Saturday from noon to five is our time now.

And we’ve definitely been making the most of it.

I’ll be honest though… It took a little convincing. Erik almost sent me home the first time I showed up at his place.

I mean, he wants to be with me too. I know he does. But be kept saying I should be honest with my parents and ASK them if they’re okay with this… Especially if we’re gonna be together now.

But like I explained to Erik, I just can’t tell them. I know they won’t listen to me, no matter what I say. And all it’s gonna do is cause more problems. Plus, I’ll be eighteen in a couple months, so it’s not like their stupid rules will matter for much longer.

And isn’t the whole ‘forbidden romance’ thing kinda hot anyway? (I’m pretty sure that’s the argument that swayed him the most. He’s such a sucker for cheesy little lines like that! It’s adorable.)

I don’t even know what I’d do without Erik right now… He’s so amazing. Just being with him makes everything better. He’s the only reason I’m able to deal with my parents’ shit right now. He’s what’s keeping me going.

When I look at him, I know I made the right choice. Rylie and Devin are amazing. But Erik… I don’t even know how to put it into words.

But I really, really think I’m falling for him… Hard.

He has the absolute biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever met. He’s so kind and caring and gentle… And he’s never ever pressured me to do anything. We haven’t even had sex yet.

I mean, want to. And I know we will, eventually… But I’ve never done anything more than kiss anybody until I met him. And I’m still kinda nervous about all that stuff, I guess. And Erik gets it. He totally gets it. He’s been letting me set the pace on everything we do together. ‘Testing the waters’, he likes to call it.

And while I’m still working up the courage to dive right in… We’ve been having a hell of a lot of fun getting our feet wet.

Not that that’s the only thing we do, obviously.

We can’t exactly go out in public together… we can’t risk getting caught like that. So we’ve had to find other stuff we can do. Like playing video games, or watching movies together… Sometimes I’ll bring along my notebook and let him read one of my stories too.

I’ve even brought over my math homework before, believe it or not! What can I say? He really is a great tutor.

We’ve had my friends come over to chill with us a few times too… The only time I see them is still at school, so this is really my only chance to hang out with the two of them too.

Rylie hasn’t had a problem with it, and she’s pretty pumped Erik and I got together (‘I ship it’, she keeps telling me. Ha!). Devin’s been kind of a different story though. He really didn’t seem too excited to come hang out with us the first time we invited him. And whenever we’re together, he’s just been so much quieter than usual.

At first I thought it was maybe because he was afraid of getting caught again or something… 

But then I think back to those fuzzy memories from the party, and I think I get what’s going on.

I feel awful that he’s so jealous… But I know he’ll move past it eventually. He loves me. He supports me. And even if he’s not crazy about me and Erik being together, I know he’ll be happy for me too.

Unlike my parents. They’ll never be happy for me. And they’ll never care about what makes me happy either.

I wish I could be honest with them. It’s not like I like lying to them. I wish I could trust them with the truth. I’d love to be able to tell them about Erik.

But I can’t. They just won’t listen to me. They’ll never stop treating me like a baby. They’ll never let me do what I want with my life either.

And I don’t think they’ll ever accept me for who I am.


Author’s Note: Hey guys! I just wanted to let you all know about a pretty exciting milestone my blog reached yesterday 🙂

As of yesterday, Ashes to Ashes has been viewed over 500,000 times! 😮 Half a million! I am floored!

Obviously I know that a huge chunk of those views came from people who looked a chapter or two and never returned. But the rest of them come from YOU guys — Reading the updates as they come out. Binge reading. Re-reading. Going back to read the comments. You get the idea 😉

Whether you’re a silent lurker or vocal commenter, I am beyond grateful to each and every one of you for the time you take to read my story. It means so much ❤ Thank you!

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6.28: Change

The new year’s supposed to be all about change, right? Turning over a new leaf? New beginnings?

Yeah, well… Whatever this is the beginning of… I sure as hell don’t like it.

Hope and I really thought things were finally on the right track for Harper. Everything had been getting so much better for her lately.

And it took so much to finally get there.

She lost her old friends. She withdrew from her schoolmates. Her grades dropped lower than ever before. She didn’t have any kind of drive or direction. No ambition. No sense of responsibility. She always underestimated herself. It was a mess — one that I think had been piling up for a long time. And it physically hurt us to see her that way. We felt so powerless to stop it.

But then everything start turning around. Harper made new friends. Her grades started going up. She got a part time job. She was happy. She finally had a sense of responsibility. It was everything Hope and I could have wanted for her.

I know Hope and I made a few mistakes along the way. We probably weren’t making things much easier for her, at first. Back when we got in that nasty fight a couple months ago… God, I hate to admit it, but I knew Harper was right. We were being total hypocrites. Pushing her to go to uni was never the right thing to do.

Her mother and I couldn’t stand school. It was one of the things that drew us together back when we first started dating. We were two stupid kids with crazy dreams and plans for the future… And absolutely NO desire to set foot inside a classroom ever again. But at least we knew what we wanted in our lives (besides each other…)

It’s just… I don’t know what it is about Harper. I love her more than anything. She’s so creative and so smart. Her grades rarely show that… but she really is. And all Hope and I have ever wanted is for her to live up to that potential we see in her, y’know? A potential I still don’t think she really sees in herself.

But she’s just never had any real kind of passion or ambition or plan for the future. The closest thing is her writing… But’s she never actually done anything with it. We’ve tried to encourage her to join the school newspaper, or sign up for a writing class…. But she won’t do it. She barely even lets us read anything she writes either.

Uni was the only thing we could come up with that might help give her a little direction. We couldn’t really think of anything else. I mean, you hear stories all the time about that sort of thing, right? People who go off to study and end up ‘finding themselves’? Or, at the very least, getting some kind of career lined up?

That was the type of thing Harper really needed… But obviously it was something she didn’t want to listen to.

Tante Joce really loved teasing me about that… Reminding me just how much I hated being told what to do too, back when I was a kid.

“She’s her father’s daughter.” Tante Joce says it all the time… And so does Hope too, actually.

So… I decided to use that as inspiration. If we’re really that much alike, maybe the same sort of thing that got through to me could get through to her?

I started thinking about when I was her age (minus what a freaking idiot I was, I mean). I got that job washing dishes down at the Bistro. Just some crappy little part time job to help pay for my apartment. But look what it turned into… I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for that first job. It opened up so many doors for me.

So we set up our deal with Harper. And it really seemed to be working. She found a job, has been doing pretty well at it, and still managing to pass all her classes. I started realizing that Tante Joce was right…

But I guess Harper is like me in some not-so-great ways too.

I remember what it was like being her age. I understand what it’s like being a kid, and wanting to feel older or cooler…

But lying to us?! Smoking pot?! Spending the night at some older boy’s apartment?! And who knows what else she could be hiding from us?!

Devin’s father told us he’d said something about taking a pill too?! We can’t get Harper to crack on that one… But I’m pretty damn sure she must have done it too.

This isn’t like her… At all.

What the hell has gotten into our little girl?!

Thank God for Rylie’s parents. We never would have figured out about this whole thing if it weren’t for them.

They stopped by to pick up their daughter on New Year’s morning… I guess they wanted her home earlier than they’d originally planned. But since she hadn’t been answering her phone, they just decided to show up and get her… Because Rylie had told her parents she was spending the night at our house.

And, well… I think all of us were pretty damn surprised when we told them we thought Harper had spent the night with them.

Devin’s parents were the first people we called, of course. They told us he’d spent the night with his cousin.

We figured maybe that’s where the girls ended up too, so they gave Julia a call. And I guess it didn’t take much to get her to crack. She told them everything.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads around all of this… Especially Hope and I. I mean, how could Harper go behind our backs like this? And how had we have been so damn blind? I guess it was all just too good to be true.

Erik seemed like such a nice young man when we met him. Polite, friendly, smart… How could we have known? How could we have guessed what he was really after? How could we have known what kind of awful shit he’d force on my baby girl?! Alcohol, drugs… It makes me sick.

I know what guys his age are like. The kind who hang out with younger girls, and throw those types of wild parties. And I know all too well what kind of shit goes on at those parties too…

It kills me to think about what he could have done to her… Or what he maybe already did do to her. It’s not like Harper would have told us if he did. Hell, maybe he had her so hopped-up on drugs that she doesn’t even remember?!

Hope and I have definitely learned our lesson. Harper isn’t as responsible as we thought she was. Not as mature either. And now matter how much she screams and fights us about it, we’re getting her a new tutor.

Oma and Harper talked me out of calling the police on the stupid kid. But I made it perfectly clear that we’re calling the cops on him if he ever gets near our Harper ever again. We don’t want her associating with this Erik guy anymore. Not after everything that’s happened.

We’re having her take a break from Rylie and Devin for a while too. I know Harper loves them to death… But they got wrapped up in all of this too. And who knows what kind of role they might have played in this whole thing?

They’re both grounded right now anyway, just like Harper is, so we won’t have to worry about them seeing each other for a while. And honestly? I’m really glad that’s the case. I think they all need a break from each other, if you ask me.

I just wish Harper could understand that.

Hope and I tried sitting down with her and having a reasonable conversation about all of this, but no matter what we say, she won’t listen. And she won’t even try being calm about her side of the story either.

She just screams at us and goes storming off to her room.

How can this be happening?!

Like I said before, it was really starting to seem like things had been changing lately. But we thought it was for the better.

And instead, in the blink of an eye, Harper’s become this whole new person. One who tells lies and keeps secrets and goes behind our backs… It’s like we don’t even know her anymore.

What happened to our sweet little girl?


Note: I’m not big on doing awards posts myself, but I wanted to give a quick thank you to Bugsie2016 and AuroraLockwood for nominating me for the Liebster award recently! (Bugsie nominated my comedy story, but it’s on a mini-break at the moment, so I decided to thank her here!)  I appreciate you guys thinking of me ❤ 🙂 

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6.27: Interlude – New Years Day

Warning: Talk of drug and alcohol use.


The moment Harper opened her eyes, she shut them again.

It literally felt like she’d been hit by a freight train. She couldn’t even move her body. Her head felt like it had been smashed with a hammer. Her stomach churned unpleasantly. Her neck and right arm ached terribly… Could it be because of how she was sleeping? But why did her jaw hurt too? And why did her upper body feel so cold?

Steeling herself for the sunlight, Harper opened her eyes once more.

It took only moments for her to realize why she was so uncomfortable.

She’d managed to fall asleep on Erik’s lap, her legs dangling over the back of the sofa and her head resting at an odd angle against one of the stiff arm rests. Her elbow was wedged against Erik’s neck. She could feel the prickliness of his stubble against her bare skin.

And speaking of bare skin… Shit, where’s my shirt?!  No wonder she was so cold! Her cheeks felt warm as she finally realized her current state of undress. At least I still have my bra on… Though she was a bit reluctant to tear herself away from Erik’s warmth, she was very eager to find her shirt before anyone else woke up.

Trying her best not to wake him, Harper lifted his hand from her bare waist, swung her legs over the back of the couch, and rolled rather ungracefully onto the floor with a soft thud.

The impact did nothing to help the persistent pounding in her temples. Ugh… I feel like I’m gonna die. Everything was so fuzzy. And despite how much fun she’d had the night before, Harper just felt… Blegh. And not just physically either.

Great, now I bet I’m gonna wake everyone up and they’ll be pissed at me! Harper thought bitterly.

She glanced over at the pile of bodies on the other end of the couch, searching for any sign of movement. But to her relief, the others remained fast asleep.

Harper was not surprised to find that she was not the only one who’d lost an article of clothing or two the night before. Paul was bare chested, just like she was… Though it wasn’t nearly as much of a big deal for him. Guys were so lucky that way! Brooklyn seemed to have lost her pants somewhere. And judging by how closely she was snuggled up to Marlene, Harper couldn’t help but wonder whether she’d been the culprit.

Grateful that her own shorts had remained on her body, Harper carefully tiptoed on her bare feet around some of the sleeping bodies on the floor to search for her top and vest.

Thankfully, they were easy to spot among the other clutter that littered the floor, and her boots were lying not too far away. She covered herself quickly, and threw on her shoes as well, for good measure. Harper still felt like she’d ran headfirst into a brick wall, but at least now she was less exposed.

Harper couldn’t help but wonder how many of the other party guests had already caught a glimpse of her in her bra several hours ago. The thought made her feel so embarrassed, and sad. But… maybe it wasn’t as bad as she was making it out to be?

Ugh! I wish I could think straight!

Her memories of the night before were fuzzy, to say the least. And her head was pounding too terribly to make sense of any of them. Everything felt so cloudy. It was hard to figure out what parts were real, and what was a dream.

She knew her shirt had come off sometime after the pill Erik had given her kicked in — “X”, he’d called it at one point. The high it had given her was unlike anything she’d ever felt before. It had made her feel like she was floating. Like everything was perfect. And all she’d wanted to do was dance and have fun and snuggle up with her friends.

Despite how miserable she felt, Harper still managed a smile as she glanced back at the couch, watching Devin and Rylie’s sleeping faces. There were other memories too, from earlier on in the evening. Of doing more than just snuggling up with them…

Did that really happen? Or was it all some wonderful dream? It was so hard to be sure. She’d been drunker the night before than she’d ever been in her entire life… Though she had a sneaking suspicion it was more than the alcohol that was to blame for how terrible she felt this morning, and how cloudy and fuzzy her head felt.

Making her way back toward the couch, Harper managed to retrieve a few more memories from the night before. She’d removed her shirt because she’d felt too hot, she recalled at last. And even completely shirtless, she’d kept on dancing. And no one had questioned her or judged her for it. Especially not Erik.

After the countdown to the new year, he’d stayed by her side for the rest of the night. They danced together. They laughed together. They made out with each other…

Her cheeks reddened at the memory of where Erik’s strong hands had touched her as they’d kissed. Places she’d never been touched before… But that was all he’d done — touch.

No matter how high he was, never once had he tried to pressure her to do anything more than that. He never did anything she wasn’t comfortable with. And she loved him for that.

Despite the slight warmth that washed over her at her memories of Erik, it was quickly becoming impossible to ignore the incessant pounding in her head, or the unpleasant churning of her stomach. Harper made her way into the kitchen, suppressing a few groans of discomfort as she did so.

Her stomach still did not feel good… She didn’t even really feel like eating. But the grumbling of her stomach indicated otherwise. Maybe getting some food in her system would help with her headache too? Or help put her in a better mood? Harper certainly hoped so.

She glanced around at the filthy apartment, but all she could find were half-eaten, stale slices of pizza that had been left out the night before. As much as she hated going through Erik’s cabinets and eating his food, she could barely even bring herself to look at the disgusting leftovers, let alone try to eat any of it.

Thankfully a box of cereal and carton of milk were easy to find. Harper poured herself a bowl and made her way as silently as she could to one of the vacant chairs. She glanced down into the bowl and, after a moment of hesitation, raised a spoonful to her lips.

Harper regretted it instantly.

Ughhhh I’m gonna die. I’m seriously gonna die. 

All she wanted to do was curl up into a ball and go back to sleep… Forever. But instead, Harper hugged the bowl of the toilet, groaning slightly in misery.

She was so distracted by how terrible she felt that she almost didn’t notice the sound of the bathroom door opening behind her.

“Harper? Is that you?” Erik’s soft, deep voice reached her ears. “Are you okay?”

“Um… not really.” She answered truthfully.

In an instant, she felt his warm hands on her shoulders as he helped guide her back to her feet. Erik studied her face for a few moments. “You definitely need some water… We both do. Come on.”

Harper followed him back out into the living room. He helped her sit back down on the couch, then disappeared across the room into the kitchen for a few moments. When he returned, he handed her a glass of water and two small white pills.

She glanced down curiously at them for a moment, earning a soft chuckle from Erik.

“It’s nothing exciting. Just ibuprofen.” He assured her. Though he smiled, his eyes still looked so tired. “Figured your head must be killing too.”

Harper swallowed both pills eagerly, and practically chugged the entire glass of water to wash them down. She hadn’t realized just how thirsty she was until the water finally touched her tongue.

“Thank you.” Harper said seriously, placing the empty glass down at her feet. One of Erik’s friends stirred slightly in his sleep at the sound of the glass hitting the wooden floor, but everyone else remained fast asleep.

“No problem. Just take it easy… Maybe lay down when you get back home.” Erik suggested. “I plan on sleeping this shit off once everyone leaves. It’s the only thing that really helps with the comedown…” His voice trailed off for a moment. “Anyway, you’ll feel better by tonight, I promise.”

“I hope so…”

“There’s, uh… A chance you might still feel a little weird for a day or two though.” Erik continued almost guiltily. “Everyone’s different, so you might be fine. Just a heads up… I should’ve warned you about that. The crazy high kinda comes with a price sometimes.”

She shrugged, smiling slightly. “It’s okay. I mean, yeah, it doesn’t sound too fun… But trust me, last night was worth it.”

The corners of his mouth curled upward into a hopeful smile at her words. “Oh yeah?”

Harper nodded.

“Thank God… I wasn’t sure how you were gonna feel about everything…” Erik replied almost nervously. “Look, I just… I want you to know that I really, really like you, Harper. It wasn’t just the drugs or the booze doing the talking last night.”

Despite how drained she felt, Harper still found the energy for a teasing smile. “What about the kissing? What was doing that?”

Erik leaned forward slightly. “Wanna find out?” He replied softly.

“So tempting… Like, really tempting.” Her smiled widened. “But… I just… I need some time to clear my head first. Figure things out… And maybe find a toothbrush.” She added with a small laugh.

Over on the other end of the couch, a few of the sleeping figures had finally begun to stir.

“Fair enough.” Erik replied softly.  “We don’t need to rush into anything. Like you said, you should take some time to figure things out. Maybe wait for your head to feel like it’s screwed on straight again… I totally know that feeling.” He smiled for a moment, then paused before continuing.

“But I won’t lie. I’m really hoping that what you figure out is that you wanna give me a chance.”

“Oh, I want to. Trust me, I do.” Harper rose slowly to her feet as she spoke, allowing her groggy friends so better situate themselves as they awoke. “It’s just… I gotta take a little time to figure things out. Last night was incredible. But it was a lot.”

“I get it.” He replied softly. “No pressure. And no matter what happens… I’m really, really glad you came last night.”

“Thanks, Erik. Me too.”


“Alright, so let’s make sure we’ve got our stories straight.” Harper told her friends as they continued heading down the street from the bus stop. It was still really, really hard to focus… Erik said the X was to blame for that. But unfortunately, focus was exactly what she needed right now. “We’re telling my parents we met up with Dev this morning for breakfast, and you guys decided to walk me home from your house, Rylie… right?”

Thankfully it was warming up enough that most of the snow on the ground had finally begun to melt, so the idea of walking all the way from Rylie’s house didn’t seem entirely unreasonable.

The other two nodded in agreement. “And then I’ll complain about how cold it is and ask your parents for a ride back to my place.” Rylie replied happily. Of the three of them, she seemed to be the least effected by the drugs and alcohol from the night before. “And my parents will think yours are just dropping me off from our little sleepover. Genius…”

“Yeah, but what about me?” Devin asked softly as they drew closer to the Rosebrooks’ home. “What do I tell my parents?” As they’d planned the night before, his cousin stopped by Erik’s apartment to drop off Devin’s clothes earlier that morning… But she hadn’t offered him a ride home.

“Hmm…” Harper furrowed her brow in thought for a moment. “Oh, I know! Julia dropped you off at my place this morning to hang out with us.” She answered. “So now my parents are driving you home.”

“Perfect!” Rylie smiled. “Now the only thing left to explain is why our backpacks smell like they were sitting in a nasty bathroom stall for twelve hours…”

Harper couldn’t help but laugh. She was grateful that things were working out so well… And that nothing was awkward between her and her friends now. In fact, they’d barely mentioned anything that had transpired between them at the party. Whether it was because of embarrassment or a lack of memory, Harper was not sure. She was too afraid to ask.

Maybe it was really a dream after all..?

The sun was already high in the sky by the time they made it to Harper’s front walkway. None of them were sure exactly what time it was — their phones had all died the night before.

Thanks to the bus schedule, they knew it had been around 10:30 when they’d left Erik’s apartment. But the seemingly endless bus ride from downtown combined with the after-affects of the night before had made them lose track of time.

“Um… guys?” Devin’s worried voice called her attention back to the present. They had reached the top of the front steps, but his eyes were not staring at the house. He was looking behind them, back down onto the street. “I… I don’t wanna freak anybody out, but…”

This can’t be good… A twisting sensation entered Harper’s stomach as she turned around to look. Beside her, Rylie did the same.

“Oh, fuck.” Rylie breathed.

It took Harper a few moments longer to figure out what they were looking at. But then she realized — There were two seemingly unfamiliar cars parked on the street outside her house.

Except they weren’t unfamiliar, Harper realized.

Especially not to Rylie and Devin.

For one wild moment, Harper considered grabbing her friends and making a run for it…

But it was too late.


Cement made the most incredible pose for me for use in this chapter (the seven-person couch pose). I wasn’t even sure if it was possible to pull off what I wanted, and she made it even better than I could have hoped for.  She is a superstar ❤

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