Chapter 12 – Hold
“She had some strange hold over me.”
I flop on my stomach to get a better look at him. His eyes are closed to the sun. We lie in silence for a bit. The sounds of kids playing a little ways off reminds me of happier times. We used to come to this exact spot to play when we were younger. We would have mock battles and practice our martial arts moves on one another. I smile at the memory. But, now was not the time to reminisce. I force myself back into the present.
Nicolas is staring off into space.
It wasn’t hard to accept that Laurie could hold onto a boy that way. I could see why Nicolas wanted her. An image of Laurie at the dance snakes into my mind. She’d made all the boys want to leave their dates. Any super model would die to have her long legs, perfect bronze skin and exotic features. She was perfect. Just thinking about her made me take a hit on my own self-esteem, and I didn’t much like it. I banish her image from my mind. I would not let her haunt me.
Nicolas continues, “It was crazy because whenever she was around me it was like I couldn’t breathe without her. I felt strangled. As soon as we’d part I get this major head rush…”
My mouth fell open. Laurie did that to me sometimes … but I’d thought it was only my reaction to her scariness.
“You think I’m kidding … it was exactly like I’d been holding my breath for too long. Every time I was away from her I’d feel lighter but then I’d go through what I’d done that day or what I had done in the hours that I was with her and I wouldn’t recognize the memories. I knew they were mine but I couldn’t remember doing any of it.”
“I’ve wanted to call you, to talk to you… I even took pictures of you when I was sure Laurie wasn’t looking just so I could see you when she wasn’t looking … but anytime I’d even think about you it was if her image would come blaring into my mind.”
He shuddered, “Once I fought it enough to the point where I’d make up my mind to see you. I wrote you a letter and I was going to slip it in your locker. I have the original here, with me.” He slips his hand under him and wrestles something out of his back pocket. It’s an extremely crinkled piece of binder paper. He turns it over and over in his long fingers.
“When I walked up to your locker you were already there. I can’t begin to explain how happy I was. I just wanted to go over to you and give you a huge hug. It was the first time I had really seen you. I felt whole again.” He turned his head and smiles up at me. I gave him a small smile back. I remembered that first day, or last day depending on how I really wanted to look at it. The last time I had spoken to Nicolas had been in the first week of school. I had turned the events around in my head so much the past few weeks thinking that I had done or said something wrong. He went on. “I think I grinned for the first time since school started. I was about to call out to you, but you looked upset. You were talking to someone. I made the huge mistake of looking at who you were arguing with. You were with Laurie. As soon as I saw her my breath caught. Everything faded and I walked over to her like the zombie I was and held her hand. I don’t think I even looked your way. When she kissed me…”
I cringe. If he was trying to explain his actions the last few weeks in a manner that I would accept and understand … bringing that up would not help. He notices.
“Um, well… I guess the less I mention that, the better.” He gazes apologetically into my eyes. “I’m sorry. I know I owe you a lifetime of “sorry’s” and even then it won’t be enough. I know that this flimsy story won’t be enough to garner your friendship again … but I have to try.”
“Nicolas… I…” How could I put this into words that didn’t sound lame and mushy poetical? I stare across the lush green grass. “No matter what you say to me right now, or ever really, no matter what … I’ll always be your friend.”
He smiles … a twinge of sadness still lingering in his eyes. “I really don’t deserve that, especially after everything. You really shouldn’t be friends with me. I don’t want you to hurt anymore.”
“Well then, don’t. Don’t hurt me.” I give a small laugh, “You haven’t finished your story yet. So maybe you’ll get your wish and I’ll stomp off into the sunset and never see you again.” I playfully push him with my left shoulder, and cringe. The bruise there was still throbbing. An unfriendly reminder of what had happen just a few nights ago. I shiver at the thought.
Nicolas’ light smile turns menacing. He is remembering that night also. “You really should get checked for rabies, you know.” I could hear the attempt at sarcasm but it was hard to notice around the growling. He touches my shoulder gently, “Why did you leave with him? Why not wait for Jen or…”
“Oh no… You’re on the chopping block right now.” He sighs and lets his hand slip off my shoulder and onto the moist grass by my hand.
I look at the frayed piece of paper now clutched tightly in his other hand. “Can I read my real letter?”
He blinks and lets the paper uncrinkle in his hand. “In a bit.” He tries, unsuccessfully, to smooth down its worn edges before sticking it into his front pocket. Nicolas looks, well stares forcefully, into my eyes. The heat rises into my face. “You will tell me what that was all about. Rich? Of all the guys you could have gone home with! He isn’t even your type!”
“What the hell, Nic… You were sucking Laurie’s face off. He was there. I needed to get out of there.” I scramble to get onto my feet. I would stomp off now. “How do you know what my type is? I didn’t even know you cared!”
He grabs my hand and gently pulls me back down onto the grass. We were now sitting up facing each other. I wouldn’t look at him … my face was still burning and I didn’t want him to see it.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been having a hard time controlling my temper lately.” He sighs, “Like I said, a lifetime of apologies.” He smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I shouldn’t have said that. You can go out with whoever you want, even if he’s a big hairy oaf. BUT … you’re wrong, you know. About me not caring about you. I do care. A lot. It was probably the only thing that got me through … everything.” He hesitates. I calm down. My face still felt a little warm but I had a feeling it was because of his proximity to me than anything else.
He lets out a great big sigh as he flops back onto the grass, his blue eyes more brilliant than the wide expanse of sky they were searching. I remember then that he’d never told me why his eyes looked different now. It was as if the sun was rising out of them. They were slightly golden around the irises.
I realized a moment too late that I’d been staring. Nicolas is smiling timidly up at me. My face gets hot … again. I really wish it would stop doing that. I was still sitting up and I arched my back a little to stare up into the sky and hopefully to get the blood to rush back out of my face.
He snickers a little. “Should I finish my tale, or are you going to ‘stomp off into the sunset’ and never see me again?”
I slump back down again and purse my lips to keep myself from flinging words at him that I probably didn’t mean and would definitely regret later.
Still smiling he looks back up into the sky. I look too. I could see a few white clouds forming in the distance.
“So… ah…” He is trying to edit out the kissing part. “Ok… so, I wanted to give you my note but since I was so full of Laurie’s presence I had completely forgotten about it. But somehow she knew. She asked what I was doing here and I confessed that I wrote a note to you. She held her hand out and I gave it up to her without a second thought. She read my note to you.” Unconsciously, his hands reached up to his breast pocket. The note was still there. “I could see the calculation in her eyes as she crumpled up the paper.”
“This is going to sound really lame, but maybe it’ll drive home the point I’ve been trying to make about her tremendous hold on me. I was terrified that she was going to be mad at me. I would have crawled on glass naked if it would make her happy. I was such an idiot!” He pounded the ground with his fist. I could feel the vibrations from it course through my body. He’d gotten much stronger than I’d realized. There was a dent in the dirt where his fist had been.
My eyes widen a little but, I stay quiet. I want him to finish this story. I want him to explain why some beautiful, scary and perhaps homicidal and psychotic girl had stolen my best friend.
“Sorry.” He slumps a little. “So there I was, being a blithering idiot. Begging her to forgive me, to not be mad at me … that I didn’t mean what I had written … that I would do anything to make her stay with me.” I could tell that he was editing again. It was probably for the best. I didn’t really want to hear everything he’d said, or done, to get back in her favor.
“She wasn’t mad. She … well … she forgave me.” He looks up into my blank stare. I was trying not to show my revulsion, and failing. He hurries through to the next part. “I noticed that she’d tossed my note into the trash can next to your locker. Even in my crazed state, something in my mind was a little … angry … by the way it was crumpled in there. Like that letter was really important. Her hold on me must have been slipping a little, but as I said before, my mind wasn’t focused. I followed her, like the little lapdog I’d become, behind Laurie and Cami as they whispered. They stopped. They had come to some sort of agreement and Cami walked away.”
“Laurie turned to face me. I told her I would take any punishment she had to offer me. I just wanted to be near her. She said, ‘I’d like to write your little friend a note of my own. Can you write it for me? I don’t think she’ll come if I write it.’” He stops.
My breathing is labored. I remember that simple letter in Nicolas’ messy handwriting. I remember all the hope that it had given me just to be dashed to pieces hours later in the cold Gym. The blaring light and Laurie’s snake like tongue practically tasting the fear in the air. I grip the grass to steady myself as the nightmare slips into my consciousness.
I hear a rustling as his warm body wraps around my back, holding me gently from behind. “Do you want me to stop? I don’t want you to go through this again. I’ve put you through so much already.” His heart is beating rapidly in his chest. The sound of it calms me. I am safe. The nightmare lets go of me.
“No … you … we need to talk. And I need to know why.”
He still held me tight, my back (and heart) is warm by his embrace as he continues. “After you left with Alison, I remember Laurie laughing into my face and something inside me … awoke. There was no light-headed-blood-rushing feeling this time. I just stared at her like I was seeing her through new eyes. I didn’t want to be with her anymore. I didn’t even like her. I could smell that ridiculous perfume she used and it was hurting my nose. I remember searching the room. I could still smell you there. I could feel your warm presence. It was too late, though. Laurie had already gotten what she wanted. She’s bent on hurting people and I stood by and watched as she hurt you. I had to watch as strangers came to your rescue … from me. I saw your pleading eyes trying to comprehend the monster I’d become for Laurie.” He let go of me then and crawls around to face me, our knees touching. He shakes his head, the sun is gleaming off his golden hair.
“The noises coming from outside in the parking lot were deafening. I heard Jennifer and Caleb help you into the car. The one noise that I couldn’t take was your crying. I thought I could hear you. I couldn’t take it. I turned and ran out of the gym. I had to get away … I was sick. I heard Laurie shout something but I tuned her voice out. I couldn’t see how I’d never been able to do that before.” He pauses, contemplating something.
“Everything was sort of a blur that night …” he hesitates. I couldn’t see his face because his head was down, the hair falling into his face casting dark shadows there. I could hear his brain working around things he didn’t want me to know. “I must have gone a little crazy. When I got home later that night I was sick. My parents kept me out of school all that week. I would have come to see you… I should have but, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face the animal I’d become.”
“The following week, when I did get back to school I found that Laurie, Cami and Sam were the only people I knew. I didn’t have anyone else. I tried talking to you a few times but I couldn’t gather the courage and the others hated me and kept me away for what I did to you. Leading you to Laurie. I hated her for what she’d made me do to you but she still had a hold on me. It was a little different now though. I stayed with her because I was too much of a coward to handle all these changes alone.
“Her power over me grew stronger again until before the dance when Rich gave you his number. I remember wanting to tear his head off for even talking to you. I didn’t because for the first time in an eternity I saw you smile. I realized that you had become friends with not only Jennifer, Alison and Caleb but with Rich too.” He pauses. “You had survived without me.”
“Barely.” I whisper.
“I am so selfish. I got angry that night. When Laurie told me to pick her up at six for the dance I almost told her to find another boy-toy… but I couldn’t. She had me. I would go to the dance anyway at least to see you.”
He brought his hands up to rest on my knees. The warmth sent little ticklish shivers up my spine. He’d been there to be with me. I smile a bit. Then I remember… “Then why?”
Nicky knew what I was about to ask. “Again… a lifetime of apologies … my temper that night… I’m so sorry I said those things to you, but when I saw you with him … flirting with disaster coupled with Laurie’s ceaseless taunts about how good you looked with him, I completely lost myself. Instead of apologizing then for how horrible I was being, I drove you to him. I wanted to apologize but I was just so angry at everything.”
“Then why…?” the memory of the hallway was creeping up on me.
“I’m getting to that.” There is a pain blooming in his eyes. I reach for his hands which had fallen to the grass beside up. He pulls away. “You may not want to touch me after what I’m about to tell you…” He hesitates.
“I watched you dance with Rich.” Anger flashes across his face. I know he wants to comment on that but thinks better of it. He goes on, “I watched you get your food and eat and talk and laugh and smile with your new friends. I watched you have fun without me. I let the jealousy and anger eat away at me until I couldn’t watch you any longer. You were doing fine without me and it was killing me inside. Laurie said something to me then, I don’t even remember what it was. I told her then to stay away from me. I told her that we were over and I got up and walked away. I would go find a corner and wait. I had to at least make sure you didn’t leave with him. I sat at a bench outside in the hallway.
“I waited. Everything blurred for a bit and I felt woozy, like I’d been drugged and then you came out. You smelled all wrong but I thought that was just me. You called me ‘Nicky’ and you started kissing me. I wanted to stop but it felt so right to hold you.” He looks away. His face is bright red. He continues, “I didn’t know it wasn’t you until I heard Rich’s voice and saw you standing at the end of the hall.” Nic began to rush his words as if willing them to spill out. “When I realized what had happened it was already too late. You were gone with Rich and Laurie thought she’d finally won. Something broke inside me and I ran. I ran out of that stupid building and tore around town looking for you. I remembered Laurie saying something about Rich being from Staten Island. I went to the ferry on a hunch.”
“Wait … back up.” My mind was still trying to process everything he’d just said. I couldn’t relive the ferry just yet. “So … when you were kissing Laurie … you thought it was me? You do know how dumb that sounds? How am I supposed to believe that?” The memory of the hunger of the kiss lurked in my mind. It had been so passionate. Now it was my turn to blush.
He nods, oblivious to the small smile that was forming on my face because he was still looking down.
He looks up as I laugh, hiding my blush, “Was I any good?”
Stunned, Nic stammers, “You’re not mad?”
“No… well yes and no. Really just confused though … so you’re saying that Laurie has some strange power over you and then you say that she drugged you into believing that you were with me.”
Nic nods. It was pretty farfetched, but with all the other stuff that’s been happening, I honestly believed him. It was the same thing I felt every time I looked into her eyes. Like I was losing myself. I could also see how a girl like Laurie would do whatever it took to get what she wanted … even if it meant drugging Nic.
“I believe you.” I touch his face, letting my palm rest against his cheek.
“Why?” He looks at me in disbelief. “I hardly believe myself. It wasn’t all Laurie … I should have had more courage, I should have stood up to her.”
I grab onto his hands and hold them in my lap. That brought his face just a tad closer to mine. “You wanted to know why I left with Rich. That is why. I left because I couldn’t stand to watch you with her. I couldn’t stand up to her. Rich happened to find me there. I wanted to go home. He was supposed to take me home. And he didn’t. Instead he attacked me and you stoped him.”
“That still isn’t enough though…”
“Maybe not… but it was a great start. Like I said before … no matter what you tell me, no matter what happens or has happened, I am your friend.”
He smiled, “Friends…” he mused on that word for a second, his eyes glowing.
I take a long heavy breath in. I look into the face of my best friend. I memorize the new lines and definition that had formed in his face since school had begun. I let my eyes brush quickly past his lips. I couldn’t let my thoughts linger there for too long or I’d sink into an oblivion of sweetness.
Yes, this boy was more than just my best and greatest friend.
I look up and into his eyes. They’re burning. His dark dilated pupils totally eclipse the golden rays there. I could have fallen into that dark hunger I saw there but the rest of his body craved my attention. My hands ache to touch him. Shyly, I bring my hand up to brush away an errant golden lock that had fallen on his forehead. I run my fingers through his golden mane, glowing around him in the late afternoon sun. The tips of my fingers find the soft hair on the back of his neck. I hear him purr as I stroke the soft skin there.
He abruptly shuts his eyes. His lids and lips pursed for a moment, his forehead crinkles with concentration. He is fighting me, fighting the feeling. I don’t care. I bring both of my hands up to his face. I run my fingers across his forehead, his eye lids, his lips … his lips … I let my fingers linger there for a moment. His mouth was warm against my fingers and although his face had relaxed I hear his breath quicken with mine. As my hand slides past his chin, feathering down his neck and down his chest, his lips open slightly. He is finally breathing in the moment with me.
I let my hand rest in the shallow hollow in the middle of his chest. The taut muscles there are rising and falling rapidly.
Nicolas opens his eyes. The soft rays of sunset glints off them as he stares into mine. They glow momentarily, as the sun catches the gold there. He brings his hand up and holds mine firmly against his chest. His eyes are still burning with that same hunger the same need I feel for him, but his breath is slowing down.
“Julia…” His voice is torn. “Julia we shouldn’t do this.”
I smile slightly as he shakes his head. Our friendship had already been through the ringer and worst. He was more than just my friend. I want to let him know that.
I wait. His silence tell me more than I need. There was more he needed to tell me. I could see that he was struggling with something. I should stop.
Without breaking his gaze, I slide my hand past his abs bringing his hand down with mine. I guide our hands to his waist and let them rest on his legs. My face is inches from his.
If he isn’t going to make the first move, then I am.
I lean in, breathing his woodsy intoxicating scent. It makes my heart beat faster. I feel like I am running, each infinitesimal inch that brings my lips closer to his is a mile and I still had about five more to go. I would collapse of exhaustion before this marathon is finished but what waited at the end is so sweet. His lips part, his breath erratic. My eyes lower and my breath catches as our noses touch, our lips are only an inch apart. I know I should close my eyes but I can’t stop looking at the shape of his perfect mouth. I want to feel its warmth crush against mine. His eyes close tightly as I tilt my chin, my lips just barely millimeters from brushing against his.
“How could you even want me? I’m not good for you, Jules.” His voice is hoarse. His hand grabing onto my shoulders. He would bring me in for the kill. My heart leaps. He holds me and we are suspended in that moment, our mouths so close, and our lips about to melt into each other.
The last rays of sun disappear behind the trees. The moment passes as a cool breeze blows between us, separating us. He moves slightly back. His face is a mask.
“I know you want to kiss me.” I whisper. His eyes are still closed but I could feel his body jump start again at the sound of my voice. “So why don’t you…”
His breath quickens again and his grip on my hand that still lay on his lap tightens. “Please, Jules… I need…”
My heart melts as he uses my special name.
“Please. Just give me a moment.” I see that hunger flash across his face again.
No. I wouldn’t let him get away so easily. IfI can’t have his lips then… His eyes open slightly as I bring his open palm to my mouth. He growls, a deep soft rumbling sound. I lightly kiss the inside of each his fingers. I let go of his hand and he keeps it there, his rough fingers tracing the outline of my mouth. I close my eyes and just let myself feel. His fingers softly tickle the skin there. My mouth opens slightly and a little whimper escapes my lips. I hear him take a sharp breath in, but he doesn’t move his hand away. Nicolas holds his breath as his hand continues down and back up my throat, lightly across my jaw, up my cheek and tangling through my hair he softly cups the back of my head. He brings his other hand up to my other cheek. I open my eyes. I didn’t realize that he’d gotten so close to me again. His face was on the side of mine. He murmurs softly into my ear, “We should really stop. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out and you are not making this any easier.”
I barely hear what he’d said. All I am is feeling. I feel the tingling of his warm breath against my ear. He lets his lips brush softly against the sensitive flesh there. Those lips that I’d been dreaming about began to travel the same path his hands had taken. The smooth skin of his lips gently caress the soft skin under my ear. His mouth travels to my cheekbone and he gives me the sweetest light kiss there. He travels back towards my ear, my entire body sizzling his lips moves towards my jaw line.
I am having a hard time taking a full breath as his lips slowly trace the outline of my jaw to my other ear. His nose snuggles into my hair and he takes a deep breath in before bringing himself to face me again, our noses barely touching. “Please, Julia… Julia… Jules, please stop me now…” His voice was a soft growling plea.
I don’t want him to stop. This bliss is just so sweet. I want him to go on … and further. His hands are still cradling my head. The tips of his fingers were lightly brushing my cheek sending delightful little shivers up my spine and into my heart. I tremble. I looked into his eyes. His blue eyes turn a deep golden. “I don’t want you to stop… I…” I didn’t get to finish.
“Jules…” Nic moves forward an inch as I tilt my chin upwards. “Your eyes are such a beautiful sky blue right now. I… You are so beautiful and good and… I shouldn’t…”
I place my hand lightly on his cheek. Our lips touch and the universe explodes. His lips burning. Both my hands tangle into his golden mane. This wasn’t the chaste kiss I had dreamt about. I was starving and I needed this kiss, his lips, to survive. My mouth opens against his. His hands tangle further into my hair. I crush myself against his body and we tumble to the soft grass. His lips, so soft, were as starved as mine. We had denied ourselves for too long.
Nicky rolls on top of me. He tries to keep it gentle. He tries to keep the weight of his body from crushing me but I don’t care. I arch my body against his and I feel him let go. I stare into his golden eyes and fall into a deep pool of bliss.
The air heats up suddenly and Nicky blurs. I see his eyes but… “Ow!” I grab my left shoulder as a sharp pain blooms there and I look up into the cold empty sky, frightened. My hand comes away, wet with blood.
Where was Nicky?
“NICKY!” I shout and I scramble to my feet too fast and the blood rushes to my head making me woozy. My mind tries to wrap around what I’d just witnessed. I must have held my breath too long. For a moment, before Nicky had disappeared, I thought I saw Nicky’s eyes get bigger, the gold sun completely taking over the soft blue ocean I loved. I thought I had seen a large golden brown furry blur on top of me. I thought I’d heard a growl, not the human-type growling, but the type of growl that only a very large cat on National Geographic would make. I thought I saw the Lion of my nightmares.
I tremble as a cold sweat brakes over my skin.
“Nicky!” I shout again. I knew he was still here. Something deep down told me he was hiding. “Nicky, please… I know you’re there.” I hear a rustle to the left of me, deep within the brush. I walk towards it. “Nicky?” I whisper.
I jump back as something black and frighteningly long slithers over my feet. It hisses. A snake. I walk backward slowly trying not to alarm it. It was staring right at me, its black eyes bearing into me in a very familiar way. I was about to take a step back towards it when a tightly muscled arm yanks me backwards.
“Get back, that ones poisonous!”
Nicky kicks at the snake. It hisses again, looks at Nicky then back at me as if it was trying to read us. First Nicky turns into a Lion now smart snakes were trying to communicate with me. What was next… Bears?
The snake disappears.
A part of me just wants to snuggle back into his warm arms, still tight around my body. Another part of me wants to giggle with him and tell him the stupid things I thought I’d seen. The strongest part of me was angry and confused. That’s the part that took over. I push away from Nicolas. “What happened to you?”
He looks at me askance, his eyes were blue again. “I had to stop.” His voice was cold. “We can’t do things like that. I don’t want to lose control. I can’t risk it.”
None of this was making any sense. An extreme cold blows through my body. The sun had set and the autumn air was becoming frigid fast.
I wrap my arms around myself. I had to ask, even though I knew it was impossible, I had to. I soften my voice, “What really happened to you, Nicky?” I reach for his hand. He rips it away from mine. I stare up at him, stung by his denial.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think you do.”
His voice raises a bit with biting sarcasm, “So … what did you think you saw? Something from your dreams again? You really should get your head checked.” He tries to laugh but it sounds more like a snarl.
At another time I may have agreed with him, that something was definitely wrong with my head if I was people turn into frightening animals. I knew my nightmares weren’t coming true, but I could also tell that he wasn’t telling me everything. He was keeping something from me.
All my friends were keeping something from me.
I knew the truth. Looking in the direction that the snake took fragments of truth begin to form. But the truth was just too crazy to be real. I’ve known Nicky for most of our lives. I push a little harder, my indignation and anger fueling me. “I get that there is some huge secret club that all you Graduated are a part of. Alison and Jen can’t tell me and Caleb can’t even talk! You know what?” My voice rose as the wind picked up. “Laurie is really the only one who has even become close to telling me. I would think, no… actually … I would EXPECT my greatest friend to tell me what was going on.”
“It’s nothing, Jules. Leave it alone. Please.”
“So you’re telling me that this scratch on my arm is nothing?” The pain had stopped. It was a shallow scrape but Nickyʻs nails had dug in just enough to make it bleed pretty badly.
I see Nickyʻs eyes go wide as he takes a step toward me as if to check. He takes a deep breath in and turns his head away, disgusted with himself. With me?
“I’m sorry about that. I lost control. It will not happen again.”
The scratch was nothing compared with the final tone in his voice. That hurt. We stand in silence.
He reaches for me, tentative. “We should go. It’s getting cold and you should let your Aunt look at that scratch. I’ll walk you home.” I look up at him then. Did that mean he wasn’t coming inside? Did that mean that he wasn’t going to tell me what had really happened? I had so many questions but, I just nod.
We cross the park in silence, hand in hand. We walk down and cross the Westside highway and down 22rd St., our breathing the only accompaniment to this evening stroll that seems more like a funeral procession. He walks me to my front door.
I know his answer but, I asked anyway. “Are you coming up?”
“No.” He give my hand a squeeze and tries for a smile. It doesn’t reach his eyes. “I don’t think that Mel will want me to see you after tonight. Please, have her look at that scratch.”
“Nicky, This was an accident. Whatever issues you’re having I’m sure we can get through it together.” I didn’t know what else to say and he stayed silent. I knew he wouldn’t answer any of my questions.