The first time she meets Jason Street, she's eight. He'd just moved into town, and according to her father he had one hell of an arm--for a ten year old. It made her kind of mad, the way Daddy would talk about the kid with stars in his eyes. But that was just the way things were with practically everyone--football things--and it didn't matter that much if she thought about it, not really. She knows her daddy loves her.
It's almost the end of the summer, and Jason probably hadn't really had a chance to meet too many people. She doubts he could have anyways, not after little Timmy Riggins had surgically attached himself to the new boy's side.
Timmy was a menace to third graders everywhere. Maybe not even just kids, if the way Miss. Mandy's jaw used to clench whenever Timmy would flip up a girl's skirt or track mud into the class or hit Bobby Flenderson on the shoulder hard enough to make him cry was any indication. He mostly left Lyla alone, but that was probably because he was scared of her daddy. So, it didn't make too much sense when the strange pair approached her while she was trying to get across the monkey bars at the park.
"Hey, Garrity," Timmy said, reaching up and tugging at her ankle a little bit.
"You let go of me right this second," she kicks a little and he does. She glances over at her mom, but she's animatedly yakking (Daddy's favorite word of the moment) to Mrs. Ridgeway and hadn't seen anything. She can feel both boys' eyes on her, so she focuses on holding onto the bars tight as she swings forward, tries to make it look easy and sure. "You could have made me fall, you know that?"
When she reaches the other edge and plants her feet on it firmly, Timmy grumbles, "Well, we would have caught you then."
She just kind of laughs at that. She's maybe a head taller than both of the boys, can imagine them both crumpling under her weight and getting crushed below her, woodchips caught in their too-long hair, limbs all tangled.
"You're Jason Street, right?" she asks, hoisting down off the platform and onto the ground with them. He smiles real sincere, seems way too nice to be hanging out with Timmy. "Future of Dillon football?"
Timmy guffaws too loud, like he's making fun of her in his head and wants her to know.
Jason shrugs, "Well, I don't know about that. We'll have to wait and see."
"Jay, this is Lyla Garrity," Timmy motions between them. "And she already knows who you are. Can we go now?"
"Hey, you wanna learn how to throw a spiral? Timmy here throws like a girl, I was gonna teach him a thing or two," Jason stage-whispers conspiratorially, looking over at Timmy. Jason smirks with a kind of affection softening the edges, like they'd been best friends forever and hadn't just met a week or two ago.
She maybe would have said yes, but Mom calls for her just then to help wrangle in Tabby to head home. She feels a twinge of regret walking away, but attaches it to missing out on getting to know a nice boy for once and not about missing out on learning how to properly throw a football. Girls don't play. It's not her place.
She asks once they're all settled in the car and driving home if she could take cheerleading classes, and she doesn't think she's ever seen her momma smile so big.
The first time she ever sets foot in Timmy's house, it's his ninth birthday. She's got a small, wrapped package clasped awkwardly in her hands as she steps through the doorway. She hadn't really known what to expect, but she's a little confused by the absence of balloons and crepe paper and kids running all over the place having fun.
Girls' parties were always so big, so organized, so--well, silly. Daddy likes to tell her that she's far too serious for her own good, but he always says it like he's kind of proud, so she finds it hard to feel bad about how difficult it sometimes is for her to get along with all the other girls her age.
"Oh, the boys are in Timmy's room," a woman she assumes is Mrs. Riggins says a bit too loudly when she answers the door, words very carefully pronounced. "So nice to see you, Pam."
Lyla doesn't know if she'll ever forget the look on her mother's face--total disgust and fear behind a big, fat smile. She almost looks like she wants to snatch Lyla up and take her right back to the car, but Lyla says a bright "Bye, Momma!" and takes off towards the hallway before she can.
Lyla doesn't know which room is which, but she can hear a bunch of noise coming from behind one. Doesn't know exactly what to do, so she knocks.
"Go away!" she hears Tim's muffled voice, but the door swings open a second later.
"Oh, hi, Lyla!" It's Jason holding the door open, and she can't help but feel a little excited. He's a middle schooler now, she only really sees him at church.
"Hey--no girls allowed on my territory!" Timmy says flippantly, pawing through his closet looking for something.
"You invited me," she bites the inside of her cheek, embarrassed even though she knows she's in the right. "Where's everyone else?"
Jason shrugs in response when her eyes turn to his. "Hey, Timmy, she got you a present, too," Jason says coaxingly after a few awkward seconds of silence, and Timmy perks up at that and joins them at the doorway.
"Happy birthday," she holds it out to him firmly. He just looks at the package for a long moment, so she adds on, "I hope you like it."
He's surprisingly careful with the wrapping paper, which is kind of weird. Keeps looking at her like he expects her to snatch it back. Jason chuckles a bit when he sees what it is: a brand new football. Daddy's present of choice for nine year old boys. Or probably just boys in general.
"It's like you're psychic--that's totally what we were trying to find. His closet is like a black hole."
"Yeah," Timmy admits, wrangling it out of the box and tossing it high enough in the air that it bounces off the ceiling and hurtles back into his arms, the noise making her jump a little.
"Say 'thank you, Lyla,'" Jason prods like he's Timmy's mother.
"Thank you, Lyla," he parrots, mock-annoyed, but his eyes flicking up to hers are actually pretty sincere.
And for some reason--she guesses 'cause it really is kind of funny--they all start laughing and laughing until Lyla's sides hurt and she's wiping a stray tear off her cheek. The boys dare her to sneak a carton of ice cream out of the freezer, and are totally impressed when she steels her will and actually does it. They hide at the edge of Timmy's back yard to eat into it until their bellies hurt.
"You know," Jason starts slowly once the giddy energy died down a bit, eating his ice cream between every couple words. "I was so mad when my parents made me come here to be a Panther. I didn't want to leave my friends."
It's honestly a surprise to Lyla. She hadn't really thought about it that way. Tim tugs a weed out of the ground kind of angrily, like he's mad at the thought of Jason having any other friends. She understands, maybe. Just a little.
"But you guys are way better."
The three of them are pretty inseparable after that.
The first time she sees Jason play, she's partway through the fifth grade. Jason's quarterback of the peewee division of Dillon's Pop Warner football league, just like everyone expected. But while Tim had recently had a growth spurt and towered over pretty much everyone, Jason hadn't yet been as lucky. He was probably the oldest kid on the team at twelve, and one of only three boys not in elementary school anymore like the rest of them.
"Hey, midget," Tim likes to tease endlessly, get Jason in a headlock as a greeting. But she thinks that Tim's probably pretty happy that they get to be in the same weight class.
Lyla doesn't mind. She likes being able to look into Jason's eyes without craning her neck like crazy. Let the rest of the girls get all suddenly preoccupied with Tim's arms and the slide of his back and the unkempt hair slinging into his face like the guys on covers of Teen Beat. She likes Jason. Like, really likes him.
The boys--along with Tim's brother--all arrive at the game together in back of the Street station wagon.
She jogs up to the car, grins at the feeling of her pony tail swinging behind her head. She feels pretty in her cheerleading uniform, ready to root for her first crush. The day feels full of possibility.
"Hi!" she calls out, step faltering suddenly at the sight of Tim's sour face and he clomps out of the car before she continues her greeting. "You guys excited for the game?"
Jason stops and smiles, tells her that he's more excited to see her cheer in a way that warms her right down to her bones--but his eyes keep flicking away to watch his friend stride angrily towards the locker room.
"What's crawled up his butt?" she jokes.
Jason looks over at Billy, who shrugs and says, "Dad left sometime last night. Took a lot of his stuff. Good fucking riddance."
Lyla's taken aback by that word, feels her brow furrow at the sentiment. She doesn't know what she'd do without her daddy.
"Well, I mean, I'm sure that he wouldn't miss Tim's first real game, right? Should we go talk to him?"
"Gee, you're a good samurai to the core, huh?" Billy grumbles, eyes on her new sneakers, spotless and white. She'd cleaned them with some Windex that very morning.
"It's called being a good Samaritan, Billy Riggins, and I'd--"
"I already tried to talk to him," Jason interrupts, hand touching her forearm. "I think he just needs to play it out."
She doesn't think she's ever cheered so hard in her life. Jason throws the ball so far and so fast it leaves her feeling breathless and giddy with excitement, with awe. Maybe there really is something to football, she thinks. No wonder her father loves it so much--no wonder everyone does. She turns once in a while to just to see Daddy holler his lungs out up in the bleachers, gives him a big thumbs up. He's pretty far away, though, so that's probably why he doesn't see it.
She doesn't watch Tim. There's something desperate and angry in the way he tackles everyone in his path, and it kind of makes her stomach churn. He seems fine after the game, though. He and Jason duck their heads together before everyone gets out on the field to celebrate, and after that he's all lazy grins like usual, flirts with some girls who'd gathered in a semicircle around him.
"He's a natural. I really think he could make it to varsity eventually if he put his mind to it."
She wants to gush about how well Jason played, about what a good friend she thinks he is. Reigns it in the tiniest bit, "I think he could make it as long as you've got his back."
"As long as we've got his back."
The words are like a gift, the way he includes her just like that, like she's not an outsider just because she can't play the game with them.
She decides then and there that she'll probably love Jason Street as long as she lives.
It's not her first Valentine's Day. Obviously. She's eleven. It's technically her eleventh. But for the first time she's kind of nervous about it. Her cheer squad had decided to have a fundraiser for the holiday selling carnations: red for love, yellow for friendship (Lyla had suggested this extra option, just in case). It shouldn't be a big deal, and she shouldn't be upset, but she had it on pretty good authority that no one had bought a carnation for her. It's not like she had anyone she even wanted to--well, no one in her grade, at least ... But that's not exactly the point.
She spends the day with sharply squared shoulders, and when Millie Wester makes fun of her, things get interesting 'cause Lyla doesn't even care as much as she'd thought she would. She laughs and says the words she's been repeating over and over in her head all day--finds she almost means them:
"I don't give a damn."
She doesn't often curse, but she thinks this is an appropriate response. Gets through the rest of school with her head held high, smile wider than any girl with a hundred silly flowers could even possibly manage. It's not hard. It's like cheering, kind of. But cheering for herself.
Mom's late picking her up at the end of the day, so she waits with Timmy while he waits for the bus. He's got like, five flowers. All but one of them are red. Keeps picking petals off until she tells him to stop it.
"Well, I'm just gonna throw 'em away anyway," he replies, voice weird, like it's a lie.
Lyla frowns, thinks deep and hard about all the girls who paid and took the time to agonize over what to write on the little cards. Thinks of all the frustration and hope and fear in the uncaring arms of Timmy Riggins. It makes her kind of mad, makes her wonder why they're friends.
"Unless you want them," Timmy continues, eyes locked on a bus approaching with too much intensity. "Or whatever."
She doesn't know what to say to that, but when he holds them out to her she takes them and rests them carefully in the crook of her arm. He acts careless about it, but she can't help it, having the stupid flowers do make her feel nice.
At least now her momma won't be disappointed. And Daddy can joke about his large collection of shotguns.
"Thank you," she smiles, tries to meet his eyes. "Hey, are you all right?"
"Yeah," he snorts, starts to step up towards the bus' door. "Just don't say I never did nothing for ya."
She looks down at the flowers, and notices that the card of the yellow one has most of the girly writing crossed out. Timmy's unruly scrawl reads "Lyla" in an empty corner now instead. God, how terrible. She can still read part of what the girl wrote: "Happy Valentine's Day, Tim! Hope we get to know each other better."
While she watches the bus sputter off she gets this weird feeling, like the wind's letting out of her sails. She's tired suddenly, a little sad. Trudges back towards the car loop, flowers hanging low from a loose fist.
She kind of wants to throw them away, but it feels mean to do it. So, when she spots Jason getting into his mom's car, she jogs over.
"Hey!" she calls out to get their attention.
"Hi there, Lyla," Mrs. Street coos, takes in the flowers and goes on to tease, "Aren't you popular?!"
"Actually," she takes in a deep breath, sticks the flowers through the open passenger side window, "I wanted to give these to Jason."
It's embarrassing, and Mrs. Street looks at her like she's crazy, but Jason smiles and takes it in stride. Wishes her a happy Valentine's Day.
She's tired of waiting for things to happen.
The first time she has a sip of beer, it's with Timmy. She's twelve--practically an adult, as far as she's concerned. Anyone that takes high school algebra in the seventh grade shouldn't be considered just a kid anymore. No one's at his house but them. She lives closer to Timmy, so she'd walked over to wait for Jason's mom to pick them up to go the movies. It feels a little weird to not have a grown-up around, even if Timmy's mom isn't really like most ones when she's there anyway.
He won't fess up about where she is no matter how much Lyla pesters him about it. Billy's out of high school now, she thinks on some kind of golf tour. Timmy's dad is still gone. She used to feel bad about it, still kinda does--but Timmy acts like it's the best thing ever. No rules, right?
Mom and Daddy won't even let her use chocolate syrup on her pancakes.
"Would you quit nagging me?" Timmy moves his shoulders uncomfortably like he's trying to get something off them, turns away. "She's just not here right now. She's at the store."
She crosses her arms, "Then what would you say if I told you I was gonna wait right here until your mom comes home?"
He looks over his shoulder and grins, the best way she could describe it is impish.
Says, "I'd say you'd miss the movie. I think I hear Jay's mom's car pulling up."
She goes and peeks out the front window; it's just a truck driving down the road and away. When she turns back, Timmy's got a beer in his hand that he's trying to open on the edge of the counter. Unsuccessfully.
"Tim--come on. Put that back," she rolls her eyes.
"What?" he finally gets the top off and spills some on the kitchen floor. He doesn't move to clean it up, so Lyla quickly grabs some paper towels and drops them over the spill, moves it around with her foot to sop it up. "I drink all the time."
"Yeah, right," she laughs. Picks up the wet paper and tosses it in the trash. "You sure opened that bottle like a pro. Where does your mom keep the Windex?"
He laughs right back, holds the beer bottle out towards her. "Come on, have a sip. Don't be so vanilla."
She's not offended by his teasing at all. Wants to tell him that her self-esteem's higher than that--that she won't be tricked into breaking the law just to get the approval of Timmy Riggins.
But then she thinks about him telling Jason; thinks about Jason looking at her and just seeing a little kid. He's in high school now--he probably drinks all the time. Maybe just one sip wouldn't hurt. Probably. She's not totally sure about how much alcohol it takes to get drunk.
Timmy shrugs and starts take the bottle back until she reaches out towards it, palm open.
It tastes terrible. She doesn't like it at all, doesn't get why all the grown-ups she knows drink it at dinner time. And she doesn't even feel any different. It seems so silly, and when Timmy takes a long slug out of it--trying to look all cool--she can't help but giggle. He looks kind of pissed, but tries to hide it for some reason. When the there's a knock on the front door, he quickly throws the bottle in the trash, interrupts her plea to recycle with:
"Don't tell Jay about this, all right?"
She's doesn't get it. "What? Why?"
"I just don't want him to know," he's got that weird tone of voice again, like when he was talking about how his mother was supposedly just out shopping. "He doesn't like … me drinking."
It's a total lie, and she doesn't know what to say. Can't anyway, 'cause he immediately goes to sling open the door before she can even open her mouth in reply.
"God, you guys smell like a brewery." The words are faintly disproving. To make matters worse, Lyla thinks irrationally, it's not even noon yet.
Timmy's eyes are kind of desperate when she looks over at him to let him know she's gonna tell the truth. Something in her stomach twists.
"His mom spilled some beer on the couch," she doesn't know why she says it. Timmy looks down at his feet, face unreadable. "We helped her clean it up."
"Oh--your mom's back? That's awesome."
She feels terrible, just like she knew she would. God, Timmy takes so much getting used to. It shouldn't have to be this hard all the time.
She does eventually learn to throw a spiral--Jason teaches her the first time he gets invited to come over for dinner. The whole thing started out unbearably embarrassing: her family running into his in the store, her Daddy laughing and winking and inviting her "little friend" over for a good old steak dinner. But when they end up tossing the ball around in her backyard, it's hard to feel very mad about the whole thing anymore.
At first, it was her daddy and Buddy Jr. and Jason throwing the ball in a big triangle, her and her mom prepping vegetables and watching through the sliding glass door (Tabby shut up in her room listening to music). But Buddy Jr. tires of football pretty easy, and Daddy has to start putting the steaks on the grill, so Jason pokes his head in.
"Wanna play?" he says just like that right in front of everyone, like it's the most natural thing in the world for him to be there and ask. "I bet you got a mean arm and don't even know it."
He's being coy--it's an inside joke. She'd recently accidentally given Tim a black eye. Totally accidentally. And he was such a baby about it.
He throws the ball to her first, a beautiful spiral slicing through the air and landing right in her hands with surprising lightness. She's grinning like an idiot, probably. So is he, especially when she throws it back. She'd put as much force in it as she could muster, thinking it would make it spin, but instead it wobbles frantically in the air and barely makes it two-thirds of the way towards him.
"Oh," she sighs, wind let out of her sails. She'd kinda wanted to be able to just do it.
"You're just as bad as Timmy," he jokes, jogging forward to pick up the ball and tossing it back to her so easily. She tries to pay attention to the swing of his arm, but that's mostly distracting 'cause his arms are so nice. But she does notice that he holds the ball slightly towards the back instead of straight in the center. "Come on, Garrity, let's go."
The second throw is worlds better than the first; it actually makes it into his arms and he makes a little whooping sound in approval.
"Don't go easy on me," she chirps with a mocking sweetheart tone, arms outstretched to catch the ball again. "It didn't spiral, it just flew straight."
"Maybe you're just not cut out for such a masculine sport," he teases. She knows he doesn't mean it. Throws the ball back again--so perfect, "Don't got my manly upper body strength."
"Ha!" bursts out of her mouth as the ball slams into her chest a little harder. "After this I'm gonna make you try a back-bend into a handstand. Then we'll see who's got the upper body strength, mister."
"Spread your fingers through the laces, Sporty Spice. Move your wrist like this," he mimes the way her wrist should twist, "And just let it roll off your fingers."
She does as instructed, and lets it fly. It spirals just right, tight and fast--flies right over Jason's hands and lands quite a few feet behind him. She can't help it, jumps up in the air and pumps a fist, laughs giddily. He chuckles and turns to get the ball.
"Hey, hold on there," she stops him, jogs forward and grabs his shoulders, puts her weight on his back a bit with a hop. "I did your thing--now you gotta do mine."
He turns to face her. "To be fair, you didn't aim it right. It's supposed to land in my hands, Garrity."
"Semantics. Come on--cheer time!"
His attempts are hilarious, legs everywhere, always landing on his butt. His jeans get full of grass stains. She gets more than a little thrill pressing her hands under his back to support him, grabbing his calves to help him haul his feet over. As soon as he does it once like that with her help, he's determined to do it on his own--ends up sprawled on the grass again.
"Not as easy as it looks, huh?" she drawls down at him, hands on her hips.
He smiles and licks his lips. "No, I guess not."
The only damper on the whole night is that her daddy leaves halfway through on "Panther business"--but even that so-constant disappointment can't bring her down.
She's thirteen, and suddenly, deliriously happy.
The first time she kisses Jason is also the first night she kisses Tim. It's not as lurid as it sounds. They're all at a party together, and somehow she ends up condemned to seven minutes in heaven with the wrong boy.
Tim smirks, and Jason can't stop laughing--probably at the aghast look on her face. He could at least have had the heart to pretend to be jealous. This was not how she'd pictured her night ending up. It was supposed to come to fruition with her and Jason under the stars, him asking her to go steady now that she's a freshman and they're finally both going to the same school again.
Instead she and Tim get playfully pushed into a closet together, and she can't stop this weird hitch in her chest that's making her breathe too fast.
"We're not going to--" but the next thing she knows his hands are cupping her face and her back is hitting the wall behind her and his mouth is inches away from hers.
"It's all right," he says against her lips. "It's okay, don't worry. Jay won't mind."
And the weird thing is, she's kind of pretty sure what he's saying is the truth. In his own way. Her lips meet his all messy and rough. It's weird at first, but then he tilts his head and it starts to feel better. She opens her mouth, lets her hands fist in his t-shirt in an effort to not throw her arms around him.
She hadn't thought about doing this with Tim before, not really. Not often. But she had expected him to be slow and teasing instead of eager, hands on every inch of skin he can get, pressing her shirt up to touch the line of her spine. They break apart gasping after a couple of minutes, and he buries his face into the curve of her neck, mouth barely brushing the skin there. She's kind of propped up by his thigh running up between her legs.
"Hey, Lyla?" she thinks she hears him say quietly, but she isn't really sure, and she's shaking slightly when she puts her hands on his shoulders to push him back away from her.
"What?" her voice wary as her feet plant more firmly on the ground.
She watches his face closely in the darkness, can practically see him change whatever he was going to say before he just grins lewdly.
"You're not as bad of a kisser as I thought you'd be," he leans back slightly until they're both as far away as they can be in the small space. "You been practicing, Garrity? Is this something I'm gonna have to warn Jay about?"
She crosses her arms over her chest, resists the urge to kick his shin--they're not kids anymore. Well, she isn't.
"Don't be crass, Tim." Doesn't bother to deny the implication that Jason pretty much owns her heart.
It's him that opens the door a few minutes later, his face kind of grim until he sees their hostile positions. He smiles at her then, secret and soft, while he locks his best friend in a headlock and tries to muss up his precious hair (even more that usual).
Tim gets insanely drunk, and when he breaks his arm falling off the roof of the house and they end up having to check him into the emergency room themselves, they find out that his mom's been gone for about six months.
"Give or take," Tim rasps, voice choked with pain--like that makes a difference.
No wonder he kept eating half of her lunches at school. She wants to hit him, shake him hard. Shakes her head and bites her lip instead. Jason holds her hand, puts his other one on Tim's shoulder.
"I'm sure my mom would love to have you around the house more," Jason offers casually, like they're not all almost crying. Lyla wishes she could offer the same, but her mom usually mostly just stares at Tim like he's a weed that needs to be tugged out lest it infect her whole family.
"Yeah, okay," is all Tim has to say to that before they take him in for some x-rays.
She and Jason end up alone outside the hospital in the parking lot. It's not the most romantic setting, but the stars are still shining bright above them, the moon's full. It's beautiful, really--practically perfect--and when he leans forward and kisses her soft and chaste she can't help but think that's how it should be--that's how it should feel. She breaks away with a little sob bubbling out of her throat.
"I have to tell you something."
"What's that?" he cocks his head adorably.
She wishes that she could just keep it in, but it would feel like a lie if she did.
"I kissed Tim," she tries to read his reaction, but can't. "Earlier, in the closet. I'm really sorry. But I don't feel about him the way I feel about you, and I hope that you can forgive me. It was just for the stupid game. I can't believe how wasted he got. I can't believe how long he's been lying to us."
He's quiet for a long time, and she can feel her heart beating a mile a minute, blood rushing in her ears.
"You got everything off your chest now?" He finally says. Looks like he might be trying to hide an amused smile, and she can only nod in response, a bit confused. He cups her cheek with his palm. "Okay, good."
And he kisses her again. It's just that simple.
Come sophomore year, Lyla and Jason have officially been an item for almost ten months. She figures that it's high time she loses her virginity. It's not really a cerebral decision, per se. There are a lot of things figuring into the choice, most especially the fact that they've done practically everything else--and almost done the actual deed a few times already.
It's not because he's a senior and the star of the football team and she's the lucky cheerleader that gets to wear a "#6" on her cheek, or because he's beautiful and thinks that she is, too. And it's certainly not because apparently Tim lost his to Tyra Collette a few months back, although she's kind of hated the girl ever since. It feels like they're all slowly drifting apart.
She's in love. That's all. That's everything. Not hearts around Jason's initials, her first name with his last one doodled in the margins of her notebooks "love" (although she did do all those things, and still does … sometimes). It's the real deal, she knows it, feels it deep down in her bones.
They're gonna get married someday anyway, she thinks. It's not wrong.
He takes her to the first dance of the year, and his tie matches her dress, and they spend the night talking and dancing and laughing. She thinks that they must look like a picture in a magazine.
Jason's not in on the whole sex plan. He drives her home, kisses her long and hard, hand tugging her hair out of its French twist the tiniest bit.
"See ya tomorrow, Lyla Garrity," he says, walking backwards towards his jeep.
And she can only smile softly in response, doesn't want to give herself away. Goes inside, changes into her pajamas, and pretends to lie asleep in her bed for thirty minutes before she slips out of her window. It's a bit of a struggle down the tree nearest to it, but when she plops down onto steady feet she can't help but smile with pleasure. Tim and Jason had scaled up it to scare the shit out of her last Halloween, and she's proud that she could do it, too.
The bike ride to his house is exhilarating, and over way too fast. Before she knows it, she's staring up at his room on the second floor wondering what the hell she was thinking. The light's off, and there's no way up. The back door is unlocked, though, so she sneaks through the darkened house she's gotten to know so well.
"What--you doing--here--Lyla?" Jason grumbles when she slips into his bed, words stunted with sleep.
She kisses him in reply, doesn't want to spell it out--that'd make it too, well ... Turns out that she doesn't have to, he pulls her into a straddle on top of him, hands running up her sides under her Panthers t-shirt.
"You're sneaky," he whispers between kisses. "Is this a dream?"
"Yeah, and I'm a ninja," she jokes back into his mouth, tongue twisting with his before she moves to run it from his jaw down his throat, giggles quietly and muffles it with the skin of his shoulder. "Or maybe a glamorous jewel thief."
He starts to make a joke about his "jewels," but stops altogether when she tugs her shirt off.
Sex isn't totally what she though it'd be. He's gentle, and they're both slow, and it's pretty hot--but it's also kind of awkward, and scary, and it really, really hurts when he finally pushes inside of her. She bites her lip hard and a tear snakes out of one of her eyes. He stills, stops the teardrop with a kiss on her cheek, and doesn't start moving again until she clutches at him and thrusts her hips up against his first.
She doesn't cum (she might have pretended she did, just a little), but afterward they lay tangled up in each other, minds hazy. Okay, she thinks, this is different. All his skin touching every inch of hers, the sweat under his armpits, his eyes closed and so, so peaceful.
She can't believe how she'd been the tiniest bit afraid that God might strike her down for wanting to share this closeness with someone else. She can't wait to try again. She's got her whole life ahead of her.
At first, she thinks she does it to stop thinking. Stop feeling. Stop being. She's supposed to want that. She does want that. But somehow, it ends up being kind of the opposite.
She climbs on Tim in the back of her car, doesn't close her eyes when his hands slide up under her dress. She wants to see. It's almost like being with Jason. But they're both shaking too hard, hands slipping on wet skin. Her eyes are bleary with tears (and his), and she keeps holding her breath until she can't--air rushing out in harsh exhales. Their actions feel hurried and desperate, but they keep prolonging the inevitable; they grind against each other through their clothes, afraid to take them off.
"It's okay," she starts to echo his words to her all that time ago but can't go through with it.
"Lyla," his voice is so needy, it scares her and sends an electric spark up her spine at the same time. "I--"
"It's okay," she repeats, leans forward and covers his mouth with hers.
She doesn't want to talk. Just wants to have a better reason to feel so awful. Wants something else to hate herself for.
She hikes her skirt up, presses her underwear to the side, and before she can even move to guide him he's pressing up into her.
"Wait--condom--" she groans, can't help but piston above him slow and steady anyway.
"Fuck--" he hits his head against the car door. "Don't--"
She pulls off him with a harsh gasp and leans over the front seat to fumble through the glove compartment. Finds a condom and settles back down in a straddle over his thighs. He's breathing hard, hand pumping up and down his dick, eyes closed. She watches for a minute, heat pooling low in her belly before she reaches out to cover his hand with hers. Slips the condom on and sinks down over him again.
Closes her eyes this time, savors the feeling of her heart breaking--finally acknowledges that it is.
Jason's not going to get better.
For the first time in her life, she feels like she doesn't have anything. Totally bereft, anchorless. Alone.
Daddy's not living in the house anymore, and her momma's steadily dating his polar opposite before the divorce is even totally final. It's frustrating, because she kind of wants to hate her dad, but she ends up hating everything else instead. It hurts to have that anger in her heart, she doesn't want it. She doesn't know what put it there.
Her relationship with Jason's over, probably for good. She'd never, ever thought it could be. Even after he'd broken his back, and the future they'd dreamed of was over, she still couldn't imagine one without him. Without her at his side.
Things with Tim are strained at best. That's what happens when you show someone everything ugly you kept under wide grins and a liberty pose. She's angry that she let herself go like that. She's pissed that he let her.
Hanging out with Tyra just couldn't stick, wasn't her. So, she goes through the motions. Daughter, sister, student, gossip magnet. No one sees the difference. Which is good, because she doesn't want anyone to. And it isn't, because, well, she does.
Deciding to be born again starts with a girl a year above her named Bethany. She gives Lyla a flyer for a mixer hosted by the Christ Teen Messengers.
"Which church are you from?" Lyla asks, eyes drinking up the Bethany's calm, peaceful appearance.
They talk for hours about God, and about being born again, about how hard it can be to be Christian in the twenty-first century.
"I heard you're not cheering anymore," Bethany brings up when Lyla talks about feeling lost. It's kind of out of the blue, but maybe it isn't really, 'cause Lyla thinks she knows where this is going.
"I guess I just didn't see the point," seems like the answer with the least time bombs evident in it.
"Well, didn't you like it? Why'd you do it for so long? For Jason Street?"
"I don't know," Lyla is afraid of the answer. "I really liked being on a team. And the athleticism--I've probably gained a couple of pounds since I quit. And it's a good example of how pretending to be happy can kind of somehow make you happier."
"It seems like it should be the opposite," her friend wonders. "Like it might make you feel lonely."
"It was never like that," and very suddenly she's regretting her decisions all over again, thinks about that nothing else matters feeling Tim so aptly described. "It's just that cheering kind of became something I really loved and hated at the same time. Everything's too connected, I guess? I'm just so angry at everything and everyone in my life."
"How come?" It should be annoying to be questioned like this, like she's on a psychiatrist's coach or something. But it feels so good to talk to someone, it's hard to feel like that.
"I went to a really low place," her eyes sting. "I did a lot of things I'm not proud of, and no one was there for me. Nothing worked."
"I've been there," Bethany starts.
"You seem like you have it all together."
"I'm doing the best I can to let go of all that self-hatred," the words are like a shock through Lyla's system. That's not what she'd been saying. Had it? "Rediscovering my faith has really been like a port in the storm, you know? You should come to a meeting sometime, see what it's like."
Maybe she will. Something has to change, that's for sure.
When she breaks up with Chris for Tim, he tells her that she's backsliding, endangering all the progress she's made. She guesses that it depends on whose idea of progress they're talking about. For maybe the first time ever, she's thinking about her own.
It's not that she's giving up her faith. It's stupid to say that. She angrily tells Chris that he isn't God, not even close, and that he should look inside himself if he thinks he's the key to someone else's salvation.
It's hard to say where it changed for her. It wasn't about the lack of sex, not exactly. It wasn't even about Chris. Maybe she just missed what it used to feel like when she was a kid, before everything got so messed up. Tim was trying so hard--it really just became impossible to ignore.
She'd never given him a chance, not really. Maybe because she was scared. Maybe because they were too alike, and she didn't want to admit it. But she isn't anymore. That's the place she sees progress where no one else can seem to (especially Daddy, who loves Tim Riggins as everything except the boyfriend of his little girl). She's not afraid anymore.
She doesn't even have to worry about losing Jason anymore.
"He loves you," her ex tells her, and the words aren't bitter, they aren't accusatory, they're barely even necessary. The three of them all did, always did, maybe always would. It makes things more simple, and infinitely more complicated.
"I miss Mexico." But "miss" isn't really the right word. She remembers, and that's enough. The three of them together, lips and hands and bodies intertwined like the braids she used to wear down her back when they'd first met.
"We'll always have that--that's ours," it's like he'd read her mind.
"I love you," she starts to cry a little, because it feels like a goodbye more than anything.
They play with Noah, and Lyla imagines a time when this could have been the two of them--this could have been their baby boy. They'd live on a big hunting ranch just like Tim always wanted way out in the country. She'd take up photography, or writing, something to document, get it all down.
But the way it is has to be good enough. Is good enough. Is what it is. Nothing's perfect forever--nothing's perfect for much more than a moment before you realize and end up outside yourself, ruin it. She kisses Noah's forehead, then Jason's, and leaves.
She finds Tim in the front yard of his house, tooling around with his truck like usual. His smile could light up the whole Texas sky; she doesn't even have to say anything. It's easy.
Things fall apart. They always do, don't they? She wants to ask Tim why everything does again, what's holding him back, but can barely even say goodbye. She'd already said it to Jason, it should be easier, she thinks. But it isn't. She stares out the window all the way back to Nashville, but doesn't see a thing.
Lyla Garrity knows a lot of things for sure. That's just the way she's always been. But she doesn't know if she can ever come back to Dillon again.