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The Disappearance of the Girl

Chapter Text

Carol’s track shoes were dirty again, covered with clumps of freshly cut grass. She felt like the sight should be refreshing, after the long summer away from school.

But it was hard to feel anything other than awkward, sitting in the passenger seat of her coach’s car after no one came to pick her up after practice. It was weird enough being one of the only seniors without a car; getting a ride home from Mr. Rogg was a new low.

Not that she disliked him. Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, she felt like she had to stare at her feet, or straight ahead, to avoid accidentally staring at him. He wasn’t just her track coach; he was also her French teacher. And he was from England, which meant he had that perfectly sexy accent and all the charm to go along with it. And she was in his car.

Part of her wanted to be excited for this extra time with him. But instead, her stomach was in knots. Because there was no telling what he’d see when he dropped her off.

Please act normal, she telepathically begged her parents, just this once.

Mr. Rogg waited in the driveway after she got out, of course. He was considerate like that. Damn it.

When Carol went to open the front screen door, she found she couldn’t. She tried again, jiggling the handle, but a familiar frustration had already crept up her neck, burning to the tips of her ears. She rang the doorbell. Waited. Rang the doorbell again. This couldn’t be happening, not in the first week back to school and especially not when Mr. Rogg was here.

Then her dad answered the door with a stern expression, and her heart sank.

“You were supposed to take the bus straight home after school, you know the rules about curfew,” her dad said from behind the locked screen door.

“I didn’t miss curfew,” Carol pleaded. “You were supposed to pick me up from track.”

“I had no idea you had track tonight,” her dad scowled.

She rolled her eyes. “I told you, track is every Thursday!”

“Don’t take that tone with me!”

“Just let me in!” She uselessly pulled at the handle again, but her dad wasn’t unlocking it.

“No, you broke the rules and you know the consequences.”

“But I didn’t break the rules.” She stomped her foot, pulling at the handle once more. “I told you I had track!”

He shook his head, raising his eyebrows at her as if she were just a toddler throwing a tantrum. “I don’t trust you, Carol.”

Why?”

“We’re done here,” he said, shutting the door. “Be home on time tomorrow!”

The porch light shut off and she heard her father’s footsteps moving away from the door. Carol gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to punch something.

“Is everything okay?” Mr. Rogg’s voice came from the driveway. He had rolled down his window, arm resting outside the car. She picked up her backpack and her gym bag and walked towards him.

“How much did you hear?” she asked.

“I could only pick up bits and pieces,” he said. “I’m not sure I heard everything correctly. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just…” She stared down at her feet, too embarrassed to think of a lie to cover this up. “I have to find somewhere to stay tonight.”

“What?”

“Yeah…”

“Carol, I…” He was quiet for a second, and she looked up to see him staring at her, brow furrowed. “I don’t understand, are you saying you can’t go inside your house?”

“Yeah, I missed curfew,” she mumbled.

“What? Your curfew is this early?”

“Yeah…”

“It’s this early every day? Even with track?”

“It changes…”

“But you’re back home now. Why is no one letting you in?”

“It’s fine, it happens all the time.”

“All the time?” He sounded genuinely upset. “Carol, that isn’t okay.”

“It’s fine.”

“You don’t have a key you can let yourself in with?”

“…No.” This was fucking humiliating.

He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He just shook his head, looking at her house, as if someone from inside was going to come out and explain all this to him.

Finally, he asked, “Do you want me to talk to your parents?”

“No!” her knee jerk response clearly startled Mr. Rogg and she felt her face burning.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I can explain the track schedule to him.”

“No, no, if someone else steps in, that’s just going to make it worse.” Carol could already hear the chewing out she’d get from her dad over that. She’d be lucky if she was allowed to stay on the track team if Mr. Rogg tried getting involved in their “family matters,” or so her dad would call it.

“Okay, if you’re sure, then I won’t interfere.” The way Mr. Rogg looked her over made her feel like a character in a depressing movie, and she looked down at her feet, ignoring how uncomfortable that made her. After a moment, he asked, “Where are you going to go?”

“I mean, I usually find someone.”

“Well, call someone and I’ll take you there.”

Carol pursed her lips together, shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and looked down at her feet again.

“Carol, do you actually have someone to call?”

What Carol normally did in this situation was head straight to Attlass, the only person she considered a real friend. She had spent countless nights at his house, and she was arguably more comfortable at his place than she was at her own. But after an odd argument earlier that week, there was no way she could reach out to him now. She reluctantly expressed that to Mr. Rogg.

“Is there someone besides Attlass you can call?” he asked. “A relative maybe?”

She just shook her head. She was glad it was getting dark so he couldn’t see how red she was turning.

“Where are you going to sleep tonight?”

“I… don’t know…”

He sighed, and ran a hand over his face, then put his hands on the steering wheel, fingers tapping. He looked at her, considering something.

“Come on,” he said, motioning his head towards the passenger seat of the car. “You can stay with me tonight. You’ll have to sleep on the couch but it’s better than nothing.”

“What?” She must have misheard him.

“I can’t let you have nowhere to go, Carol. I just can’t. So if you’re not uncomfortable with it, you can stay with me.”

It had taken Carol a moment to process that Mr. Rogg was asking her to come stay with him. Despite being embarrassed about the situation, her heart fluttered and her stomach did an excited flip. She hated having a crush.

Pushing aside the inconvenient butterflies, she asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” the word sounded so absolute and firm coming from him, and Carol had to fight an involuntary smile because of it. She ducked her head and walked to the passenger side of his car.

Whatever Carol had imagined her first week of senior year looking like, this definitely wasn’t it.

As they drove to his place and she sat looking out the car window, her head was spinning from everything that had just happened. She was so caught up in her own discombobulated thoughts, she had barely registered that Mr. Rogg was talking to her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking away from the window to him, bringing herself back into the moment. “What did you say?”

“I asked if you need to stop for anything before we get to my place,” he said, glancing at her from the corner of his eye.

“I don’t think so,” she said, quickly looking down at her feet, feeling herself blushing. She was on her way to Mr. Rogg’s house and he was offering to make a stop for her. This was insane.

“Do you have clothes for tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yeah, I keep extra clothes with me just in case. They’re in my gym bag.”

“In your gym bag?” He furrowed his brow. “Are they clean?”

“I… think so?”

“Well, we can wash your clothes when we get back to my place.”

“That’s okay, they’re probably fine.”

“It’s probably a good idea,” he pressed. “Especially if they’ve been sitting in your gym bag.”

“I guess.” The idea of using Mr. Rogg’s washing machine felt bizarre, like that would be asking too much of him somehow, even though he had offered. But she didn’t want to be rude.

“Are you hungry?” he asked. “I don’t normally eat out, but we can pick something up for dinner if you’d like.”

“We don’t have to stop anywhere, it’s fine.” Why was he so fucking nice? She was blushing like a lunatic right now.

“Well, you have to eat. I can put something together at home.” His fingers were lightly tapping the steering wheel. “Do you have any food allergies?”

She snorted. “You sound like a waiter.”

“Is that a bad thing?” He smiled. “I’m trying to be accomodating.”

“Well, consider me accomodated.”

“I can’t accommodate you if you don’t answer the question.”

“Uhh… I don’t think I have any food allergies. I haven’t had anything that’s killed me yet, at least.”

“That’s good to know.”

“I mean, I could end up being allergic to whatever you make, though.”

“Yes, you could.”

“So be careful.”

“I’ll do my best not to harm you.”

 


 

“Your place is so… clean,” was all Carol could say as she was lead into Mr. Rogg’s house.

“…Thank you?” Mr. Rogg looked over his shoulder at her, puzzled yet amused. She followed him from the entryway to the kitchen. Being in a teacher’s house was such an odd experience, it at once overwhelmed and thrilled her. She felt almost like a tourist.

“I mean, it’s cleaner than my place. And so minimalistic. Do you even own anything?”

“I own things. Clearly.” He opened his fridge, glancing over it, and took out a couple containers.

“Fine, yes, you own things. I see that. But everything’s so… I don’t know, I feel like I’m in a museum. How often do you dust? Two, three, five times a day? Do you have clutter anywhere?”

“Why are you interrogating me for keeping my home clean?” He gave her a funny look, but he was smiling.

“Well, my house only gets clean clean if we’re having company over. Or if my dad is upset. Then I have to break out my toothbrush and start scrubbing. But even then… you weren’t expecting me to come over and your house is this clean.”

He was taking some dishes out of a cabinet, setting them on the counter. His brow was furrowed and he looked at her. “Your dad really makes you clean with a toothbrush?”

“Not just any toothbrush, my toothbrush.”

“Carol…” He leaned against the counter, crossing his arms as he stared at her.

“But not recently,” she said. Being in his house was so weird, it made her embarrassingly giddy and she couldn’t shut up. “He’s more into curfew these days, and it’s kinda hard to clean the house if I’m not allowed in the house.”

There was a heavy silence. Carol had hoped her sarcasm would have eased the truth in her statements, but it was much too close to the incident for Mr. Rogg to let it slide, apparently.

“I’m really sorry that you have to go through that, Carol,” he said, giving her a calm, steady look, making her cheeks burn.

“It’s fine,” she mumbled, looking at her feet.

“No, it’s really not fine. Your parents have a responsibility to keep you safe and instead they’re turning you out with nowhere to go. You’re dependent on them and it’s wrong to do that to you.”

The way he had spoken was so heartfelt and honest, and it bothered her a little, because she hadn’t ever wanted him to feel this bad for her.

“Well…” she said, chewing on her bottom lip as she thought of what to say. All she came up with was, “I’m used to it.”

“You shouldn’t be used to it. How often do they do this?”

“I don’t know, I stayed with Attlass like once a week this summer. At least.”

“They’re kicking you out at least once a week?”

“I mean, they didn’t always do that.” She shrugged. “I think when my brother went to college, they kinda focused in on me more than usual.”

“I remember your brother, I had him in French, too. He graduated a couple years ago, right?”

“Yeah, two years ago.” The thought of her brother always made her feel a little lonely, even now. “He has a couple jobs at school now, so he just stays there all the time. I don’t really see him much anymore.”

“So it’s just you and your parents right now?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

“But you said you usually stay with Attlass, right?”

“Mmhmm, yeah… except…”

He was still leaning against the counter, arms crossed, observing her. “Except?”

Carol sighed, finding the words. “He’s getting in trouble for having me over so much. His parents think it’s inappropriate for him to have a girl over all the time, but we’re just friends, so I don’t get it. And now we’re not really talking and he’s basically my only friend, so I’m just screwed.”

“I did notice you weren’t sitting by each other in class. I thought that was odd, considering you’re normally inseparable.”

Carol felt her face flushing. “You noticed that?”

“Of course I noticed. I’ve been coaching you for almost four years.” He smiled at her, that warm, charming, swoon-worthy smile of his. “I know a little more about you than I do your other classmates.”

“Yeah, I guess you would.” Her legs were actually getting weak right now. Get it fucking together, Carol.

“But I need you to know,” he said, stepping a little closer to her, “that even if you can’t go to Attlass, you’re not… screwed. If this happens again and you still have no one to turn to, I’m here. You shouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep, so please do not think twice about calling me if you need to.”

She didn’t know how to handle this form of kindness from him—from anyone, really. She couldn’t even think of anything sarcastic to say. Heat rose from her neck to her ears and she mumbled a small, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Perhaps sensing how uncomfortable she was, Mr. Rogg then changed the subject, “So I’ll start dinner, and if you want to work on your homework in the meantime, you can set up at the kitchen table, or you can use the coffee table in the living room. Whatever works for you.”

 


 

Yon didn’t mind that Carol was one of those girls who blushed if he smiled at her. Her crush on him was clear as day—it was easy to tell with girls her age. He was well aware that students sometimes had crushes on him; it was natural and unavoidable. He didn’t think it was perverse or in any way self gratifying of him to recognize that—it just was. To pretend he didn’t notice would be naive.

Of course it wasn’t as if he did anything with that knowledge, either. He never so much as fantasized what doing anything with that knowledge would look like. He was a rational adult, healthy in body and mind, and with that came the ability to quell his base desires, which made those desires virtually harmless.

If he had those desires in the first place, that was.

If he were a different sort of man, he might have found her eagerness and her susceptibility to him almost enticing. He might also have admired her stubborn streak and her snarky sense of humor.

But he didn’t dwell on what a different type of man might be thinking about. He certainly wasn’t dwelling on it when he had offered to help her tonight.

He was glad that he had been there to help her. It was unsettling to think that her parents could just throw her out without knowing where she would end up. A girl her age could so easily find herself with an ill-intentioned person. But he had been there for her, and for that, she was lucky.

In the moment, helping her really felt like the right thing to do. He genuinely believed he had a moral obligation to help her and he was glad that he had stuck around after track to give her a ride. It bothered him that one of his favorite students was being subjected to a homelife like that for years and he had known nothing about it until now.

He just hoped that there would be no repercussions from her parents for this—for Carol’s sake and for his. If the situation was spun the wrong way, he knew he would face some kind of trouble at work. But his conscience was clear, so he decided not to worry about something that might never happen. Anyway, he couldn’t leave a student with nowhere to go, no matter what the consequences were.

For the time being, he focused on making the evening as comfortable, straightforward, and uncomplicated as he could. He gave her space and quiet to do her homework while he put together a simple dinner of mixed salad with grilled chicken. He didn’t know what she was used to eating at home, but at least he knew everything he kept in the house was healthy—it had to be better than what she was used to.

She had set her school books out on the kitchen table and she appeared surprisingly focused. If he hadn’t actually witnessed her being locked out of her house, he wouldn’t have guessed anything had gone wrong in her evening. Then again, she said she was used to it... This may very well have been a normal evening for her.

There must have been other signs he had missed or just misinterpreted during the years he had known her. She hid well behind her focus and determination—these traits made her one of his favorite athletes on his track team. And while he hadn’t had her in a class until this year, he was certain she’d bring the same level of commitment to her studies. She was a highly praised student from the other faculty members, so he expected above average performances from her across the board. Given what he had just discovered about her homelife, her ability to succeed became even more impressive to him.

But still, there must have been signs that he had missed. He felt like he could pick up on many things with his students, so he didn’t understand how he had missed something like this. He wasn’t a teacher because he had accidentally fallen into that career path, he chose to do this because he thought he could understand and guide his students better than anyone else.

Yon always felt that guiding his students was the closest thing he had to a calling—and he was good at it. He liked having an arguably respected position, even if the age group he worked with wasn’t always prone to respect. Whether or not all his students respected him, he still had the most authority in the room, and that meant something to most of them.

As a teacher, he was strict but patient, demanding excellence but understanding that it took time and effort to get there. His students responded well to that balance in him. They tried their best for him because they knew he expected it and they knew he would work with them to achieve it. He enjoyed working with the students who wanted to improve, or who needed the right push. He felt both of those things in Carol—she strove to be the best, and she was talented in whatever she put her mind to. And she was remarkable when challenged.

Carol was his best athlete because she was always responding to the ways he pushed her, always trying to prove herself to him. If she ran a sprint in record time, he knew with the right words he could get her to run it even faster next time. And over the years he knew her, he found out she was too stubborn to not prove herself. All he had to do was hint that she might not be able to do something, and he’d see her eyes instantly light up with a determination to prove that no, she could do it.

And he knew part of her willingness to push herself for him was because she was, to some degree, infatuated with him. Her crush on him motivated her to push herself even harder for him and he didn’t see the harm in using that to push her.

He just wished that, out of all the other things he had observed about her over the years, that he had picked up on her home life. But now that he knew, he would do what he could to help, to keep giving her the push she needed to overcome and succeed. He doubted anyone else was going to do that for her.

Chapter Text

When Carol woke up the next morning, she was disoriented. Where the fuck was she? Then she remembered: she was at Mr. Rogg’s house. She sat up fast, her stomach fluttering. The house was still quiet and the light peaking through the curtains was a grey glow. She looked at the clock on her phone: 4:37 AM. Of course she had woken up ridiculously early.

She wasn’t sure what she should do with herself this early, especially in an unfamiliar house. Especially in Mr. Rogg’s house. Apparently her disbelief at the situation had renewed itself after a night’s sleep. She couldn’t stop herself from blushing at the memory of him making dinner, eating with him at his table, helping him with the dishes—it was so simple, but too much for her crush on him to handle. She saw him in a t-shirt and sweatpants when he came down to say goodnight and make sure she had everything she needed. Why did she have to be losing her shit over that?

For a minute, she just sat on the couch, listening for any movement from him upstairs. When she couldn’t take anymore motionless waiting, she stood, tiptoeing to the kitchen for a glass of water. Nothing in his house was familiar yet, so it took her a couple tries to find the right cabinet, but she eventually found the glasses and filled one from the dispensary on the fridge. In the silence, she drank her water and stared at the fridge door. Her curiosity at the details of his private life suddenly got the better of her, and she opened his fridge.

He had the most organized fridge she had ever seen, and, somehow, it didn’t surprise her. There were healthy looking brands organized in rows on one shelf, and labeled glass containers stacked on another. She didn’t see any alcohol or junk food, which made her wonder if maybe he kept something more fun somewhere else. She peaked into his pantry and cabinets, still finding nothing incriminating. It was a little boring and even a little funny, but still it impressed the part of her that admired his discipline and structure.

Everything in his house was such a contrast to what she was used to at home. Her mom had made various attempts over the years to declutter and organize, but they never panned out for more than a week. Every drawer in her kitchen was to some degree a junk drawer, one just had more silverware than the others. The counters were scattered with bills and dishes and cereal boxes. The fridge was full of processed foods and leftover takeout in various states of decay. And while it might take her parents weeks to get around to restocking the fridge with milk or eggs, the liquor cabinet was somehow always stocked up.

Carol hated her parents’ kitchen and she didn’t feel much better about the rest of the house. Her bedroom was the only space she felt had any semblance of order, so that was where she spent most of her time at home. She couldn’t wait for the day when she had her own place and could spread that sense of order to every room. Seeing Mr. Rogg’s tidy and organized house now was like getting a glimpse into what her own future could look like.

Suddenly Carol was pulled out of her thoughts. She heard movement—perhaps footsteps, perhaps from upstairs—and she dashed in panicked silence back to the couch. She threw the blanket back over her and laid still, listening. Nothing but the odd ambient sounds of someone else’s house.

With a sigh she pulled the blanket off of her and stood up again. She eyed her gym bag, suddenly remembering that Mr. Rogg had rather insisted on her washing her clothes the night before. Her clothes hadn’t finished drying by the time she was falling asleep on the couch, so she went to get them now.

It had been strange to have him show her how to use his washing machine and even stranger to actually put her dirty clothes in it, as if her dirty clothes were some secret pieces of herself being somehow exposed to him. Which was ridiculous. Mr. Rogg hadn’t even seen her laundry; he had just pointed out which buttons to press and then walked away. Still, this whole experience was a little bizarre.

She changed into her clean clothes, feeling relieved that she had decided to shower before bed so she wouldn’t have to worry about stumbling around an unfamiliar shower while trying not to wake him up this morning.

When she was done getting dressed, she finally heard movement upstairs—not just weird house noises, actual footsteps and then the sound of the shower. Those annoying butterflies kicked up in her stomach again.

Why? She hadn’t even seen him, she just heard the shower start. Still, she fought a smile as she went back to the couch, straightening up her sleeping area. Her parents may have been shitty, but they had taught her to be a tidy and accommodating house guest, and she actually thought there might be some value to that. She especially hoped there was value in it now—she didn’t know how else to express how grateful she was to Mr. Rogg.

 


 

Yon was surprised to find Carol completely packed and ready for the day by the time he got downstairs that morning. She was sitting on the couch, all the pillows replaced and blankets folded. She smiled when she saw him.

“Good morning,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yep,” she said. “Thanks again for letting me crash.”

“Of course.” He nodded towards the folded blankets. “You didn’t have to do all that.”

“Oh, it’s not a problem.”

He wasn’t going to tell her that he was just going to put it all in the wash anyway. Instead he asked, “How long have you been up?”

“I don’t know, since, like, four thirty or something.”

Four thirty?”

“I’m an early riser.”

“And I thought I was a morning person.”

“Well, it’s not a competition, so don’t beat yourself up over it too much.”

He couldn’t help his smile at her. He still couldn’t believe how easily she played off this situation. She was incredibly resilient.

After a quick breakfast, they headed off to school. He suddenly felt a little strange that he would be pulling up to school with a student in tow, even though he knew he had nothing to worry about. All the same, he wanted to quell his anxiety.

“Not that it’s a big deal,” he said, “but it’s probably best that not everyone knows that you stayed over.”

“Oh, okay. I get that.”

“Again, not a big deal. I would just hate to see any… inaccurate rumors floating around.”

“No, no, I totally get it. I know teachers can get in trouble for a lot of things. Besides, there’s no one I’d really talk to about this anyway. I don’t like talking about home stuff at school.”

There was a pause and he glanced at her from the corner of his eye. She was fidgeting with her hands and looking out the window.

“I’m sorry to ask this,” he said, “but have any authorities ever been involved with your home situation?”

“What do you mean? Like, have I ever called the cops on my parents?”

“Have you?”

“No.”

“Do you think you should get authorities involved? They might be able to help you out of this situation.”

“I don’t really want to get involved with all of that if I don’t have to. I’m going to be eighteen in April and then I can legally get out of there. And I’ll be in college next year. I really don’t want anything crazy to happen. I’ve been waiting this long and I’m almost free. I can put up with everything a little longer.”

“I understand why you feel that way, but what your parents are doing isn’t right. If you wanted to get authorities involved, no one would blame you.”

“I don’t want to get authorities involved. That’s too much. I just want to graduate and get out.”

They were pulling up to the school. He drove to his usual spot and when he parked, he looked at her.

“I’m glad I could be there for you yesterday,” he said. “And I’m still here for you if you need me. For anything.”

“Thank you.” She was blushing again. “I’m honestly really grateful.”

“It’s no trouble. Now let’s get this Friday over with.”

 


 

All Carol wanted to do at school that day was talk to Attlass about everything that had happened last night. She knew she had told Mr. Rogg that she wouldn’t say anything, but she didn’t think Attlass would have counted—he was her best friend. She had to stop herself from seeking out his locker before the first bell rang. It felt so odd to be carrying around such a significant new detail in her life with no one to talk to about it. He was the only person that knew that she had a crush on Mr. Rogg—or rather, that she thought he was attractive. She didn’t like admitting to full on crushes with anyone.

Thinking about the light teasing she would get from Attlass sunk her with melancholy. She wanted to talk to him about how funny Mr. Rogg’s organized fridge was to her too, but again, she couldn’t even do that. Suddenly she felt more isolated than ever.

That particular kind of loneliness sunk into her, and part of her decided that, if circumstances were right, she might let her argument with Attlass be forgotten.

As lunchtime rolled around and Carol was facing another day of sitting alone, she almost worked up the courage to seek him out during lunch. But as she left the lunch line, tray in hand, and set out for him, she briefly made eye contact with him and he looked away. That was enough to strike her nerves, and she turned away to find an empty table.

She had barely sat down when she looked up and saw that Attlass had followed her.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” she said back. A moment passed, then she added, “So what’s up?”

“I just thought… I don’t know, we haven’t talked since Monday.”

“Well… You did tell me to come over less, so…”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know…”

“Can we talk about it again?”

“Is there anything new to say? Did you parents decide to stop hating me?” she didn’t mean to come off as snarky, but she winced at her own tone.

“I never said they hated you. I just said they were upset at how often I was having a girl over. They don’t believe that nothing is happening with us.”

“Why wouldn’t they believe that?”

“I don’t know, I’m not pretending to understand them. I tried to change their minds, I really did.”

She could feel her frustration from their original argument boiling back up and she clenched her jaw against it. She hated being reminded how incredibly unwanted she was by everyone.

The silence between them roared louder than the buzz of the cafeteria, and Attlass tried to end it by asking, “Your parents haven’t kicked you out this week, have they?”

“No,” the lie came out instantly, harshly.

Attlass hesitated, then said, “That’s good.”

“Yep.”

Another strange silence, and then, the cherry on top of the situation, Carol spotted Minnerva approaching them.

“Hey, Attlass, are you coming back to the table?” Minnerva said, blatantly not acknowledging Carol.

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a second,” he said.

“Okay, well, we’re waiting for you so we can all go over this calculus assignment.”

“Be right there.”

Minnerva turned without so much as a word to Carol.

“I can’t believe you’re hanging out with her now,” Carol said.

“She’s not as bad as you think she is.”

“She literally told me she hates me.”

“You must have misunderstood her.”

“No, you don’t misunderstand someone saying, ‘I hate you.’ You just don’t.”

“Well… I don’t know what to say, I think you two would get along.”

“Well, we don’t, and now you’re hanging out with her instead of me.”

“I’d like to hang out with both of you.”

“That’s not happening. I’ve tried to get her to like me and she refuses. I have one more year with her and then I’m done.”

“I can’t force you to like her, but—”

“No, you can’t. And I won’t.”

Attlass sighed. “Well, if you change your mind…”

“I’m not going to.”

“Carol…”

“Why don’t you just get back to your table? Minnerva wants to talk to you about calculus. Better not keep her waiting. Just make sure she knows that she’s not allowed to come over to your house.”

Attlass opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head, and just said, “See you in French.”

Carol said nothing back, just looked down at her lunch tray. When she looked back up, he was walking away. She blinked away the stinging in her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she opened up the milk carton on her lunch tray and resolved herself to another lunch alone.

 


 

French class came and Carol took her seat in the front row—the row that ensured her back would always be on Attlass and Minnerva. She had never been more relieved to have a teacher that didn’t enforce assigned seating in their classroom, she didn’t know what she would have done if she was forced to sit next to one of them every day. Now all she had to do was ignore everyone behind her and focus on French.

And on Mr. Rogg.

He gave her the kindest smile when she walked into class that day. Seeing him in class after having stayed at his house was a little exciting, like they now had this practically intimate factor to their formal relationship. She knew her brain was blowing it out of proportion, but she still liked feeling as if she were close to him. She tried not to stare at him too much as the bell rang and he started the lesson.

“As promised on Monday, we will be ending the week with your new French names,” Mr. Rogg announced to the class. “You’ve all had plenty of time to think about it, so don’t let me see anyone taking out their phones.”

Ugh. Carol had forgotten about picking a new name.

She didn’t exactly hate having to choose a new name for French class, but she thought it was pointless to have to change her identity for an hour each day. There wasn’t anything wrong with her real name—it wasn’t like people in France would refuse to call her Carol. But, of course, her last name put her close to the top of the attendance list, so she would have to think of something fast.

“Okay, Danvers. What are we calling you?”

Carol looked at a poster on the wall behind Mr. Rogg and said, “I’ll be Versailles.”

Mr. Rogg tilted his head and looked up from his clipboard. “That’s not an actual name.”

“But it’s French.”

“Still not a name.”

“Okay, then... Vers.”

“That’s not a name. That’s a preposition. You want your name to be Towards?”

“No, I want it to be Vers, short for Versailles.”

“That’s still not a name.”

“Well, it’s my name now.”

“But why would I pronounce it veers? It’s vair-sigh, not veer-sigh.”

“My name doesn’t follow those rules.”

He sighed and began to write on his clipboard, somewhat dejectedly, Carol imagined.

“Fine,” he said, looking up at her from his clipboard and clearly fighting a smile. “But you should know it does look a little repetitive next to your last name.”

“That’s fine.” Carol ignored the snickering she heard behind her, probably from Minnerva.

“Okay then, Vers.” He shook his head in disapproval, but the way he said her new name and the half smirk he gave her almost made her blush and suddenly he was the only person in the room. She looked down at her notebook, wishing something other than the renaming of her classmates was going on so she could at least pretend to be invested in taking notes.

She looked up again at him as he wrote down the next student’s name. His attention was diverted off of her, so she found herself staring at him, soft admiration creeping over her. He was talking, not really saying anything special, but tiny butterflies kept awakening in her stomach nonetheless. The more she focused on the planes of his face and melted at his accent, the more frustratingly attractive he became. She was beginning to imagine the way his arms looked when he was wearing a t-shirt during track, the way he had looked in his casual clothes at his house, and then he looked at her and she instantly blushed.

God, she didn’t know how she was going to handle sitting here staring at him the entire year. At least during track she was mobile, but in a classroom she was stuck at her desk, pretty much forced to just stare at him for the better part of an hour. Then she’d still have to see him for track. And now she had the exciting memory of having stayed the night at his house.

All she wanted to do was ignore her dumb crush on him, but she couldn’t stop herself from fantacising about him in the most embarrassing ways and then having her body betray her by turning red pretty much every single time he looked at her.

Despite how embarrassing all the feelings that came with having a crush were, she would take that over the rejection she felt not only from Attlass, but from her parents. The knowledge that her parents weren’t going to hesitate kicking her out, even during the school year, weighed heavy on her. She never imagined that they would do that to her in the first week of school, and yet they had. At least her crush was good for helping her ignore that.

Chapter Text

Yon was especially grateful for the weekend this week. The first week back at school wasn’t typically a very difficult week, but everything with Carol had thrown things slightly off. He was glad to help her, but he was also glad to have a quiet weekend to get back into his normal routine. Doing his Saturday morning chores was always a calming sort of ritual to him.

Laundry was part of that routine. When the dryer’s timer signified its completion, he took out his clean clothes and brought them upstairs to sort. It was an absentminded chore, and as he folded and organized, his mind was already on his next task. But his routine was abruptly interrupted when he picked up a decidedly feminine pair of light blue underwear.

For a second he had no idea how they had ended up mixed in his laundry—he hadn’t had a woman over in months. Then he remembered that he had let Carol do her laundry when she spent the night and it hit him like a bolt from the blue: He had a student’s pair of underwear sitting on his bed.

Instinct told him that he shouldn’t look at them, let alone touch them, but he was being ridiculous. Obviously he had to do something with them. His first somewhat rational thought was that he should just give them back to her, but the logistics of him giving a student a pair of underwear seemed impossible to navigate. It wasn’t as if he had ended up with the underwear by doing anything wrong—he had been helping someone in need—but, still, it wasn’t like he could just put them in his work bag and hand them off to her after class. Maybe he could just throw them away and pretend he had never seen them, but somehow that felt like taking even more from someone who was already at a disadvantage.

He knew he was wasting too much time thinking about this. There was a simple solution and he was overthinking. He physically set the underwear aside, and tried to do the same in his mind as he finished putting away his own laundry. But that light blue sitting on the corner of his bed seemed to be staring at him as he moved about his room. Despite no one else being around, he felt a self-conscious heat rise to his face. He had to get it out of his bedroom.

He grabbed it as he headed downstairs. He went to his washing machine and, out of habit, folded the pair of underwear before setting it on top of the machine. For a moment, he looked at the innocent enough article of clothing, frustrated that Carol had forgotten it, but momentarily endeared by the memory of her sleeping on his couch. And then, like touching a fingertip to an exposed electrical socket, the thought he had been distancing himself from zapped him: Carol wearing the underwear.

He turned his back and shook his head, ready to fit back into his Saturday morning routine. He denied to himself that any kind of lewd images had sparked across his mind. It wasn’t even as if picturing someone in their underwear was inherently lewd—people, even students, wore underwear and it meant nothing. It wasn’t like he had meant to see anything or as if he had collected the guilty article of clothing on purpose. He hadn’t done anything perverse.

Again, he was overthinking.

A simple solution would surely present itself. Until then, he didn’t have to think about it. He wouldn’t think about it. It wouldn’t creep into his mind when he went about the rest of his weekend, and it wouldn’t bother him when he saw Carol at school again Monday. There was nothing to be bothered by. Everything was fine.

 


 

When Carol missed the bus after school on Monday, she should have known that her parents would react. She knew she shouldn’t have lingered after her last class to ask the teacher some more questions on the homework assignment, but she also didn’t think it would take as long as it had. By the time she had dashed to and from her locker, the buses were heading out. But still, she tried to get home as fast as she could, hoping her parents wouldn’t notice.

She found a ride with a classmate, Angela, a girl on the track team she was comfortable enough with to approach on her way to the parking lot. But of course Angela had to lose her car keys, and Carol went back into the building with her to help her look for them, and by the time they had looked through all her classrooms, they found the keys at the bottom of her backpack. Carol could have screamed, but she knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault, so she just smiled. She didn’t want anyone to know how urgent it was that she got home.

Finally, she was dropped off at her house, but it was too late. Her parents had already seen the bus come and go and Carol hadn’t been on it. Carol didn’t even know why she bothered trying to open the door, but she did. When she rang the doorbell, her dad didn’t even have the decency to come argue with her. All she got was a text notification from him reading: Curfew.

Carol looked up from her phone, gritting her teeth. She swiped away the text from her dad, opening up her contacts. Instinctually, she hesitated over Attlass’s name, then kept scrolling until her thumb stopped at Mr. Rogg. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the call button.

Two rings and then, “Hello, Carol.”

“Hi…”

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, everything’s—no, it’s not. I kinda… I don’t have anywhere to go again.”

“Do you need me to come get you?”

“I don’t know, um… you know what, I can try to find someone else, if it’s gonna be completely out of your way or too weird or whatever.”

“Carol, slow down. Do you actually have someone else to call?”

“Well…” she sighed. “No.”

“I’m coming to get you.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know who else to call.”

“Carol. Don’t apologize. I’m glad you called me. I’m getting ready to leave now and I’ll be there to pick you up soon. Do you need me to stay on the phone with you until I get there?”

“No, no you don’t need to. I’m gonna walk around the neighborhood though, so I might meet you at the end of the street. If that’s okay?”

“That’s fine. Do what makes you feel safe.”

Everything she was feeling caught in her throat, making it impossible for her to say anything other than a small, “Thank you.”

“I’ll call you when I’m close. See you soon.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

 


 

For the second time in less than a week, Yon turned onto Carol’s street. When she had stayed with him last week, he had been upset to find out that she was enduring this kind of treatment from her parents, but he had hoped that the incident wasn’t as common as Carol had implied it was. Hearing his phone ring today and seeing her name on the screen had filled him with an immediate sense of disbelief—she couldn’t be kicked out again this soon.

She sounded so hesitant and embarrassed to be asking for his help again, and he could almost feel the wound to her pride through the phone. It frustrated him that she had to be put in that situation, temporarily homeless and essentially begging for shelter. He couldn’t imagine what he would have done if he were her age.

He tried to be as reassuring as possible, for her sake. As long as she needed his help, he didn’t want her to feel any hesitation in asking for it. If she hadn’t been one of his favorite students, perhaps he wouldn’t have felt that way, but he would never know. All he knew for certain was that he just wanted Carol to feel safe with him.

As he drove down her street now, he quickly spotted her walking, just as she said she would be, backpack and gym bag in tow. When she recognized his car, she picked up her pace towards him and he slowed to a stop near her.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she entered the car.

“Stop apologizing,” he said.

She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped herself.

“I was about to apologize again,” she said.

“I’m glad you caught yourself.”

She stifled a laugh and, when he smiled at her, her cheeks turned rosy. It was suddenly overwhelming how endearing he found her.

He focused on the road. Mentally counting to ten, he exhaled and pushed aside any irrelevant feelings.

“Do you have everything you need for tonight?” he asked.

“Yep.”

“Good.”

A silent moment, and then, “Thank you for letting me stay again, Mr. Rogg.”

“It’s no problem, Carol. I told you to reach out if you needed me. I’m just sorry that you had to reach out this soon.”

“Me too. I mean—I mean, I’m not sorry that I have to see you again, I’m just…” She sighed.

“I understand. You don’t need to explain.”

When they arrived at his house, Carol set her things in his living room, then excused herself to the bathroom. He waited to hear the door shut, then went to the laundry room.

He grabbed the pair of underwear, hurrying back to the living room with it balled in his fist. Quietly, he unzipped her gym bag and hastily shoved the underwear into it. He felt like some kind of absurd thief. But he wasn’t taking anything, he was returning something, quietly mending a potentially awkward situation. This was the best way to do it without embarrassing either of them. Still, it felt like some kind of violation. Which, again, was absurd. Nothing wrong had happened.

He had just zipped the bag back up when he heard the bathroom door open. He hurried away to the kitchen, entering it at the same time she passed by it on her way back from the bathroom. She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him.

“Why do you look suspicious?” she asked.

“What?”

“I don’t know, you look like you were just being sneaky or something.”

“I don’t sneak around in my own house.”

“Could’ve fooled me. You looked pretty sneaky.”

He held his tongue against his growing annoyance. He knew he was only getting annoyed because she was right. As he looked at her, she broke into a playful grin, and that somehow eased his mind. She didn’t know she was right.

“Okay, well if you’re done being accusatory, I was thinking we should order pizza.”

“You eat pizza?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know, you’re so healthy.”

“Well, all things in moderation.”

 


 

Despite already having been locked out twice so far senior year, Carol had hoped that school being back in session would mean that her dad would lay off on kicking her out so often. But apparently kicking her out regularly was a hard habit to break. By the time the third week of school came around and she was being kicked out for the third time since school started, she had given up all hope.

Part of her still wished that she and Attlass had never fought so she could stay with him, but it was too late to go back to how things were, especially with Minnerva around. Even though she had essentially lost her best friend, she was at least glad to have found someone else to stay with.

While staying with Mr. Rogg still felt a little weird, she was so relieved that he had opened up his home to her. The more she stayed over, the less weird it felt to be there. He asked her a few more times about whether she wanted to get authorities involved or not, but she always said no, and eventually he just stopped asking. Staying with him was a solution that worked for the time being and it was so much easier than making an official, legal mess out of everything.

But it also didn’t help her crush on him. The more time she spent with him and got to know him outside of school, the more she really liked him. And she was pretty sure that he liked her too—not in the same ways she liked him, of course, but enough to keep letting her stay and to not appear sick of her yet. They actually got along really well, both in and out of school, and that couldn’t have made her happier.

Sometimes she imagined that if she was older, she could’ve just been his friend. She tried not to imagine being anything other than a friend, because, if she was honest with herself, that felt delusional. But she still couldn’t suppress the butterflies she got around him. And she really couldn’t do anything about the couple of times she had embarrassing dreams about him. Trying to get herself under control was nearly impossible the day after she had a dream—all he had to do was be in the same room as her and she was practically beet red.

Crush aside, though, she had never been more comfortable around an adult than she was around him. As staying with him became much more normal, she actually found herself a little relieved when her parents kicked her out. Not that she enjoyed being kicked out, it was just that Mr. Rogg never made her feel unwanted.

So when, on the last Thursday in September, she was kicked out and staying at his place, she was mostly content. When Friday came and she tried to go back home, but couldn’t, she was deflated but not upset that she had more time with him. Saturday and Sunday found her locked out as well, but Mr. Rogg was happy to let her continue staying at his place. She had never stayed with him for an entire weekend before, but it was surprisingly casual. She did her homework and helped him clean and they watched a movie together—he even let her pick out the movie. She almost forgot that her parents were an issue.

But then Monday came. Carol was certain she’d get let back in after school—her parents never kept her out this long. The school day came and went, and she took the bus home, trying not to think about what possible arguments might be waiting for her at home. She got off at her stop, and walked down her street.

As Carol’s house came into view, something looked off. The front lawn seemed to be full of… stuff. Were her parents having a garage sale?

She picked up her pace and then the realization came over her like someone cracking an egg on top of her head, its gooey content dripping over her, filling her both with disgust at the sensation and anger at whoever had cracked the egg.

“What the fuck.”

Those were all her things on the lawn.

She dropped her backpack next to a pile of her clothes and marched up to the front door, uselessly and aggressively trying to open it. She banged her fists against the side of the screen door, making it shake in its frame. A thunder from within and the main door opened. To her shock, the screen door flung open too, hitting her. She stumbled back as her dad pushed forward, towering over her.

“What the hell is happening!” she shouted, regaining her footing.

“Grab your things and get off my property,” he said. “I already took the liberty of emptying your room, so this shouldn’t take you long.”

“Why? What did I do?”

“If you think you can stay away an entire weekend without telling us where you are, then you clearly don’t need to live under this roof anymore.”

“I was gone because you locked me out! Why wouldn’t you answer my calls?!”

“Don’t raise your voice like that!”

“You’re shouting too!”

“Just get your things and get off my property before I call the cops.”

“What? I’m not doing anything wrong, you can’t call the cops!”

“Don’t try me, young lady!” Her dad started backing into the house, but Carol shot forward before he could close the door, trying to wedge herself in.

“Mom!” she cried, fighting against her dad as he pushed the door into her. “Mom! Don’t make me go! I want to talk to you!”

“Your mom isn’t going to take your side, Carol. I swear to God I’ll call the cops if you don’t get your ass out of here!”

“Joseph,” came her mom’s voice, “Joseph, maybe we should talk about this again.”

“What else is there to talk about? We’re not putting up with this anymore—I’ve had it.”

“But—”

“You really think now is the right time to have this conversation?” He shoved the door harder, but Carol braced herself.

She planted her feet more firmly and shoved with all her weight and determination. She knew her dad wasn’t as strong as he thought he was, and she pushed the door open enough to dart inside. Her dad rushed between Carol and the entranceway, blocking her from her mom.

“You can’t make me leave!” she pleaded towards her mom.

“Where is she going to go, Joseph?” her mom looked from Carol to her dad.

“Wherever she was this entire weekend, since it must be so much better than here.”

Her mom hesitated before asking, “Who were you with, Carol?”

“I was with Attlass,” the lie came out faster than Carol could control and she didn’t know why.

“Well I hope they’re ready for you to move in, because we’re done with you,” her dad said. “We don’t want you here.”

“Mom—”

“Stop looking at your mom! She isn’t going to help you.”

“Joseph—”

“Do you want your daughter to keep disrespecting us? You can’t keep giving in to her.”

Carol practically laughed. “Since when has anyone ever given in to me?”

“Watch it!”

“Carol,” her mom said, “don’t talk like that to your father.”

“What?”

“Just listen to him please.”

Despite her anger, Carol felt everything else in her weakening. “Are you serious?”

Her dad stepped forward, forcing Carol to back towards the door. She looked at her mom, who was apparently refusing to look at her, and then glared at her dad.

“Fuck you!” she spat at him, then turned around and slammed the door behind her.

She marched to her pile of clothes and books and took out her phone. With hardly a thought about her next step, she called Mr. Rogg.

“Hi, Carol, is everything—”

“They kicked me out—they kicked me out for good. My stuff is all on the lawn and they told me to leave—he said he’d call the cops if I don’t leave, they don’t want me here, I need to—”

“Carol, Carol, slow down. You’re saying your parents actually told you to move out?”

“Yes! They threw all my stuff on the lawn and they don’t want me here! I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what—”

“Carol, I need you to listen to me. You need to breathe, you need to stay calm.”

“How am I supposed to be calm—they kicked me out!”

“Carol, breathe.”

She took an exaggerated breath and looked up at the sky.

“I’m leaving school right now,” he said. “I’m going to be right there. Remember: don’t let your emotions get the better of you. You’re going to be fine. I promise.”

 


 

Everything was packed into Yon’s car—she was surprised at how few things she owned and how easy it was to fit it all into his car—and they drove away from her parents’ house. After her dad had slammed the door shut on her, no one had so much as peaked through the curtain to see what she was doing, although she had been worried about her dad coming out to cause a scene. She should have known that he wouldn’t have done anything like that or even call the cops like he had threatened to; if other people were involved, he wasn’t about to make himself look like the bad guy. That and he was also probably passed out drunk by then. So Carol was gone from her parents’ house in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Despite all her things being loaded into Yon’s car, the situation didn’t quite feel real yet. It felt like a continuation of the weekend with a stressful road bump along the way. She could feel her shoulder bruising from where her dad had been pressing the door into her, but she tried to ignore any other types of pain the incident had caused. She stared out the car window, attempting to get her thoughts together. She had been to Mr. Rogg’s house enough times to know the route he took, so when he made an unfamiliar turn, she noticed almost immediately.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“You caught on faster than I thought you would.”

“Are you taking me to a warehouse down by the docks and throwing my body in the river?”

“What? We don’t even have—no, I’m not doing that.”

“Okay, then where are we going?”

“To look into getting you a bed.”

“What?”

“You can’t keep sleeping on the couch if you’re moving in.”

“...I’m moving in?”

“If your parents aren’t letting you back home and you have nowhere else to go, then yes. If you want to move in, then you’re moving in.”

“I just… I didn’t think you would want me to actually move in.

“You’ve been staying with me pretty regularly, Carol. Besides, I can’t leave you without a home and I can at least give you that until you graduate.”

“Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.”

“I… I kind’ve thought you’d be sick of me by now, let alone months from now when I graduate.”

“Believe it or not, I don’t mind having you around.”

“Really?”

“When you’re not being too much of a smartass, yes.”

She snorted. “Where are you even going to put another bed?”

“I have an extra bedroom upstairs I use as an office. I can put the desk in my bedroom for now. It won’t be a problem.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

Carol had to bite her lip to stop herself from smiling. There were so many other terrible feelings ricocheting through her entire body right now, but Mr. Rogg was giving her some kind of relief. All the other people she cared about had turned her away, but now here he was offering her security, making her feel like she might actually belong somewhere. With her life as she knew it seemingly falling apart around her, his actions felt nothing short of heroic. She really couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have him.

Chapter Text

Carol’s new bedroom was set up the same week she officially moved in with Yon, and once she saw all of her things in this new space, it started to feel real. She lived here. Not having to go back to her parents lifted a weight off of her shoulders, but she was hesitant to be too happy about it. Part of her was still worried that she’d have to go back and she kept checking her phone for any messages from them, but there was never anything.

But that weekend, as Carol was trying to get her room organized, she felt her phone vibrating in her pocket, and she took it out to see a caller she hadn’t expected: her brother. Her heart jumped into her throat—she didn’t know the last time he had called her and in light of what just happened with her parents, she had no idea what to expect from this phone call. Bracing herself, she answered it.

“Hey, Steve.” She started pacing almost as soon as she had greeted him.

“Hey, Carol,” he said. “So … How are you?”

“I’m fine. You?”

“Fine, fine. Busy.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Why did talking to her brother have to feel so fucking awkward? She lightly kicked the side of her bed as she paced.

“So…” Steve said, sounding like he felt just as awkward as she did. “I thought you should know that I just got off the phone with Mom.”

A halt in her pacing. “Okay.”

“She said Dad kicked you out.”

She groaned and resumed pacing her room. “They both kicked me out.”

“Mom said she didn’t want you to leave.”

“She told me I had to listen to Dad and she let him kick me out. They both kicked me out.”

“Well … Either way, you got kicked out.”

“Yep. And?”

“I want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m just peachy.”

He sighed. “I know you’re not actually okay, but I just want to make sure you have somewhere to stay. Are you with Attlass?”

“Sure.”

“Sure? What does that mean? Are you with him or not?”

For a moment she thought she might tell him the truth, but telling her brother that she was staying with his former French teacher sounded weird even in her head. She wasn’t blind to how the living arrangement would look to other people, and she didn’t want to hear anyone else’s opinion on it, not when it felt right to her. It wasn’t like it really mattered to her brother, anyway.

“Yeah …” she said. “Yeah, I’m with Attlass.”

“Okay, that’s good.”

“Yep.”

“Come on, Carol, I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay.”

“How is that going to actually help me?”

“What am I supposed to do in this situation?” Steve sounded defensive, like she had somehow hurt him right now. “I’m at school, I’m nowhere near you, and it’s not like you can just come live here with me. If I could do something more, I would, but I can’t.”

“I know … I know, I’m sorry. It’s just a lot going on.”

“I know. I’m trying to talk to Mom and Dad for you. But you know how Dad is.”

“Yeah …”

“Just hang in there. If anything, at least you’re almost eighteen. You’d be out of there soon anyway.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, it would’ve been nice if they waited until I graduated.”

“Dad might still let you go back, he’s just temperamental.”

She hesitated, then said, “I don’t think I want to go back.”

“Even if they let you?”

“They’re just going to keep doing this to me, and if it’s not this then it’s something else. I’m so tired of them, Steve. And if this is it with them, then maybe I’m fine with that. I don’t want to keep dealing with their bullshit.”

“I get that it’s hard with them right now, Carol, but they’re still our parents.”

“They’re shitty parents.” Carol clenched her free hand in and out of a fist, and pursed her lips together as she stood in front of her window, blankly staring outside as her brother’s silence emanated from the phone. She heard him taking a deep breath.

“Still our parents,” he finally said.

Her face was starting to burn at how easily he could excuse them. “I know they’re our parents, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“It means something.” There was another pause between them. “Just hang in there and don’t do anything stupid.”

“Don’t do anything stupid? I didn’t do anything in the first place.” She pulled the phone away from her face, giving it a harsh glare as if somehow Steve could see, then put it back against her face.

“You know what I mean,” he said, “just try not to overreact to things. I know how you get. You’re more like Dad than you care to admit.”

What?” Oh, her face was on fucking fire right now.

“I don’t mean you’re exactly like him, you just get emotional sometimes.”

“Me being emotional is not the same as what he does. You should know that!”

“Okay, okay, I know. That wasn’t what I meant. I just mean that I grew up with you and I know you can sometimes be an instigator.”

“You’re saying this is my fault?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to understand all the angles.”

“All the angles? Does their angle matter?”

“It might, I don’t know.”

“Whatever. You’re starting to sound like you’re on their side.”

“I’m not on anyone’s side.”

“Well, maybe you should be. You sound like an idiot.”

Steve sighed. “I have to go. Call me if you need anything.”

“Bye.”

Carol hung up and felt her stomach twisting in knots. Of all people, her brother was the one person who should have empathized with her the most, but, for whatever reason, he refused to. She understood that there wasn’t much he could actually do for her, him being in college and all, but hearing him try to be a neutral party in this made her sink lower than she thought she could be.

But she didn’t want to feel low. She was staying with someone who didn’t make her feel unwanted or like she wasn’t worth siding with. Thinking about all the people who had disappointed her felt like a waste of time, so she tried to focus on something else. She eyed her stack of school books, grabbed it, and headed downstairs, setting herself up at the kitchen table.

She had made a pretty good dent in her homework when she heard Mr. Rogg come inside through the garage door. He came into the kitchen and she smiled at him.

“What were you doing outside for so long?” she asked.

“A bit of yard work.” He walked to the cabinets, nodding towards her stack of books. “You look busy.”

“I’m reaching a good stopping point,” she said. “I can help outside if you’re not finished.”

“Get your homework done first.”

“I think my brain might have had enough homework for now.”

He was filling up a glass of water at the fridge, and she caught herself admiring his back. She quickly looked down at her books as he turned around.

“It’s nice out today,” he said, “if you need a break, we could go take a walk at the state park. Might be nice to do that before we start getting cold weather.”

Going for a nature walk with Mr. Rogg was a fantasy that Carol hadn’t thought of until now, and the fact that it was her reality made her almost giddy.

Seriously?

She shook herself out of that mindset. She lived with him, for Christ’s sake.

“That sounds nice,” she said.

“Great. Well then, let’s get ready and we can head out.”

 


 

Their walk at the state park was a nice, relaxed outing that made Carol almost forget the conversation with her brother. She took out her phone a few times during the walk, still checking to see if her parents were reaching out, but she wasn’t getting any service. It didn’t really concern her too much, though—she doubted a state park was going to be a prime spot for perfect reception. Plus, she was enjoying being outside and being with Mr. Rogg.

“So have you decided on a college yet?” Mr. Rogg asked as they ambled down a wooded path, feet crunching over fallen leaves, the faint scent of pine in the air.

“Kinda…”

“Only ‘kinda’? I would’ve thought you’d have a definite plan.”

“I have definite options, but I was trying to convince my mom to take me on a visit before I really set my heart on something.”

“That’s wise.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not really going to be able to convince my mom to take me anywhere now.”

A twig snapped under Carol’s feet and then the sudden sound of underbrush rustling made her jump. She caught sight of a startled rabbit bounding away through the trees.

“Jesus,” she muttered. “I wouldn’t have even seen that rabbit if it had just stayed still. I’d be after it now if I were a predator. Dumb move, rabbit.”

“Well, it clearly doesn’t know what’s good for it. But they do run fairly fast. It might stand a chance.”

“I could try to outrun it.”

He glanced at her with a smirk that almost made her blush. “I’d like to see you try.”

“You don’t think I could?”

“I think you could try.”

“Are you challenging me?” She stopped in her tracks, feeling playfully defiant.

“No, I’m saying there’s some things you can’t outrun.” He had taken a couple steps before he realized she stopped walking, then turned to her, raising his eyebrows.

“You don’t think I could outrun that rabbit?” She crossed her arms and he laughed.

“No, I don’t.”

“Come on, I’m the best sprinter you’ve got and you know it.”

“That doesn’t mean you can outrun something that is naturally meant to outrun you.” He gave her a look and then turned, continuing to walk forward.

“Pfft whatever. Naturally schmaturally.” She took a few quick steps to catch up to him.

“Okay, so if we see another rabbit, am I going to see you take off into the woods after it?”

“Yeah, it’ll be like the tortoise and the hare, except Carol and the hare, and the hare is still going to lose.”

“I think you’ll get lost in the woods before you beat it.”

“No, I’m going to beat it and find my way back just fine, thank you.”

“Whatever you say.”

He was shaking his head and smiling at her. A comfortable warmth expanded through her body as they kept walking. Was this how good normal teenagers got to feel every day?

“Okay, but before this rabbit interrupted,” Mr. Rogg said after a moment, “I wanted to say that if you really want to go on a college visit, I can take you.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Picking a college is important, Carol. What your parents did to you shouldn’t alter your plans. I took you in because I want to help you, and this is part of that. So if you’d like to visit a college, I’ll take you.”

“What if the college was in Hawaii?”

“Is it?”

“No.”

“Then that doesn’t matter.”

“Yeah, but, if it was…”

“I know what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing?”

“You hide behind your humor when you get uncomfortable.”

She blushed. “I didn’t realize you were a psychiatrist.”

She glanced at him, making eye contact for a second before she blushed even more and focused on the path straight ahead. The observation he made about her use of humor both embarrassed and excited her—embarrassed because he was right, and excited because he paid enough attention to her to notice.

“You don’t have to hide anything from me, Carol,” he said. “If you’re uncomfortable, you can tell me. But you don’t have to be uncomfortable when I offer to help you. I know this week has been a big upheaval for you but I want what’s best for you. That’s all. I’m happy to be here for you.”

She really didn’t know what to say. What he said didn’t necessarily make her uncomfortable, but it was overwhelming. Everything Mr. Rogg was doing for her was such a contrast to what she was used to with most other people in her life. When he first started helping her, she felt a bit like a charity case, like he was only doing this out of pity. But the more one-on-one time she spent with him, the more she realized he actually cared about her. It almost felt too good to be real.

“Thank you,” she said. Then she felt his hand on her back, a firm touch that sent a bolt of heat through her body. For a moment they both stopped walking and she looked at him.

“We’re in this together now, Carol” he said, giving her a warm smile. “Or would you be more comfortable if I called you Vers?”

She rolled her eyes and he offered a smirk. Ever since he had let her botch her French name, he’d throw it at her in odd moments outside of school. It was the closest thing they had to an inside joke. She couldn’t help but laugh right now.

“Now who’s hiding behind humor?” she quipped.

“I’m not hiding anything,” he said, removing his hand from her as they kept walking.

“Sure you’re not.”

 


 

Later that evening, after Carol had finished her homework, they sat together in the living room, watching a movie. Yon let her pick out the movie, just like he had last weekend. He didn’t spend too much of his free time watching movies or television, but he didn’t mind making exceptions when Carol was over. He wasn’t sure how many exceptions he’d be making now that she lived with him, though.

Yon hadn’t lived with anyone for years, and it was a little odd to be adjusting to sharing his private life with someone else now—a teenager, no less. True, Carol had started staying with him regularly before her parents completely discarded her, but that had been more like blips to his normal routine. He didn’t mind the blips; when he told her that he didn’t mind having her around, he meant it.

But now he had taken her in, and all of the little ways she had rippled in his life had, practically overnight, become a great wave. He still didn’t necessarily mind, though. In fact, doing this for her gave him an odd sort of pride. Being the person she suddenly relied on almost gave him a new purpose; it went hand in hand with his calling to guide his students, or at least that’s how he saw it. But Carol was no longer just a student. He didn’t know exactly what she was, perhaps a ward, but she was closer than a student.

As they sat on the couch together, he was hyper-aware of her presence next to him. He sat on one end, and she curled up on the other. She couldn’t sit still throughout the movie; he kept seeing her absentmindedly run a hand through her hair, and she changed her position several times, mostly when she was laughing. She had chosen a comedy, of course, and while he may not have chosen it, it was nice to see her relaxed and enjoying herself. After one particularly full laugh, she shifted her body and stretched her legs further along the couch, her feet closer to him.

It was unexpected how heavily he felt that change in position. Her presence seemed to be vibrating and it was all he could do not to openly ignore the movie and watch her. If he even slightly stretched out his arm or repositioned his own legs, accidentally or not, he’d be touching her. He felt his hand itching to move.

And then the odd feeling clicked into focus: It was, unmistakably, attraction.

Flexing his fingers and focusing on the tv, he tried to give her more room, but he was already leaning against the armrest. She laughed again and he was standing up before he knew it.

“Do you want to pause it?” she asked, and he didn’t have to look at her to know that she was watching him as he walked away.

“Oh no, I’m just going to get some water,” he said, casually, almost off-hand. “Do you want anything?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”

He went into the kitchen, the open layout of the connecting rooms still allowing her to be in his view. He turned his back to her. Closing his eyes, he took a breath. When he opened them again, he set about getting the glass of water he said he was getting up for.

He could ignore this.

As long as he ignored it, there was nothing wrong about it. He hadn’t done anything. He hadn’t moved any closer to her—he literally walked away when it had hit him. It also wasn’t as if he had thought of much beyond the mere possibility that he was attracted to her. If she had been a woman his age he was spending time with, then there wouldn’t have been any need to physically walk away. If she had been someone else entirely, that feeling of attraction would have struck differently.

But she was a seventeen-year-old student living with him out of necessity. She was almost completely dependent on him. And he hadn’t ever really thought about being attracted to her before this had all happened. He hadn’t spent nearly as much time with her before, true, but that didn’t make it okay to start feeling this way.

But he wouldn’t feel that way. He would ignore it.

He realized that he was taking longer than necessary to get a simple drink of water, so he finally filled a glass, took a sip, and walked back to the living room with it. As he sat back down, he felt even more keenly aware of her presence emanating next to him. But he focused on the movie, and, as he did that, he found the feeling of her beside him becoming once again manageable.

He could handle this. There were still a lot of adjustments that had to be gotten used to with their new living situation, and this was just a momentary part of that process. There was nothing to worry about.

 


 

The next day during lunch, Mr. Rogg suggested to Carol that she start looking into the college she wanted to visit so they could plan that soon. As she sat at the kitchen table, looking at the college website on her phone, she noticed once again that she didn’t have any signal, but it was different than when she had lost signal at the state park yesterday.

“I don’t think my phone is working,” she said to him.

“What do you mean, it isn’t working?”

“I have no service.”

“You usually have service here, don’t you?”

She nodded. “But now there’s not even any bars at all—not even empty bars. Look, it literally says ‘no service’ where the bars should be. It’s just gone.”

“It’s gone? Let me see.”

She handed her phone to him, but as she did, it struck her.

“Do you think my parents disconnected me?”

She watched him use his own phone to call hers, staring at her phone in his hand. After a few seconds, he sighed and set both phones down, pushing hers towards her.

“Your number’s not in service anymore,” he said. “I’m so sorry, Carol.”

The sinking in Carol’s stomach was familiar by now. Her parents cancelling her phone really felt like them severing their last ties to her, and reminding her that she had been under their thumb. She wouldn’t have to worry about checking her phone for messages or missed calls from them now because there wouldn’t be any. They didn’t want to have any contact with her. They didn’t even actually know where she was. No one really knew where she was. Except Mr. Rogg.

“We’ll put you on my plan for now,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think adding another line will be a big deal.”

She felt her heart jump. “But you’re already doing so much for me, I can’t ask you to—”

“You’re not asking, I’m offering.”

“I know, but—”

“I want to do this for you, Carol. And it’s imperative that we can reach each other.”

She reached for her phone and held it in front of her, staring at it, unable to look at him. She hated how needy she felt.

“I’ll pay you back someday,” she said. “For everything.”

“I don’t expect anything from you. That’s not why I’m doing this.”

“Yeah, well… I’m still going to pay you back someday.”

“You don’t owe me anything.” He reached for her forearm resting on the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. And there it was: she started blushing.

“Thanks,” she said, her body tingling. She looked at him and he smiled at her so warmly that she had to focus back on her phone.

She was so grateful that he was helping her, but the more he did for her, the more she felt strangely guilty, like she was taking too much. But he kept insisting that he wanted to help her and he wouldn’t let her apologize for needing so much help. She was amazed that someone could be so generous and so consistently kind to her.

So even though she felt bad that he was helping her with her phone now too, she was glad that it was at least him and not her parents. Mr. Rogg actually made her feel cared for, so, if she had been given a choice, she’d rather be indebted to him.

Chapter Text

A couple weeks later, living with Carol had started to feel normal. Of course there were things that Yon had to get used to, but most of the adjustments weren’t any different than what any two people who had decided to live together would go through. Everything just took time to even out, and things evened out fairly quickly.

One of the only details that made their situation unique, and it was a pretty significant detail, was that Yon had become responsible for her in many ways, including financially. He had always worked within a budget, so he adjusted Carol’s needs into that almost as soon as they had unpacked her things. He had the means to help her, so he didn’t feel troubled by it.

The biggest expense so far was her new phone, which he didn’t have to get her; they could’ve just transferred her new number to her old device, but the one her parents had given her was so out of date that Yon feared it would be rendered useless soon anyway. And he liked knowing that he could provide her with a better life than anything she had known before, so he didn’t hesitate adding things like that to his budget.

So he found adjusting to his responsibilities to her to be mostly gratifying. But, of course, there was still the issue of the lingering attraction. It didn’t bother him as much as he initially feared it would, but he still fought to ignore it. He had a shocking dream about her once, but anytime his mind wandered back to it, he imagined he was holding a remote and changed the channel. That usually worked. But it bothered him how often he had to resist the urge to think about her that way.

It was completely wrong to think about her that way, and not just because of her age and the fact that she was his student. She now had no one else to turn to for her most basic needs—he couldn’t continue to see himself as the teacher she had a friendly relationship with. They weren’t friends. He had never really been in a position to be just her friend, but the moment she became dependent on him was the moment the dynamic of their relationship shifted. If anything, he was more of a father figure now. Trying to see her as a daughter might stop his mind from wandering to irresponsible places.

Somehow, he’d get over it, he knew. As he set about his Saturday morning chores one weekend, he wasn’t even thinking about it. He went to start his laundry as usual, but found that he didn’t have enough laundry detergent left. He wished he had remembered to pick more up when he went shopping earlier that week, but he was still getting used to how much more quickly he went through things like this with Carol. So before getting his laundry done, he decided a quick run to the store was in order.

After making a short list, Yon went upstairs to grab his wallet from his nightstand. Heading out of his room, just down the hall Carol’s bathroom door opened and she stepped out wearing only a towel. When she saw him, she did a little jump back, startled. He almost jumped too.

“Whoa, I wasn’t expecting you—you scared me,” she said, laughing. She gripped the towel where she had tucked it together underneath her arm. The towel didn’t wrap perfectly around her body, so a slit of sorts revealed the side of her thigh up to her hip. He tried not to notice, but the image was already in his head.

“I’m just running to the store now,” he said, trying to act like this wasn’t affecting him. “Do you need anything?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she said, continuing to tug at the towel. Her wet hair clung a bit to her neck and drops of water glistened down her chest. He forced his eyes up to hers and her face grew red.

“Okay, well…” he said, feeling uncomfortable heat rise to his own face, “text me if you think of anything.”

“Okay.”

A moment of pause. Neither of them moved. He looked at her perhaps a little too long, noticed a drop of water running down her calf. Then he stepped forward, walking past her, looking straight ahead.

“I’ll be back soon,” he called over his shoulder.

“See you,” she said, then he heard her bedroom door close.

He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts as he put his shoes on and headed to the garage. But his heart was racing. He felt a bit like an adolescent boy who had never seen a girl in any state of undress before, which was ridiculous. He was the adult in this situation. There was no reason for him to feel so stunned by seeing Carol in a towel.

He was glad he was going out. Being somewhere else and focusing on that would be a good distraction. By the time he returned, he hoped the incident would have left his mind.

 


 

That was… odd.

Carol leaned against her bedroom door for a moment, still clutching her towel together over herself, listening for Mr. Rogg to leave the house. When she heard him leave, she peaked out her window to see his car driving away.

Her stomach was in strange knots—he had practically seen her naked. Yes, she had a towel on, but that was all. And she didn’t know if she was imagining it or not, but the way he had looked at her made her feel like the towel had slipped. She swore she saw him turning red, which made her blush even more. Maybe he was just as embarrassed as she was. Even so, there was something dense in the air as he had walked past her, and it clung to her now as she got dressed, it started toying around in her gut.

She couldn’t tell if the feeling was good or not.

It was almost exciting, standing like that in front of someone she was attracted to and being looked at. Even though it wasn’t exactly the ideal situation for being looked at. She wasn’t expecting him to see her like that, so it felt a little off. But he probably hadn’t even been looking at her in any kind of sexual way. It was just an awkward moment that they had both got caught in. She couldn’t stop thinking about the way his eyes travelled over her, though.

No, it wasn’t like that. He wasn’t like that.

He would never look at her or any other student in a suggestive way. He was too good. He liked rules and order and he was honestly a little boring because of that, but she didn’t mind. Looking at her as anything other than a student would go against everything that he was. That’s why she was safe with him in the first place.

Even so, she started to get embarrassingly giddy thinking about the possibility of him seeing her as something other than a student. She started to imagine a scenario where he looked at her like that again and then he was suddenly confessing his true feelings for her. She imagined him reaching for her, pulling her close to him, kissing her and—

“Jesus Christ, Carol,” she muttered, shaking herself out of her obscene, absurd daydream. It may have all been in her head, but her cheeks were still burning. She couldn’t let her thoughts get carried away with dumb fantasies like that anymore—not now that he’d taken her in and basically saved her life.

But if she was honest with herself, she was a little disappointed that she couldn’t fantasize about that. Not just because it made the situation feel weird, but because it was impossible. She had never liked anyone as much as she liked him, and of course he had to be her teacher. She was pretty sure he was about seventeen years older than her too—that was an age gap too significant even for her crush-addled teenage brain to ignore. It didn’t matter how much she liked him, because there were so many things that stopped her foolish fantasies from becoming anything more.

If there was anything she had learned from books and movies, it was that teenage crushes never panned out, especially crushes on teachers. She wouldn’t be any different. Despite knowing that nothing would ever happen, that didn’t make her feel any less devastated. She just wished that her feelings for him would get less intense. She could ignore everything easier if she didn’t like him so much.

It was for the best that nothing could happen, though. She knew that.

She decided she must have just been imagining the way he looked at her. If she just ignored her crush, then everything would be normal. He wasn’t looking at her in a weird way and he had no idea she had a crush on him and nothing was ever going to happen. Everything was normal—well, relatively normal. There was nothing to be freaking out about.

 


 

When Yon came home from his errands, he found his mind hadn’t been eased. He saw her doing her homework at the kitchen table and he couldn’t look at her the same. He didn’t see a student bending over textbooks and notebooks, focusing on whatever she was scribbling. All he could see was her physical form—her perfect physical form.

The longer he lived with her, the harder it became to ignore this intense attraction. He might have forgotten the towel incident if he hadn’t been attracted to her. But it was all he could think about.

He kept imagining her in the towel, imagining the slit opening at her hip. He could see her blushing and he thought about how easily it always was to make her blush. He thought about how close they always were. Knowing how attracted she was to him had never been so enticing to him.

But there was nothing to be done about it. He was, for all intents and purposes, her guardian. And he wanted to remain her guardian. He wanted to protect her, to keep her sheltered from all the things that had hurt her. He wanted her to be able to find comfort in him. But he was beginning to want more than he knew he should want.

When he took her in, he hadn’t expected this to be a challenge, or at least not an increasingly significant challenge. But now there was a sharp perversion jutting into his thoughts for her.

Perhaps it had always been there, threatening to cut through the veil between decent morality and darker, unacknowledged longings. Since he had started getting closer to Carol, he kept finding himself near the veil, grazing against the sharp edges that were waiting behind it, but he always stepped away. He tried not to search for these sharp objects, but when Carol moved in, it was as if a warm gust of wind kept causing the veil to float upwards.

For the first time, he was getting a glimpse of what might be behind the veil, and those sharp, deadly objects started to look softer, more inviting as he got closer. After all, it wasn’t just some ominous, mysterious objects that he was trying to stay away from, it was Carol—Carol in all the ways he wasn’t supposed to want her. He feared that if he got much closer to her, if he stayed too long near that forbidden veil, he would tear it down.

If he tore it down, that would be an action. To take action was to irrevocably involve Carol. To involve Carol was to lose complete control of the situation. Unless he could control her.

But that was obscene. He couldn’t do that to her. She deserved better than that from him.

And yet, despite trying his best to ignore it, his thoughts kept drifting back to the way the water had glistened on her chest.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long before they were setting out for a college visit, which meant driving out of state and making a weekend road trip out of it. Right now, they were heading towards Carol’s top choice: the prestigious Xavier University.

Mr. Rogg had taken off work on Friday and called into school for Carol, pretending to be her dad. He had been hesitant to lie like that at first, but then justified it as being necessary to not add an unexcused absence to her records. Once he put on his rather impressive American accent, he had been completely believable as a parent. Carol had to step out of the room when he made the phone call because she kept laughing. But once she had been excused from school, everything was set and planned without a hitch.

Carol was more excited than she let on about the college visit. She had been looking forward to going away to school almost as long as she could remember, and now all she had to do was get accepted into a school, get through senior year, and she was free. As she sat in the now-familiar passenger seat of Mr. Rogg’s car, heading towards a possible new future, her mind whirred through every possible detail of the visit.

When they were reaching the tail end of the road trip, she asked, “So what do I say when the advisor or whoever asks who I’m here with?”

“They’re probably not going to ask.”

“But what if they do?”

He seemed to think about it for a second, and said, “Then tell them the truth: your teacher took you here. Or your coach, either way is fine.”

“That won’t sound weird?”

“No, I don’t think it’s unheard of.”

She nodded, another thought brewing. “Okay, but also …”

“Also what?” He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, then kept his attention on the road.

“I don’t know, what are you to me now?”

He furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, if someone were to actually somehow know about our living situation and they asked how we were, I don’t know … related? That’s not the right word … but, if someone asked why I was living with you, what would I say?”

“Is someone asking you this?”

“No, this is hypothetical. I don’t talk to anyone.”

“Ah, well …” He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “I think you’d say I was your guardian.”

“Just ‘guardian’ is okay?”

“Yes, I think that sounds accurate to the situation.”

Carol snorted.

“Why is that funny?” he was trying to sound stern, but he was smiling.

“I’m just imagining introducing you, like, this is my guardian Mr. Rogg, he’s also my French teacher and my track coach.”

“I still don’t see how that’s funny.”

“Really? You don’t see how that’s funny, Mr. Rogg? We really need to work on your sense of humor, Mr. Rogg.

“Ah, I see what you’re trying to say.”

“Do you, Mr. Rogg?”

He sighed, but he was still smiling, making little butterflies flutter inside her, because she really liked making him smile like that.

“What’s wrong with calling me Mr. Rogg?” he asked, his tone light-hearted, making her feel comfortable despite the butterflies. “I don’t see how that’s a problem.”

“It doesn’t feel too formal to you?”

“Not really.”

“Okay, well if you’re fine with it …” She watched him tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he mulled something over.

“Does it bother you to call me that?” he asked, a little more seriously.

“I mean … I guess not …” She shrugged. “I don’t really know what else I’d call you anyway. Could I just call you Rogg?”

He chuckled. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like it.”

“Fine. What about Mr. Yon?”

“That’s worse.”

“Yeah, it is.”

He sighed, shaking his head and biting his lower lip, deliberating something in his head. God, he was so hot. She tried, and failed, not to stare at him.

“Fine,” he finally relented. “When we’re not at school, you can call me Yon. But always Mr. Rogg at school.”

“So never Mr. Yon?”

He gave her a look, then refocused on the road. She laughed.

“You’re incorrigible,” he said.

Incorrigible? What are you, a Jane Austen character?”

“Alright. I’m revoking first name privileges now.”

“Aw come on! We were finally making progress in our relationship, Yon.”

Even though she had said it sarcastically, there was something electric about calling him by his first name. It almost felt wrong, teachers weren’t supposed to be addressed by their first names. But, like they just established, he was more than her teacher. He wasn’t just Mr. Rogg anymore. He was Yon. The electric feeling that came with his name shot tiny sparks all the way to her fingertips. And she thought she saw something different in the way he smiled at her when she said it. But she was probably imagining things again.

“I didn’t realize we weren’t making progress in our relationship,” he said, teasing. “I thought you moving in was fairly significant for the time being.”

“Yeah, well now we’re on a first name basis. I call that progress.”

“You’re not wrong, I suppose.”

“Of course I’m not.”

 


 

When they finally reached the hotel, Carol discovered that Mr. Rogg—no wait, Yon—had reserved separate rooms just down the hall from each other. Staying in her own hotel room was the most grown up Carol had ever felt and as she fell asleep that night, she couldn’t have been happier.

She woke up early the next morning to get ready for her college tour. Maybe it was because of how excited she was, but she felt like she should try to look more presentable than normal. She didn’t own a lot of makeup, but she had brought what she did have and put in her best effort to apply it after her shower that morning. She was actually pleasantly surprised at how well her makeup turned out. Then she put on what she thought was the cutest outfit she owned—a simple short, red dress she had worn maybe twice, with a denim jacket—and she left her hair down instead of pulling it back like she usually did. Looking herself over in the mirror, she felt really confident about her appearance.

When she met Yon for breakfast, he looked at her in a way that reminded her of that awkward towel incident she had been trying to forget. She tried again not to think about that.

“You look really put together today,” he observed.

“Is that a compliment?”

“Yes, you look very nice. Very grown up.”

“Thanks. You look very grown up too.” What the fuck was wrong with her?

He gave her a look and laughed. God, she wished she could control how much she was blushing.

After breakfast, Yon walked her to the tour group and asked her to text when it was finished. When the tour commenced, everything seemed to happen in a flash. There was so much new information to take in as her group was guided around the campus. The school’s architecture was a breathtaking mix of old-fashioned buildings that made her feel like she could’ve been in a European town and others that were strikingly modern but no less beautiful. The landscaping was equally striking, with various trees and flowers lining the walkways—Carol didn’t realize that a school could be this stunning.

As she took in everything around her, she started to picture herself getting to be here every day. And even more exciting than the idea of getting used to this scenery was the idea that she might actually find new friends who would explore with her.

Almost as soon as her tour had started, Carol had ended up walking side by side with another girl in the tour group. They spent the entire time pointing out details about the campus to each other, or giving each other weird looks when the tour guide was a little overly enthusiastic. It was so nice to be sharing this experience with someone her own age, even if she didn’t really know the person. Maybe this was a sign that she really might be able to start over and find people that she actually clicked with when she went to college.

As the tour drew to an end, she was bursting with hope. Her group reached their stopping point and the crowd began to dissipate. The girl she had been walking with during the tour said a quick goodbye as she spotted her mom, and Carol watched as her mom smiled and put an arm around her. An unexpected pang struck Carol’s gut as she watched them walk away. She had almost forgotten how different her life was from most of the kids on the tour with her. And she was also probably never going to get to see this person she had bonded with ever again—she didn’t even know her name.

Carol turned away from the sight of the girl walking away with her mother, but now even seeing other people her age walking around campus in groups or pairs made that pang in her gut expand.

She shook her head and texted Yon. When he met up with her, she had pushed aside the unwanted feelings and was all smiles as she went over the tour with him. Even though the tour had been a fairly long event, he had suggested that they explore some of the campus on their own. They looked around the track area and some of the dorms and lecture halls that hadn’t been part of the tour. He seemed to think that the tour would only show the nicest areas, and that the other buildings might give them a more realistic view of the place. He wanted to make sure that she saw everything she needed in order to make the best possible decision for her future.

As she walked around the rest of the campus with Yon, she felt especially relieved to have him. When he was with her, she could more easily ignore the growing ache inside her. Even though she didn’t have supportive family or even friends to be with her, she had him. And that meant something.

 


 

Since the tour had been an all day process and they were so far away from home, they were staying on one more night at the hotel before leaving in the morning. After having a thorough look around campus, they drove a bit around the surrounding town and found a place for dinner. Carol was surprised at how exhausted she was after dinner, so they went back to the hotel.

She got ready for bed in her lonely hotel room, but as she winded down, all of her emotions suddenly refused to be ignored. Everything she had lost over the past weeks had been creeping up, hungrily stalking her, and, once the moment was right, they pounced. She tried to keep herself composed, but once she had tucked herself in and shut off the lights, the weight of her grief pressing against her became unbearable.

She cried into her pillow, willing herself not to the entire time. When she had finally stopped, though, she couldn’t lie still. She was squirming underneath the heavy, insistent sadness, and she sat up in her bed, throwing off her covers. Her racing mind took her to the only thing that had brought her any peace lately, and she found herself standing up, shoving her room key into her sweatshirt pocket and heading for the door. She walked down the hall until she found the right room number, then knocked. The door opened to a confused Yon.

“Carol? Is something wrong?”

“No...” She was all too aware that her eyes must have been red from crying.

“It sounds like something’s wrong.”

She shrugged. “I’m just… feeling…”

“Feeling what?”

Her eyes stung and her jaw quivered as she shrugged again. He motioned for her to step in and she did. The tv was on—the news, unsurprisingly—at a low volume and he picked up the remote from the bed to turn it off. Sitting at the edge of the bed, he focused his attention on her.

“Tell me what’s going on, Carol.”

“It’s just… I wish I could tell Attlass about everything and I wish my parents didn’t hate me and I wish my brother cared about me and I just… I don’t know.” She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. “I feel stupid, because I know I should be so happy right now but I’m upset about them. It’s so stupid.”

“It’s not stupid, Carol,” he said. “You’re taking very important life steps right now and it makes sense that you’d be thinking about the people you’d normally do something like this with.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t even talked to Attlass in forever. I don’t know why I care about telling him.”

“He was your best friend. Even if he did hurt you, it’s natural to miss the relationship you used to have with him.”

“I mean, I know… I know that… I just…” She wiped at her eyes again. “Everyone’s left me.”

Yon stood and placed his hands on her shoulders. She couldn’t look at him, her eyes were filling with tears again and it was embarrassing. If he hadn’t been touching her, she would’ve turned away from him. Instead, she balled her hands into her sweatshirt sleeves and held them to her face.

“Carol, you’ve been through so much,” Yon said, “and I know you feel like you’re all alone, but you will always have me. And you’ll be starting college soon and you’re going to make so many new friends.”

She sniffled and held her sleeve over her nose.

“Everything’s going to be okay, Carol,” he said. “Trust me.”

She nodded, but she could feel more tears threatening her. Then he pulled her in close to him and she really started to lose it. She couldn’t stop crying. Being comforted by him relieved a persistent aching in her chest—all of her captive grief finally found a channel to escape from. He embraced her and her vulnerability rushed out of her.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, the flow of tears calming, leaving her cheeks damp and her eyes tired. “I got your shirt wet.”

“Don’t apologize, Carol. I’m here for you. It’s okay.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Then she finally wrapped her arms around him, silently holding him and being held. It was a little strange being held by someone like this. Her instincts made her want to run away and hide after crying like that in front of him, but it also felt good to be held so firmly by someone, so she kept holding onto him too. She had really never felt this level of comfort and support from anyone and it filled her tired body with hope.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said.

“You know I care about you more than anyone, right?” His voice was soft and the way he stroked her hair was even softer. She looked up at him, somewhat sheepishly.

“Really?”

“You’re incredibly important to me, Carol.”

They stood looking at each other and she felt seen in a way she had never felt seen before. She didn’t know exactly what it was in his look that made her feel this way, but it sent a tingling sensation through her core.

“You’re important to me too,” she said. “You’re the best person I’ve ever known.”

“That’s an overstatement, I’m sure.”

“No it’s… it’s not. I…” She wanted to say I love you, but she was too scared. Despite her crush on him, she didn’t mean it in a romantic way—her intentions in saying it were much more innocent than that—and even though the comfort he gave had opened her up to him in a way she didn’t entirely understand, she couldn’t say it to him. But she felt it. She was so eager to feel love for someone, any kind of love.

“I’m so glad I have you,” was what she ended up saying.

He touched her cheek and she felt the tingling sensation ignite her body—it took off from her stomach all the way down to her toes and back up into her brain. She was still being held by him, and the longer they stood like that, the more his touch on her began to feel somehow different. She began to think that she should let go of him, but he wasn’t letting go of her. She didn’t really want him to let go.

The quietness in the room hummed and grew around them in a way that emphasized what little space there was between them. More than anything she could feel how close they were and how happy she was to be this close to him. He pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. He leaned in slightly towards her, and paused, silent and hesitant. He parted his lips, as if he were going to speak, and she found herself holding her breath.

“You constantly amaze me,” he finally said, his voice low and intimate. She could feel the heat of his breath on her face. Her heart fluttered and her knees got weak.

Then he did something that she truly hadn’t expected: he kissed her.

The kiss was just as gentle as the way he was holding her, but it still shocked her. She let it happen, though. She wanted it to happen. She felt herself trembling with how badly she wanted it to be happening.

When the kiss ended, she kept her eyes shut. The room was spinning.

She heard him ask, “Are you okay?”

“Mmhmm.” She opened her eyes and bit her lip to contain her smile. He looked concerned, but then a smile of his own tugged at the corners of his mouth.

“You’re remarkable,” he said.

All her nerves were on edge and she instantly quipped back, “You’re remarkable.”

She blushed at how stupid she had just sounded, but he just chuckled. She felt the vibration of his laugh against her chest and it dizzied her. She was still floored by the kiss.

“Can I… can you...” Her cheeks were burning. “Can you do that again? Kiss me, I mean… Can we do it again?”

He tilted his head, smiling. Then he tucked a finger under her chin and kissed her again.

Carol was pretty sure she blacked out from how fast her blood was pumping through her body. She couldn’t believe he had kissed her and that he was now kissing her again in what was arguably the best kiss she had ever had. This wasn’t anything like the awkward, fumbling attempts that boys her age had made on her at school dances or unchaperoned house parties. This was in a completely different realm of kissing. He was so good at it.

She felt as if every fiber in her body had been lit up—flashing neon signs whizzed through her veins and underneath her eyelids, all spelling his name. Whatever she had been feeling before didn’t matter, because now she was so bright and alive with the feeling of him wanting her like this.

He ended the kiss and she felt her entire being pull towards him. She wanted him to keep kissing her, but he was loosening his hold on her.

“You should go get some rest,” he said. “You’ve had a long day.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to fall asleep,” she said.

“You need to try. We have an early start tomorrow.”

Just his fingertips were touching her waist now. He took a step back and she let go of him. The way he looked at her made her chest swell with indescribable joy and she had to look down before she exploded with adoration. Her head was spinning with a million different things, and she didn’t know what she should be doing, so she just focused on doing what he told her.

“Well, then… um… goodnight?” she said. She glanced up at him again, then ducked her head back down and headed for the door.

“Carol…” he said and she turned to him. “I’m glad you came to talk to me tonight. I’m always here for you.”

In a swift, impulsive motion, she flew back towards him, stood on her tiptoes, kissed his cheek, and pulled back away from him. She smiled over her shoulder as she opened the door, and left his room.

 


 

Yon stood staring at the door after she left, hands on his hips and his entire body burning. It was surreal how calmly he had ushered her out of his room, as if someone else had stepped in for him. He ran his hands over his face and paced to the window, then to the bathroom. He flicked on the bathroom light and ran the sink. Once the water got as cold as it could, he rinsed his face. As he patted his face dry with a towel, he saw that his hands were shaking. He closed his eyes, counted to ten. Opening his eyes, he met his gaze in the mirror above the sink and promptly turned away, switching off the light.

He hadn’t meant to kiss her.

He shouldn’t have asked her to step inside his room. But he didn’t see what difference letting her into his hotel room should make—they already lived together. If that hadn’t been the case, it would have been inappropriate to let her in. Regardless of their living situation though, what he had just done was inappropriate. The fact that she lived with him only made it worse.

He had been fighting against his persistent attraction to her and he had been managing it. But she had looked so mature today—he didn’t think he had ever seen her in a dress or with her hair and makeup done so intentionally. If he hadn’t known her and he had seen her today, he would have thought she was older and he wouldn’t have felt bad about finding her attractive.

As it were, he still didn’t think there was anything wrong with being attracted to her, as long as he didn’t act on it. But now he had acted on it. He had done the one thing that he absolutely knew he should never do. If she had come to him with her sadness on a day when he hadn’t found her so attractive, maybe he would have been able to resist. But he had gotten lost somewhere between his desire to comfort her and his desire for her.

And now she was out there with the most damning information anyone had ever had on him. She had that on him and he had no idea what she was going to do with it. He should have talked to her before he let her leave, but he hadn’t been thinking straight. He didn’t believe she would actually tell anyone—she wasn’t one to overshare. Even so, he shouldn’t have let her leave that easily. He hadn’t wanted to upset her anymore by showing his own growing anxiety, though.

He was so used to seeing her fight off her emotions with sarcasm and a tough-as-nails demeanor, and it had been unsettling to see her so clearly devastated in front of him. He had wanted to reassure her the way she wanted, to let her know that she was safe and cared for by him. But he had been so affected by her vulnerability, so caught up in the moment of holding her that he had taken the moment to comfort her in a way that might have been fine if she had been a woman his age.

But she wasn’t a woman his age. She was seventeen and he was in charge of her welfare and he had kissed her. It didn’t matter that she had wanted him to kiss her too. It didn’t matter that her entire demeanor had changed once they kissed, that she had been so happy to be kissed.

He really wished he had told her to keep this between them before she had left his room, but going back to tell her now felt like it would be too much, like he would be letting on to how anxious this made him. It wasn’t as if she were doing anything other than going to bed now anyway, and he knew that she didn’t really talk to anyone but him these days. He could wait until tomorrow.

Once they were driving back home, he would have a serious discussion with her about what had happened between them. He had to make sure she understood how important it was to keep this just between them. And it couldn’t happen again. It absolutely could never happen again—he had to be clear as day when it came to making this point. If just this one kiss could be handled and forgotten, then perhaps no harm had really been done.

Even as he reasoned this to himself, he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking.

He should not have kissed her.

 


 

Carol had practically floated back to her room as the high pulsed through her entire body. She went into the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror, happy to see herself smiling. Then she shut her eyes and suppressed a wave of giddiness as she replayed the kiss in her mind.

In her wildest dreams she never imagined that he would kiss her, even if she had daydreamed about it—no, especially because she had daydreamed about it. Her crush on him had been an excruciating secret and it felt so far out of the realm of possibility that even her daydreams left her feeling ridiculous.

Now he had actually kissed her and she was tempted to pinch herself just to make sure this was real. But she could still feel her lips tingling and taste the subtle, lingering flavor of him. This was real. Another wave of giddiness flooded her and she buried her smiling face in her hands.

Somewhere underneath the giddiness, though, there was a hint of something else. She knew what had happened hadn’t been completely right. She knew he shouldn’t have kissed her, but she was having a hard time seeing past the immediate bliss. Something that had felt so good and made her so happy couldn’t really be a bad thing, right?

Even if part of her realized the trouble he could get in for this, or if she thought about all the times she had heard of adults taking advantage of girls her age, she somehow felt apart from the warning signs. What was happening to her right now was different. Yon made her comfortable around him, she never felt like he was doing anything to be weird or inappropriate. She felt entirely genuine with him, and she assumed he felt the same with her.

He had her best intentions at heart—warning signs couldn’t apply to people who cared like that.

Chapter Text

Carol was honestly a little nervous about leaving her hotel room that morning. Her giddiness from the night before hit her again as soon as she woke up, and she didn’t know what to do with it. At first, she thought the memory might just have been another dream, but no, last night had actually happened. He hugged her and held her and told her how much he cared about her and then he kissed her. And then they kissed again. And now… she had no idea what she was supposed to do.

Obviously she wasn’t just going to run out of her hotel room and start confessing her love to him. She knew she had to play it cool. He was so much more mature than her and she wanted him to see her as mature too. But he must have seen her as at least somewhat mature if he had kissed her, right? She wondered how long he had seen her like that—had she been right about the way he was looking at her in the towel? And yesterday when she had dressed up nicely? She was dying to know what he really felt.

But just as she hadn’t expected him to kiss her last night, she didn’t know what to expect when she saw him this morning.

Turned out he was acting like nothing had happened. When they met in the hall and went to the lobby together, he said nothing about last night. She hadn’t really thought he would say anything about it in front of anyone, but she thought maybe there would be something different in the way he looked at her. But there was no difference that she could pick up on, except that maybe he seemed particularly calm and polite this morning. It wasn’t like he was ever rude though, so she didn’t count that. The biggest difference she felt was in herself. Her head was practically pounding with the memory of the kiss.

They put their bags in the car and began their journey back home as if they’d had a normal weekend. Sitting so close to him in the car felt electric and she couldn’t focus on anything happening around her other than they were close and he had kissed her and they weren’t talking about it. But then Yon turned down the radio—wait, they were listening to the radio?—and she knew this was it.

“Carol,” Yon said, “we need to talk.”

The feeling of him holding her and kissing her flooded her senses and she willed her blood not to rush to her face. But that was futile; she was already burning.

Still, she tried to act cool, and said, “Sure, what do you want to talk about?”

“What happened in the hotel room…” he sighed. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

She felt a sharp, unexpected jab in her gut, but she steeled herself and nodded. “Yeah, I know.”

“I’m sorry if I… confused you at all. It was out of line.”

“No, you didn’t confuse me. I mean… wait, what do you mean by ‘confused’?”

“I don’t want you to think that we can be anything other than… what we are.”

“You mean like… you’re my teacher and my coach and I live with you and you’re not…” Carol couldn’t bring herself to say the word ‘boyfriend,’ it sounded embarrassing and childish and not exactly what she meant, but she couldn’t think of another word. She knew that kissing him didn’t make him her boyfriend, but it did make him something other than all the things he already was to her. She just didn’t know what that was. And she didn’t know how to verbalize that to him.

He glanced at her. “I can never be anything other than your teacher and your guardian. What happened was impulsive and it was a mistake.”

“Yeah, a mistake…” She didn’t know why the word ‘mistake’ hurt so much or why it caused a lump in her throat, but she swallowed it down.

“And I think it goes without saying that what happened was private. You can’t tell anyone else about it.”

“I know…”

“And I want things to just go back to how they were.”

“It’s not like I really expected anything to change…”

“I know, but all the same. Let’s just forget about what happened and move on.”

She looked at his hands gripping the steering wheel, fingers tapping.

“Why can’t you say what happened?” she asked.

“What?”

“You keep saying ‘what happened’ but you’re not saying what happened. You kissed me.”

He hesitated, then said, “Yes, that is what happened.”

“You’re still not saying it.”

He sighed. “I kissed you. But I shouldn’t have.”

“Then why did you?”

There was a weighted pause. She stared at him, waiting for him to just glance at her again, but he didn’t.

Without looking at her, he finally said, “I don’t know why.”

The ambiguity of his answer sunk into the pit of her stomach like a stone and she felt her shoulders pull down with it. She pursed her lips together and nodded her head.

“Carol…” he said with a sigh. “You need to know, when I told you how much I care about you, that wasn’t a lie. I do care about you. More than anyone. Which is why we need to forget about this.”

She stared ahead at the road, biting down hard onto her lower lip to keep herself from saying anything stupid. She knew he had told her at the beginning of the conversation that he hadn’t meant to confuse her, but she was suddenly more confused than ever. He said that he cared about her, and she believed that he did. But he had kissed her and said that he didn’t know why and that it was a mistake. And he had called her remarkable when he kissed her. Was that a mistake too? Had he changed his mind about that? If he was changing his mind about her now, then did that mean he was going to end up leaving her like everyone else had?

“Carol,” he said, and she looked at him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said.

“Are you sure?”

“It’s just…” she sighed. “I don’t get it.”

“What do you mean?”

“How do you not know?”

“Carol…”

“How can you say you just don’t know why you kissed me?”

“It’s complicated, Carol, I don’t know how to explain it. If you were older—”

“It’s because I’m not older? If I were older would you know?”

“That’s not what I mean. But if you were older, things would—”

“Be different?”

He sighed. “I don’t know.”

“Is there anything you do know?!”

“Carol…”

“Do you want to know how I feel about any of this?”

He gave her a look. She didn’t wait for him to decide to say something else.

“When you kissed me last night, I felt… I was so happy and I didn’t think I could ever be that happy, but I was and it was because of you. And now you’re telling me that it’s all just a mistake, and I know rationally there’s tons of reasons why it was a mistake, but it felt so right and… and I know that sounds cheesey or cliche or whatever, but it’s true.”

“I know it felt right in the moment, and I’m not trying to make you unhappy by telling you it was a mistake, but… you have to trust me.”

“I do trust you, but I also… I also…”

“What?”

She felt like she was fighting a losing battle against him, but she didn’t want to lose. She didn’t want to lose that feeling of closeness she had in the hotel room with him and she didn’t want to lose how wanted she felt. She yearned so deeply to hold onto that moment. She couldn’t face losing that when everything else felt like it was crumbling around her.

“Do you want me?” her voice cracked. “Or am I just someone you got stuck with?”

“There’s so much more to it than want, Carol.”

His tone had felt so pitiable, like they were in school and he was being patient with her while she took forever to learn the most basic lesson. But of course that’s how he would treat her. She was so naive to think he would ever see her as anything but a dumb kid, because that’s what she was. Even if he had kissed her, he knew it was a mistake because she would always be a kid to him. If she were older, she might have a chance. But she was seventeen and he was her teacher and that made her nothing but a liability to him. All of the thoughts and feelings that came with the force of that realization twisted her stomach into a knot.

Pressing her lips firmly together, she turned from him, facing the passenger window. She felt like she was going to start crying from how incredibly confused and idiotic this situation made her feel, and she didn’t want him to see her lose it again, not when they were stuck in this car together. They were speeding fast down the highway, but she had nowhere to go.

 


 

That car ride was excruciating. After the argument, they drove in a tense silence, Carol putting on her sunglasses and her earphones and staring out the window. He was pretty sure she had fallen asleep after a while, but the air was still thick with their exchange.

Yon knew the conversation was going to be difficult, but he hadn’t been prepared for exactly how difficult it would be. Part of him wished he had waited until there was less time left in the car ride to start the discussion, but even if he had, they were in for an awkward few hours in close quarters. And there would be no escaping that tension once they got home.

He had fucked up.

He had really fucked up.

Never in his life had he made a mistake like this. He followed the rules, he enjoyed following the rules—they were there for a reason. And he saw himself as a good person; he took in Carol because he was a good person and it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have predicted that she would be so alluring to him. He never would have guessed that he’d be so disastrously drawn to her.

He had to stop thinking like that.

He was panicking when there was no reason to think of this situation as a disaster yet. He had kissed her, but that was all. He did the right thing by having this conversation with her. She was upset right now, but she would get over it. Next to everything else she had experienced lately, this wasn’t going to compare. Still, he hated that he was giving her another reason to be stressed, especially when she was already so fragile.

But maybe it would end up being a good thing that they kissed yesterday, so it was out of his system and hers—if she stopped having a crush on him, then she wouldn’t be so upset that he told her they couldn’t be anything more. She would get over this. Heartbreak was a normal hallmark of teenagehood.

He was having trouble convincing himself that everything would be okay, but he didn’t know how else to try easing his mind right now. He had no idea what he was doing. That scared him more than almost anything. He considered making her move out, to avoid anything else happening, but she had nowhere else to go and he couldn’t leave her homeless. At this point, he felt obligated to stay in this living situation. But there was no routine or structure for living in this situation—there had only been one rule and he had broken it. Everything was now uncharted and uncertain.

Deep down, what bothered him the most was a small voice in his head telling him that he would do it again. Because now that he had experienced it, there was no denying how much he liked it.

This was why he didn’t keep junk food or alcohol or anything like that in his house. If the tempting thing was there, it was so much easier to give in and indulge, and then over indulge. Carol wasn’t the same as the contents of his pantry, he knew that, but she had become a temptation, one that he had just given in to. The fact that she wasn’t going anywhere only meant that it would be that much easier to give in again.

But he could handle this. He would find a way to handle this. He had to.

 


 

As soon as the car pulled into the garage, Carol grabbed her things and went up to her room. She couldn’t bear to keep being this close to Yon when she felt like such an idiot. And she was actually upset with him for not giving her any absolute answers. She didn’t even have sarcasm to arm herself with right now.

In her room, she unpacked from the trip and hoped that maybe she would calm down a bit after that. But her head was spinning even more. She sat down at the edge of her bed, trying to collect herself, but she barely had time to think when a knock came on her door.

“Carol, can we talk again?”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s open.”

He opened her door and she stared at the floor in front of her.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

“Sure.”

He walked towards her, a little hesitant, then sat next to her. She kept her eyes cast away from him, but his presence beside her radiated and burnt into her.

“Carol,” he said, “you can’t let this change anything.”

She felt scorched with each word he spoke and she clenched her jaw against the sensation. She didn’t feel like she had done anything to change anything. Her lips stayed tightly sealed, though; she was scared if she said anything, it would be the wrong thing.

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” he said, something about his tone immediately lessening the uncomfortable heat she imagined he was burning her with. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He was looking at her and she shot her gaze away.

“You’re an incredible young woman,” he said, continuing to quell the scorching in her mind, “and someday, you’re going to find someone that will make you forget all about this.”

She opened her mouth, but shut it, hesitant. Then her hushed voice slipped out of her, “I don’t want to forget this.”

She glanced up at him, and the look he gave her was steady and calm, and he said, “It’s better if we both forget this.”

“But you’ve been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

He sighed, and he looked like he was going to speak, but he hesitated. He was facing her but he wasn’t really looking at her—he was focused on whatever he was trying to say and his expression was at once soft and hard. Suddenly he seemed almost fragile to her. Carol felt herself drawn to the way he was withdrawing inward to himself. She wanted to be pulled into him.

Her chest ached in ways that her head couldn’t find the words for, but her arms understood and she reached for him, pulled him towards her. Pushing aside uncertainty, she kissed him because that was the only way her body knew how to plead her case with him, to bring them back to that moment in the hotel when he wasn’t trying to forget.

Despite all his talk about mistakes and forgetting, he seemed especially eager to go back on his word. His hands were on her waist and he kept kissing her. It felt almost the same as it had the first time they kissed—soft, gentle, comforting. But as the kiss went on and her heartbeat quickened, as he pulled her closer, she felt the gentleness fall off a sharp ledge.

He began to touch and kiss her with an urgency that made Carol’s head spin. But she still liked the way his mouth felt on hers, the way his tongue felt in her mouth, the way he tasted like nothing she had tasted before. He ran his hands up her back and moved his mouth to her neck and an involuntary moan escaped her. The sound made her pause out of sheer self consciousness, but he didn’t seem to notice—or rather, he did notice but it just made him pull her closer. He pulled her closer and closer and the immediacy of his touch made her forget to be self conscious.

And then, as suddenly as this had started, he took his hands off of her.

“No, this has to stop.” He pushed her away, standing up from the bed. “This isn’t what I wanted to happen. This isn’t going to happen.”

Carol stared at him, open mouthed, bewildered. She felt a little dizzy as she watched him turn his back on her, running his hands over his hair.

“Did I do something wrong, I don’t understand—”

“Of course you don’t understand, you’re seventeen, for Christ’s sake!”

The unexpected harshness in his tone practically slapped her. For a split second she was back in her parents’ house, raised voices tearing into her, her own voice coarse in her throat, sounding bigger than she felt. She clenched her fists and brought herself back to where she was now. In this house, in this room, the raised voices didn’t fit. She was dumbfounded.

Yon looked at her from over his shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he said, then left her room. She heard his quick, heavy steps hurrying down the hall.

“What the fuck,” she muttered to herself. She didn’t know if she should go after him or not. She had no idea what she was supposed to do or how she should feel. Making out with him had been starting to get pretty good but then he pushed her away, immediately snatching away whatever joy she felt. And he had never been angry like that at her. She was even more confused than before.

She put a hand to her neck, groaned, and wiped away the lingering moistness left from his mouth. She sat up straight and scooched herself to the edge of her bed, planting her feet on the floor, then leaned slightly forward, trying to listen for him. Just silence.

Her confusion at his behavior suddenly flared into anger and she stood, marching into the hallway. She hadn’t heard him go downstairs so she went towards his room, ready for confrontation.

 


 

What was wrong with him?

Yon could barely get his thoughts together as he hurried from Carol’s room. He had meant to have a calm, rational conversation with her about the situation, but then she had kissed him and he just let it happen. His irrational want for her was so overpowering, so incredibly vexing. He knew himself better than this—he was always in control of himself, so why was he suddenly so impulsive?

His head was swimming and his heart was pounding. He went into his bedroom, taking deep breaths as he tried to count to ten and collect himself. His breathing was barely under control by the time Carol barged into the room.

“What was that?” she demanded, her expression hard, her hands balled into fists at her side. Her neck had barely noticeable pink splotches from where he had been kissing her, and he looked up to the ceiling before focusing on her eyes.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Okay and are you sorry for kissing me again too?”

His mind briefly came to his own defense, insisting that she had kissed him that time, but he rejected that thought—it really didn’t matter who started it at this point. He sighed.

“Yes, Carol,” he said, “I’m sorry for that too. I shouldn’t have let that happen.”

“You shouldn’t have pushed me away like that. I don’t get what I did wrong or why you got so upset at me. You’re the one who kissed me at the hotel in the first place!”

“I know, I know, I—” he cut himself off, not sure what exactly he was trying to say. There were too many incoherent thoughts begging for attention, too many mixed feelings and sensations picking at him as he looked at her. He wished he could tell her to put her hair down, he couldn’t stop glancing at her neck and now he couldn’t even tell if he was imagining the splotches or not. But she was unmistakably turning a brighter shade of red as she stood glaring at him.

It then occurred to him that, above everything else, he had to keep her calm. If this situation was going to be kept quiet and manageable, she could not be angry with him. He had to keep her calm and rational.

“Carol,” he finally said, speaking slowly, choosing each word carefully, “I am clearly… attracted to you. But that doesn’t mean I should have kissed you. Ever since you started living with me, I became responsible for you in many ways. But it was irresponsible of me to let this happen. If you were older, then yes, things would be different. But you’re seventeen and I’m your teacher and there are very real consequences for something like this happening, and I know you understand that. This situation is very unique and we can’t let it get out of hand. We can’t lose control, even in private. Even if we want to.”

He couldn’t tell exactly how his speech was affecting Carol, but he did note that her fists relaxed and her glare softened as she seemed to contemplate his words.

“I want you to keep living here,” he continued, “which means we have to be careful. If anyone found out about this, you’d have to go back with your parents and I don’t want to see that happen. You know I care about you, Carol, so you need to listen to me. You need to trust me. I only want what’s best for you.”

Chapter Text

For the rest of that weekend, Carol felt so strange. Sometimes the strangeness was good, sometimes it wasn’t, but she tried to focus on the good. She couldn’t believe that Yon had not only kissed her, but actually full-on admitted to wanting to be with her. He was attracted to her.

This was so fucking amazing.

None of her crushes on anyone had ever been this intense, let alone reciprocated. She couldn’t believe that he actually wanted to be with her. Did being wanted feel this great for everyone that had a significant other?

But then it would sneak up on her, the things that didn’t make her feel so great. Yon wasn’t actually her significant other. He was definitely significant to her, but they weren’t anything like that. They couldn’t be anything like that. What he had said to her after making out on her bed kept repeating itself over and over again in her mind: if anyone found out about them, she’d have nowhere to live.

She really wanted to be with Yon, but she didn’t want anything bad to happen because they were together. She had seen news stories before about teachers being arrested for taking advantage of their students. She didn’t think Yon was taking advantage of her or that he was anything like those teachers in the news, but that didn’t change the fact that this was illegal. Still, she thought that as long as they didn’t tell anyone, everything would be fine.

She really wished she were older. If she were older, they could be together with no problems. And she knew she couldn’t control when she was born, but she still felt like somehow this obstacle was her fault. There would be no risk in this situation if it wasn’t for her age. They wouldn’t even be in this situation if it hadn’t been for her needing a place to stay.

He’d probably have no struggles at all if she hadn’t been living with him. If her parents hadn’t kicked her out, or if she had more friends, she wouldn’t have needed to stay with him and they never would have gone on a college visit and he never would have kissed her. So yeah, it felt great that he wanted to be with her, but it sucked that basically everything wrong in the situation was because of her.

She knew she could keep this a secret, but she could still understand why he was so nervous about being with her. She didn’t want him to think that she was going to put him at risk, so she planned on doing everything he told her, proving herself to him. He told her to trust him, and she did. Of course she did.

 


 

Yon and Carol had their morning commute down to an art. When her overnight stays at his place had started to become regular, Yon had realized that he probably shouldn’t be seen with her in his car that often, just to avoid any potential uncomfortable accusations. Now that something actually had happened between them, he was relieved that they already had a routine to keep eyes off of them.

If they were early enough, they might risk getting out together in the staff parking lot behind the school. Otherwise, Yon would pull over just around the corner and let her out. So far he didn’t think anyone had noticed, but he was beginning to think that they should stick to the drop-off to play it safe.

The ride to school the Monday after their eventful weekend was tense, which wasn’t much different from the tail end of the weekend. Still, Yon could feel the weight of both their nerves in the silence between them.

“Just remember that nothing’s changed,” he said.

“Nothing except you sticking your tongue in my mouth.”

A sudden heat crept up his neck. “Carol, let’s not—we can’t joke about this right now. Please. I’m being serious. You have to watch what you’re saying around me.”

“But it’s just us.”

“But you can’t slip like that anywhere else.”

“I know, I know. I’m not going to say anything.”

Despite her sarcastic remarks, he could still hear the subtle anxious inflections in her tone. He didn’t think her anxiety would be noticeable to anyone but him, but he was still concerned that in a few moments he would have to willingly let her out in the world carrying this secret, and all he could do was hope that she really wouldn’t say anything.

As they reached the drop-off point, he forced himself to loosen his unusually tight grip on the steering wheel. In his head he counted to ten and let out a deep breath. He had to stay calm. She had to see him as calm and collected and acting like he had a grasp on all of this.

“I’ll see you in French,” he said as he slowed the car to a stop.

“See you later,” she said, giving him an embarrassed sort of smile that endeared him more than it should have.

He continued on to the parking lot, watching her in his rearview mirror as long as he could. She had her backpack slung over one shoulder and her hands were tucked into the pocket of her black track hoodie with “Hala Warriors” written in teal text across the chest. She looked just like any other teenager heading to school.

Of all the people he could be drawn to, it had to be her.

He tried to keep himself calm as he parked his car in his usual spot, but he was still on edge. Hiding the fact that a student lived with him was one thing; he knew he was doing the right thing in the long run, so it didn’t plague his conscience. But after this weekend… There wasn’t really any gray area to work with if anyone found out.

He felt his nerves tingling through the tips of his fingers as he entered the teacher’s lounge, casually greeting a few of his coworkers as he put his lunch in the fridge. He didn’t usually enjoy small talk with his coworkers, but today especially he was trying his best not to come off as too approachable. Although if he came off as too tense, that might draw more attention to him. He’d just have to get out of the room as quick as possible before—

“How was your long weekend, Yon?” one of his coworkers, Linda, a middle-aged English teacher, caught him just as he was turning from the fridge.

“Oh, it was nice.” He had to remind himself that no one actually knew what he had been out for, nor did most people care.

“It was so nice out this weekend, I hope you were able to enjoy it. Probably some of the last good weather we’ll get for a while,” Linda continued, easing Yon’s nerves with her banality. He was able to easily redirect the conversation by asking about her grandson, to which she immediately took out her phone and showed him a handful of pictures, unable to resist the opportunity. Yon’s personal life was all but forgotten.

As he made his way to his classroom, he began to realize how easy it might be to keep the whole incident with Carol a secret. No one even knew that she had been staying with him for this long, so why would anyone find out now that things had become more complicated? The only people that knew the gravity of the situation were himself and Carol. He knew he could keep the secret, and he knew that Carol was already adept at keeping the finer details of her life private. Everything might actually be alright.

Right now, Carol had no one significant in her life but him, and as long as that remained true, no one was going to find out. His coworkers weren’t going to notice, they were just going to keep assuming that everything was normal, because why wouldn’t they? No one was going to care enough to investigate a situation that there were no signs of.

The relief he felt was so good, so much better than the leaden shame on his shoulders. It would be easy to mistake that relief as justification for his actions, as an excuse to be more lenient with himself.

But he wasn’t going to do that. No matter how seemingly secure their situation might be right now, all it would take was one mishap and life as he knew it would be over. There was no room to go easy on himself yet.

 


 

Going to school on Monday was bizarre. Carol remembered the first time she had stayed at Yon’s house and how she had been dying to talk to Attlass about it, but as staying with Yon became regular, the desire to tell someone else quieted, for the most part. It still felt a little weird that she was living with him and no one else knew. But it used to feel more like something interesting she shared with Yon, and she liked having that secret, close relationship with him.

But now the secret had completely changed and she could tell how nervous Yon was about anyone finding out, so she was nervous too. It was all she could think about.

As French class approached that day and she made her way towards Yon’s classroom amidst the sea of her peers, she became paranoid that, somehow, everyone knew. Even before she had set foot in his classroom today, she felt like she had a huge neon arrow floating above her head, pointing down at her and declaring: I made out with the teacher.

Of course, she knew she was being ridiculous and no one could read her mind, but that didn’t stop her from feeling like she might misstep at any moment.

Walking into Yon’s classroom, she focused harder than she needed to on acting like she was just walking in there the same way she always did. She went to her desk and sat down and told herself that no one was able to tell that anything had happened. But even telling herself that made her entire body heat up.

She glanced at Yon as she got her supplies for class organized on her desk, but he didn’t acknowledge her as he normally would.

“Bienvenue à la classe,” he said once the bell had rung. “Now, to get it out of everyone’s system, let’s take the first few minutes of class to write five sentences about what you did over your weekend.”

Seriously? He chose that assignment today? What the fuck was she supposed to write about?

Carol stared at him, waiting for him to look at her, but he wouldn’t. She saw him turn the slightest shade of red, though, so she imagined he could feel her desperate gaze. Some of the students behind her giggled and whispered amongst themselves, and Yon started to walk through the aisles of desks.

“Just keep it appropriate please,” he said in the direction of the giggling students, but his fingers tapped her desk as he walked by.

She clenched her jaw against her persistent anxiety and bent over her notebook. She quickly came up with the five most innocent, generic sentences about her weekend she could think of. When she looked up from her assignment and glanced around, she realized she had finished much sooner than any of her classmates.

Yon had walked back up to his desk, and she watched him. She just wanted him to look at her, to give her some kind of acknowledgement that he was maybe feeling as awkward as she was but that it was okay because they had each other. But he wasn’t looking at her, even when she tapped her pen annoyingly loud on her desk, he wouldn’t look at her—he glanced in her direction, but not at her.

Annoyance bubbled underneath her anxiety, and she stared back down at her assignment. He couldn’t be not looking at her on purpose, she had to be imagining it. There was no reason for her to start feeling upset about this.

“Le temps est écoulé,” he announced, making her look up. He still wouldn’t look at her.

He paced through the rows of desks again, collecting the sentences from everyone. She handed her paper to him just the same as all the other students.

As class went on, her anxiety was barely relieved. When he asked the class questions and she raised her hand, he never called on her. He’d usually call on her at least once, and she always felt like she participated in class slightly more than her peers. But Yon just continued to act like she wasn’t there. Was this what being careful around each other was going to look like from now on?

She didn’t want to let this bother her. She didn’t want to look immature.

When the school day was finally over and they were driving home and he asked her how her day was, she told him it had been fine.

“Just fine?” he asked.

“Yep,” she said, trying not to think about each time he ignored her raising her hand.

“Are you sure?” he pressed.

“Yeah, why?”

“You seem upset.”

“I’m not upset.”

“Okay, well, if you are, you know you can tell me.”

“Okay, well, there’s nothing to tell.” Even she was taken back by how clearly annoyed she sounded.

“Are you sure something didn’t happen today? You need to be honest with me.”

It was out of her mouth before she could stop it, “Nothing happened, you just wouldn’t look at me in class, which is the opposite of something happening. It was something not happening.”

“What? You’re upset that I didn’t look at you in class?”

“I felt like you were ignoring me.”

“I have an entire class to pay attention to, I can’t look at you the entire time.”

“I know, but… I felt… I felt really weird the whole day and then I got to your class and you barely looked at me.”

“Why did you feel weird?”

“I don’t know… I felt weird that you’re a teacher and… everything.”

“As long as you don’t tell anyone, there’s nothing to feel weird about.”

“But it just feels like everyone knows.”

“Did you tell anyone?”

“No, I’m not an idiot.”

“I didn’t say you were. And if you didn’t tell anyone, then you don’t need to be worried about anything. Nothing’s changed.”

“Nothing except when you ask me to write down five sentences about what I did over the weekend, all I can think about is you kissing me. But I have to pretend like nothing happened and I know why I have to pretend that nothing happened, but you wouldn’t even look at me.”

“Carol, you’re overthinking. You’re letting your emotions get the better of you. I’m not trying to ignore you.”

“I know, I know… but you wouldn’t call on me either.”

“I called on you.”

“No, you didn’t.”

He sighed. “If I didn’t call on you, it’s not on purpose. I have to call on everyone.”

“Yeah, but you’re calling on literally everyone except me.”

“I’m giving everyone a chance to participate, Carol. I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m doing my job.”

“So it has nothing to do with this weekend?”

“Why would it?”

“I don’t know… that’s the only thing that’s changed.”

“You’re overthinking it.”

She pursed her lips and focused her attention out the passenger window.

She heard Yon sigh. “I can’t be seen to be playing favorites with you, Carol.”

“So you have to suddenly start ignoring me? You don’t think that looks just as weird?”

“I don’t think anyone else has noticed.”

“Okay, then if no one has noticed, why can’t you call on me like you used to?”

“I’m trying to be more conscious of it now.”

“So you were playing favorites with me before?”

“I think I was a little, yes.”

For a second, her heart seemed to thud straight into her throat and she was actually speechless. He had just admitted to playing favorites with her in front of everyone. The moment of flattery was overcome by her continued frustration.

“But…” she said, pushing down the butterflies that had just fluttered in her stomach. “But if it was okay before then why—”

“Because there’s a bigger risk now. I know you understand that.”

“Just because you call on me in class doesn’t mean that everyone is going to think that you kissed me. Other teachers call on me and I haven’t made out with any of them. You’re the one overthinking this.”

“I’m being cautious, Carol. I’m not trying to upset you by doing any of this. It’s for your own good. Trust me.”

“But if you’re trying to keep things like normal, why do you have to start acting differently around me in front of everyone? That’s the opposite of normal.”

“Well, I probably should’ve done this sooner, then.”

“But no one suspected anything before! You’re making things weird now.”

“Carol, please just trust me.”

She fought back a groan and stared out the car window, biting her lip and trying to stay calm. He wasn’t making any sense to her. But she didn’t want to argue, especially not with him.

“The most important thing is that you didn’t tell anyone,” Yon said after a quiet moment had passed. “As long as no one knows, everything else is going to be fine. You’re paranoid about things that don’t matter.”

“I know…”

“I still care about you. You don’t need to worry about that.”

She sighed, feeling childish and stupid for having actually told him why she was upset. She hadn’t wanted him to know that she had been so bothered by it, and yet here she was spilling all of her anxiety the second he pressed her, and now she just looked paranoid and dumb.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Why are you sorry?”

“For being so paranoid.”

“Don’t apologize. Just trust me a little more. Everything’s going to be fine.”

 


 

The rest of the week at school played out pretty similarly. Even after their conversation, Yon was still as good as ignoring her both in class and at practice. He told her not to overthink it, but that still didn’t do much to ease Carol’s anxiety. He was even slightly more distant at home—he opted out of watching tv with her when she asked, which she tried not to worry about because he did have to grade papers most days, but still it felt weird to her.

Yon kept saying that nothing had changed, but that was obviously a lie. Even the fact that he said he wanted to be with her felt like a lie. Why would he bother kissing her at all if he was just going to start acting like he didn’t want anything to do with her anymore?

She thought she had finally found someone who wanted her around and who actually cared about her, and right as the best thing possible had happened, he suddenly didn’t want her anymore. Yes, she knew they weren’t supposed to be together because of their age difference, but she was almost eighteen so it wasn’t that weird.

She felt like an idiot for thinking that he might really want to be with her—of course someone as mature and put together as him wouldn’t want to date a high schooler. He was probably regretting ever letting her stay with him since he never would have been tempted to kiss her otherwise. If he was regretting that then she might once again have nowhere to stay. She couldn’t handle rejection from another person, especially not him. If this was how everything was going to be, she wished that she could go back in time and not go to his hotel room.

But it was too late for that—they couldn’t un-kiss. She just didn’t know how to move forward in a normal way. She didn’t want to keep looking too emotional by telling him she was still upset. She was dying to ask him if he still wanted to be with her, but she didn’t want him to think she wasn’t aware of how much trouble he could get in. She had no idea what she was supposed to be doing. So she just followed his lead and she kept quiet.

 


 

Yon was trying to keep as much distance as he could between himself and Carol, which was an unsurprisingly difficult task. He knew that he had let them get too close already and it had clearly developed into something inappropriate, but it was hard to see Carol in pain over this change.

She had been right that he was trying not to pay too much attention to her in class, and it stung a little that she had been so instantly hurt by that. Maybe deciding to do that hadn’t been the right decision, but he had to at least attempt to not play favorites with her anymore.

He was trying to withdraw from her, so he shouldn’t have been surprised when she started to withdraw from him. She got quiet and she didn’t joke so much around him. He hadn’t meant to completely alter their relationship dynamic like that. And even though he knew that keeping his distance from her was for the best in the long run, he couldn’t help but feel guilty for being just another person in her life to cause her pain.

Two weeks after their college visit, Yon was starting to feel like he couldn’t bear the guilt at having hurt her anymore. He had to do something to put some kind of normalcy back into her life—into both their lives.

So on Friday after school, as they drove home, he asked, “Do you want to watch a movie tonight?”

He thought for a moment that maybe she hadn’t heard him, but then she said, “You actually want to watch something with me?”

He sighed. “I know things have been a little tense at home lately, but I don’t want that to become normal for us.”

“Okay…”

“Just because we can’t… be more than friends, that doesn’t mean we should be acting like strangers. So let’s just start over tonight. We can watch a movie together just like we used to.”

She was quiet.

“You can pick out the movie,” he said. “And we can order food—whatever you want.”

She hesitated, then said, “Whatever I want?”

“Yes. Anything you want.”

“What if I wanted pizza and Chinese food and nachos?”

“As your coach, I’d be a little concerned.”

“Yeah, but you said anything I want.”

He could hear a playful lilt in her voice that hadn’t been there in a while, and he found himself smiling.

“Okay, if that’s what you really want tonight.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“You’re seriously going to order all that food?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“Okay, but I actually just want pizza. I don’t want all of that.”

“Well, my wallet is certainly glad to hear that.”

She laughed and he was surprised at how instantly the sound relieved the guilt he had been feeling. It was so good to see her smiling again. Just that simple, reaffirming action from her made the barriers he had been building between them start to crumble. He was starting to have a hard time warding off the feeling that he had missed their growing closeness.

He couldn’t forget how happy she had been when he kissed her in the hotel room. And he knew everything about what he had done was wrong, but at the same time, it had made her happy. This uncomfortable tension between them hadn’t existed until he started pushing her away, all in an attempt to make their lives easier. Clearly, it hadn’t simplified anything.

Maybe giving in wouldn’t be so bad if it really did make her happy. She had undergone so much emotional turmoil with her homelife already, it couldn’t be right to keep adding to her stress like this, to make her homelife with him just another nightmare. If they were careful and their private life together continued to be hidden, then giving in might even be better.

A twinge in his gut told him that this reasoning wouldn’t actually pan out like he was telling himself it would. But the way Carol’s smile warmed him made it easy to forget anything other than the memory of holding her against him. He wanted to taste the smile on her mouth. Half heartedly, he shooed that thought away.

It was becoming clear that he wouldn’t have the willpower to shut her out again. But, right now, in this moment, he was alarmingly okay with that.

 


 

Carol had felt a little weird at first when Yon suggested a movie night, but then things did actually start to feel like they had before and she couldn’t have been more relieved. When they got home, they ordered pizza and she changed into her comfy clothes and picked out a movie. After two weeks of awkwardness, she was excited to be having this chill evening with him.

When they were finally ready to watch the movie, she settled herself onto the couch, instinctually curling up her legs closer to her body so there would be room for him to sit next to her. As he came into the living room, he looked at her for a moment, hesitating. Then he just shook his head slightly and sat down next to her.

The movie started and she could feel the limited space between them vibrating, but she pretended that she felt nothing. His arm draped over the back of the couch; it would have draped over her if she sat up and leaned the right way, but she tried not to think about that. As the time they spent sitting next to each other expanded, her posture relaxed, her legs uncurled away from her, and her feet were almost touching his thigh. But she barely noticed, at least not right away.

Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw his arm moving down to his side. His fingers were close to her ankle. She focused straight ahead on the tv and then felt him touch her. She thought it was an accident, but he held his touch there on her ankle. She stared intently at the tv. His hand moved slightly up her leg, then back down, then up, down, back and forth in a mindless motion. Her heart was pounding.

She could feel her hands starting to shake as his touch persisted. She knew that he shouldn’t be touching her like this. But she wanted him to keep touching her like this. And after the way he had seemed to be pushing her away lately, she was eager to accept any and all attention he was willing to give her.

But she didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing. She wanted to be mature about this, to handle this like an adult. She told herself not to overthink this. Maybe he didn’t even mean anything by what he was doing. But his hand was idly tracing further up her leg and she felt herself shiver.

She glanced at him and he was looking at the tv. She extended her leg, pressing her foot against his thigh. His hand was still on her leg and she felt her heart beating in her throat. She sat up and he looked at her.

Willing herself to say something clever or sassy or maybe even flirty, she opened her mouth, but nothing was coming into her brain. Then the words came out of her, “You’re touching me.”

“Do you want me to stop?” he asked.

She shook her head.

If Carol had thought her heart was beating fast before either of them had spoken, it was now proving how foolish she had been a minute ago. Every inch of her body felt electric with adrenaline—even her fingertips were buzzing. The movie was still playing but she couldn’t hear it. Both his hands were on her leg now.

She scooted her entire body closer to him, draping both her legs over his lap and his hands glided up her thighs. She touched one of his hands and he then turned his palm upward, taking her hand in his.

“Are you shaking?” he said, gripping her hand in both of his. She was glad he at least hadn’t commented on how sweaty her palm was.

“I think I just had too much sugar tonight,” she said. “We shouldn’t have had soda with the pizza.”

“That was your choice.”

“Well, what can I say, I’m an idiot.” She laughed, but her hands were still shaking and he held her tighter.

Then he leaned towards her and instinctively she found herself leaning towards him too. He pushed her hair behind her ear, and then touched her chin with his thumb and forefinger, tilting her face towards his.

“Do you want me to kiss you?” he asked.

Of course I want you to kiss me! she screamed in her head. But all she got herself to do was nod, tilting her face up as he leaned closer. And then he kissed her.

It was as if she had forgotten how good he was at this. God, she liked kissing him so much. So much that she started… laughing?

“What’s so funny?” he asked, smiling at her as a fit of giggles overtook her. “Was it really that bad?”

“Oh my god, no!” she said. Internally, she begged herself to stop giggling. “It’s—it’s just that… you’re so good at kissing and I… I… Thank you.”

“You’re… welcome?”

“Oh god, I’m so fucking awkward!” She buried her face in her hands.

“Carol…” Yon’s voice broke into a laugh as he said her name and she peaked through her fingers at him. “Don’t be embarrassed, you’re not awkward. You’re endearing and… very adorable.”

“Really? Adorable?”

“It’s a compliment.”

“It feels weird that you’re calling me adorable.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know… not adorable.”

“Well, I only meant you’re very attractive.”

“Aw, that’s adorable that you think that.” She laughed.

“I get it, I won’t call you adorable again.” He leaned in closer to her. “I think you’re beautiful, Carol.”

“Well, I think you’re beautiful too—I mean, in, like, a masculine way. I think you’re hot…” She huffed. “I think you’re a very attractive man.”

He smiled at her and she melted. Then he kissed her again. She liked the feeling of his lips against hers, the gentle way his hands found her waist and pulled her to him. He kissed her deeper and suddenly he was leaning her back and then he was basically on top of her. After the strange last two weeks with him, she definitely hadn’t expected to be making out with him right now, but she didn’t want it to stop. She wrapped her arms around him, feeling like she couldn’t get close enough to him.

Everything that was happening felt so intense and great. She was so caught up in the feeling of his mouth on hers and his body pressed to hers and how excited she was to be doing this with him again. After all of her doubts about him recently, he still wanted to be with her. He still wanted to fucking be with her! She felt like she was going to fucking lose it.

But then he stopped.

“We shouldn’t do this,” he said.

She was quiet for a second. She really didn’t want this moment to stop. Hoping to change his mind, she kissed him again. For a minute, it seemed to be working, but then he stopped once again.

“I’m sorry, Carol, we can’t do this.” He sighed and then sat up. He seemed calmer than the last time they had made out and he pushed her away, but she still felt the same wave of confusion overcoming her. What exactly was she supposed to do about this?

She settled on saying, “I’m not going to tell anyone.”

“I know you’re not. This isn’t being careful, though.”

“But if we don’t tell anyone, then won’t we be okay?”

“It’s not that simple, Carol. We talked about this. I want to be with you but… there are consequences for something like this happening.”

“I know, but… but what are we supposed to do?”

“We just have to be more careful.”

She stared at the tv for a second, watching the credits roll—she hadn’t even realized she missed that much of the movie until now. But missing the movie wasn’t what caused the sinking in her chest.

“So are you just going to start ignoring me again?” she asked.

“What?”

“The last time you said we had to be more careful, you started ignoring me. Are you just going to keep doing that now?”

“I was never ignoring you, Carol.”

“Well then I don’t know what to call these last couple weeks.”

He sighed. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought I was doing what was best.”

“I know, but…”

“But what?”

“It felt like you really didn’t want me around anymore.”

“That’s not true.”

“Well, it felt like it.”

“You really think I don’t want you around?”

“When you’re ignoring me, yeah.”

“I already told you I wasn’t ignoring you.”

“Fine, you weren’t ignoring me. But if whatever you were doing is what being careful looks like, I don’t want to do that again.”

He seemed to be considering her. “There has to be boundaries between us, Carol. We can’t keep letting this happen. You’re seventeen.”

She felt her cheeks burning. “I’ll be eighteen in April. That’s not that far away.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“But you can’t just ignore me until April! If you start doing that again, then I don’t have anyone to talk to and you might as well have just let me sleep outside my parents’ house until they decided to let me back in, because that would be better than having you act like you don’t want me around anymore. If you want me to leave, then just tell me.”

“Carol, I never said I wanted you to leave. I want you here—I want you here more than I should.”

“What does that even mean?”

He was considering her again, perhaps more intently than before. Then finally, he said, “Have you ever had a boyfriend, Carol?”

“What?”

“Have you ever had a serious relationship with anyone?”

“No, but… but why does that matter?”

“I can’t be your first…” He let out a deep sigh and ran a hand over his hair. “Your first relationship, I mean. I can’t be that.”

She understood exactly what he meant. Secretly, she had worried that this would be a problem. If she could see herself now, she knew she’d be red all over.

After trying to process her embarrassment for a moment, she forced herself to say, “You don’t want to be with me because I’ve never… because I’ve never had sex?”

“I can’t pretend it wouldn’t be a big deal for you.”

“How do you know it would be a big deal?”

“I was your age once. I know what it’s like.”

“But if you care about me, aren’t you, like… the best person for me to… be with?” God, she was pretty sure her face was turning an all new, never-before-seen shade of red.

“If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t have stopped us.”

“So I can’t be with you because you care about me? How does that make any sense?”

“Just trust me, Carol.”

“I want to trust you, but—but, I don’t know, I do trust you, but…” She groaned. “I like you a lot and obviously you like me, otherwise we wouldn’t have just made out, so why does it matter if I’ve had sex or not? We don’t even have to have sex if you don’t want to, you don’t have to be the first person I have sex with—that’s fine. But I also kinda—I mean, I would like you to be that person.”

Was it possible to throw up from embarrassment at not being able to shut up? Carol thought she might. She wasn’t even sure she could see straight right now, she was so fucking humiliated at telling Yon she wanted to have sex with him. Even though that’s basically what the entire conversation had been about.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I don’t know why I just said all of that.”

“Don’t apologize,” he said.

She thought she was starting to see straight again and she recognized something in the way he was looking at her. But she wasn’t sure what exactly it was. After a second, though, it clicked: It was the same way he looked at her when she was in the towel, then again when she had dressed up for the college tour. It made her feel oddly exposed, the way his gaze clung to places it probably shouldn’t. But that meant that he was thinking about her—no, fantasizing about her. It was just like when she felt like she was ogling him in class. He really did want her, even right now when he was trying to act all noble and stuff.

That gave her an idea.

Fighting through her burning embarrassment, she stood up. Then, taking a breath, she stood in front of him and—oh god, oh god, was she really doing this?—she straddled his lap.

“Carol,” he said, “what are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” She wished she fucking knew. She placed her hands on his chest, and part of her was waiting for him to push her away. But he wasn’t pushing her away yet. That was something.

For a moment, she just stared at him, trying to catch her breath. She just wanted to look confident, like someone he could see as mature. She leaned a little closer to him and when he tilted his face towards hers, she did feel a little boost of confidence.

She kissed him and once again found that he was eager to forget everything he said about being careful. Was it really this easy to change his mind?

“We don’t have to do anything serious until I’m eighteen,” she said against his cheek. She hoped she sounded certain and firm, but she felt a bit like she was pleading for him to please just keep liking her. Then, her smaller voice added, “I don’t want you to ignore me.”

His lips found hers, in a kiss that felt almost like an apology, then he said, “I’m not going to ignore you.”

“You promise?”

“Yes, I promise.”

She couldn’t believe this was working. After having been so scared that he might have lost interest in her, all she had to do was sit in his lap and kiss him and then he was telling her exactly what she wanted to hear. It felt so good to have him reassuring her and wanting her like this. Whatever she had to do to prove that she was mature enough for him, she’d do it. She didn’t want to face losing this.

Chapter Text

A few evenings each week, Yon would go to a gym while Carol stayed home alone. That wasn’t the only time she stayed home without him—she didn’t really go out anywhere with him—but she looked forward to that guaranteed alone time. Yon’s house was starting to feel less like a stranger’s place and more like her house too.

When Yon went to the gym tonight, though, Carol didn’t know what to do with her alone time. With no homework and no tv to hold her interest, she was feeling a bit bored. Even scrolling through apps on her phone was disappointing. Attlass posted pictures of a study group on Instagram and of course Minnerva was there. Carol hated opening social media only to see exactly how left out she was.

Feeling slightly defeated, she headed upstairs, thinking she might just get ready for bed early, but as she reached the top of the stairs, she saw Yon’s open bedroom door and a burning curiosity tingled through her. She’d gone into his room a couple times, but otherwise she’d just stand outside his door if she needed him while he was in there, talking to him while he put away his laundry or just in passing to ask if he was ready to go to school. There was usually no reason for her to go into his room.

There was some unspoken rule about his room being off limits. But pretty much everything about their relationship now seemed to fall under an “off limits” category.

Just as she had been overcome with curiosity in his kitchen the first night she stayed over, she was also curious about the details of his bedroom. She just wanted to step in, maybe just peek into the master bathroom to see how much nicer it was than hers. She didn’t want to dig through his things, just get a glance. It wasn’t as if he would even be able to tell that she had gone in.

Before she knew it, she was stepping into his room, feeling both underwhelmed and exhilarated. She flipped the light switch on in his bathroom, only to discover that it wasn’t much different from hers. She peeked into his closet and his dresser drawers, even though she knew she shouldn’t, but now that she was actually in here, she was made up of nothing but curiosity. Being in this intimate, forbidden space sent shivers of giddiness over her.

When she tried looking in his nightstand drawer, she accidentally pulled it a little too hard and the entire drawer fell out.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” she muttered, trying to slide the drawer back in its place.

As she made sure the drawer’s contents didn’t look too discombobulated, something caught her eyes and she suppressed an uncomfortable laugh. In the back of the drawer, in a place she might not have noticed if she hadn’t accidentally forced the whole thing out, were a couple condoms.

She supposed that shouldn’t actually be surprising or funny to her, but as someone who didn’t have an actual sex life, evidence of someone else’s sex life was pretty surreal. And this wasn’t just anyone’s sex life, this was Yon’s sex life. He had actual sex in this room. He kept condoms next to his bed because he was, at one time or another, fully expecting to use them.

She had figured he was experienced, but somehow seeing this proof made her relationship with him feel a lot more daunting. He had real sexual experience and she didn’t think she had ever even touched a condom until right now.

She used to always wonder if he was actually dating anyone or not. Sometimes the girls at track would try to ask him if he had a girlfriend, but he never gave them any answers, insisting it was inappropriate to talk to them about that. But when she started staying with him, it became pretty clear that he wasn’t in a relationship with anyone, at least not right now. In her mind, these condoms seemed to imply that he did have an active dating life before her.

And now she was part of his “dating life,” and, larger obstacles aside, she wasn’t really sure what that was supposed to look like. They got to make out, but that was about as far as she knew what to expect.

She thought, or at least she hoped, eventually they’d have sex, but she had no idea how to tell if she was ready or not. Would she feel ready when she turned eighteen? What would feeling ready actually feel like? Was he counting down the days for her birthday right now? Or would they wait even longer? But what if he got tired of waiting?

A couple months ago, she thought her biggest concern with Yon would be hiding her crush on him, but that had changed practically overnight. Nothing about this situation was something she had any idea how to navigate. What was she supposed to Google? How to date your high school track coach/teacher who you also secretly live with? That was ridiculous.

As she stood looking at the condoms in his nightstand, she thought she heard the garage door opening, so she hastily shoved everything back into place and scurried out of his room. Popping into her own room, she tried to force herself to relax so she wouldn’t look suspicious when he saw her.

There was no way he was going to be able to tell that she had lightly snooped around his room, she told herself. He wouldn’t be able to tell that she was starting to have concerns about his much more historied sex life. She didn’t know exactly how adults were supposed to handle their sex lives, but she was pretty sure that they didn’t start having a mini crisis over finding someone’s condoms. She just had to play it cool and keep pretending that she knew what she was doing.

 


 

Carol wanted to make her final decision about college before Thanksgiving break, but it was proving to be a hard choice. She had got accepted into both of her top choices—the out of state Xavier University, and the in state Stark University. She had initially planned on enrolling at Xavier University if she could, but when she got her acceptance letter, Yon seemed to have differing thoughts on it.

“I just don’t think going to school out of state will be the wisest choice for you in the long run,” he said one night during dinner.

“But Xavier University has always been my top choice, and after visiting it, I just thought that of course I’d go there if I got accepted.”

“Going to school out of state is going to be so much more expensive. You don’t want to carry that kind of debt around with you.”

“But I’m going to have debt either way.”

“You also don’t have any family to help with your expenses though.”

“I know, but they wouldn’t have really helped me anyway.”

Yon sighed. “Why was Xavier always your top choice?”

“It has everything I want, I’ve told you that like a hundred times.”

“Yes, but was one of those things you wanted perhaps distance from your family?”

“I mean… I guess—I mean, I don’t know.”

“My point is that you’re already living away from your parents. Putting more miles between you and them right now isn’t going to matter.”

“But that’s not the only reason I wanted to go there.”

“I think you got a little emotionally attached to the idea of that distance, though.”

“I’m not emotionally attached to it.”

“Okay, then if you’re not emotionally attached to it, I think you need to seriously consider going to Stark University instead. You could do a lot worse than Stark.”

He laid out a lot of reasons that actually made sense to her, despite her growing disappointment at realizing how impractical going to school out of state would be. The reasons were mostly financial, but that wasn’t all.

“If anything were to happen, it’d be nice to have less distance between us.”

“You’re saying that you want to be closer to me?”

“I’m saying that I want to be able to help you if you need it, and it’s harder to do that when you’re farther away.”

“Okay, but how often am I really going to be in that kind of emergency situation?”

“Hopefully not ever. But if you wanted to come back here for any reason, like holidays or long weekends, it’d be so much easier.”

She hated how much sense he was making to her and that she could feel herself giving in to his reasoning. And right now, his opinion mattered to her more than anyone else’s. If he was convincing her that going to school out of state was a bad idea, then she’d listen to him, even above her own reasoning. After all, he just seemed to know so much more about everything than her.

 


 

Once Carol had officially decided to enroll at Stark University, part of her was relieved to have a clear course of action for her future. But another part of her was still disappointed at not getting to go to the school she had envisioned herself in. She trusted Yon’s advice though, so she tried not to linger over her disappointment.

One night as she helped clear the table and do the dishes after dinner, that disappointment still felt heavy in the air around her.

“Do any of your friends ever ask you to do anything?” Yon asked as he started loading the dishwasher. Lately, he seemed a little desperate to keep awkward silences away from them, so he just kept asking her random questions about her life that he already knew the answers to.

Carol handed him a dirty plate to load and sighed. “What other friends?”

“Was Attlass really your only friend?”

“Yep.” She held herself back from asking why he thought she’d be staying here if she had had any other friends—even she could tell that would’ve come across harsher than she meant it.

“Not even the girls on the track team?” he pressed.

“I only really do track related things with them. Those were, like… my only social events. Social events not with Attlass, anyway.”

“What did you do with Attlass?”

“Mostly me and him just hung out, but more people like him than me, so sometimes he’d get invited to things and I’d go with him.”

“Invited to things like what?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Just a couple parties.”

“What kind of parties?”

She found herself fighting an embarrassed smile as she passed him the last dish to be loaded. “The kind I could get in trouble for.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I hope you weren’t drinking.”

“Don’t worry, I’m a boring teenager.”

“You’re not boring, Carol.”

“Yeah, well, tell that to all the people who don’t want to hang out with me.”

Yon pressed a few buttons on the dishwasher and then the whirring sounds of the machine started. He leaned against the counter, looking at her. “There’s a lot more people out there than your classmates at Hala High.”

“I know, but it doesn’t feel that way right now.”

“When you go to college, you’ll meet more people and you’ll realize how big the world is. You’ll find the people you belong with.”

“Well, I kinda…” She started blushing at what she wanted to say, and shook her head. “I don’t know, nevermind.”

“Nevermind what?”

“I don’t know, I feel kinda like I belong here…” Oh god, her stomach was somersaulting, but she couldn’t stop herself from finishing the thought now, “Like I belong here with you…”

He hesitated just long enough to make her insides feel even more chaotic, then he said, “I’m glad you feel that way, Carol.”

Ugh. His tone rubbed her in a weird way, like maybe she had made him uncomfortable by being honest.

“It’s stupid,” she said. “I just mean that you’ve been real great to me and I like you a lot and I know things are real complicated with us, but I’m still really glad to be here and—”

“Carol, slow down. You don’t have to explain yourself. I understand. I’m glad you’re here too.”

“You’re the only person that’s glad to have me around. You must have really bad taste.”

“Or maybe it’s everyone else who does. Don’t deride yourself like that.”

“I wasn’t deriding myself. I was deriding you and your bad taste.”

“Ah, my mistake.”

“Yeah, it was.”

He gave her a look, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head. His eyes lingered over her and she still wasn’t used to how giddy that made her feel, so she had to look down at her feet.

“I’m going to watch tv,” she said. “Do you want to watch with me?”

“Sure.”

He just stood looking at her for a moment, so she ducked her head and started to turn away.

“Carol,” he said, and she turned back around, maybe a little too eagerly. He motioned with his head and said, “Come here.”

“Why?”

“Just… come here.”

She stepped closer to him, and then he reached for her, taking hold of her waist and pulling her to him. She felt like she could swoon.

“I think you belong here too,” he said.

Okay, maybe now she actually was swooning. Was swooning when your whole body felt weak but you also felt incredibly alive, except maybe your legs weren’t as alive as your heart? Because that’s what she felt like and it seemed like swooning.

But then he kissed her and she didn’t give a fuck what swooning was or wasn’t.

“I like you so much,” she said, feeling a little silly after she spoke.

“I know,” he said. “I like you too.”

And he kept kissing her. The kissing heated up and she was eager to go along with it. She was a little worried he was going to push her away at any moment, though.

But he wasn’t pushing her away. The thought that they could keep going was both exciting and terrifying. But she wasn’t exactly sure why she was afraid. Maybe it was because she knew there were condoms upstairs in his nightstand or maybe because she still had homework she needed to get done. Whatever the reason, she let him keep kissing her and touching her, running his hands down her back. He briefly touched her butt and she laughed a little.

“He touched the butt,” she said, suppressing another laugh.

“What?”

“You know, he touched the butt.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You know, Finding Nemo. He touches the boat and they call it a butt.” Boy, this conversation certainly didn’t feel sexy.

“Ah. Sorry for not catching your reference to an animated fish.”

She groaned. “It was funny in my head.”

“Maybe keep it there next time.”

“You’re rude.”

Awkward references were quickly forgotten, because he kissed her again and then was directing them away from the kitchen. People making out in movies always seemed to move around so gracefully, but she felt super clumsy as they moved away, like she was going to trip at any second.

“Where are we going?” she asked, trying not to laugh.

“Do you want to go to the couch?”

Oh god, oh god, the couch? He was intentionally suggesting they move to the couch to keep making out? He wasn’t saying they should stop? Her heart was in her throat and she nodded and they stumbled to the couch.

Her head was spinning as they kept going—he kept telling her how to do things, and she didn’t mind because he actually knew what he was doing and everything he suggested made making out even better.

When she climbed onto his lap, she had no idea how long they had been doing this. Her stomach was doing somersaults all over the place as he ran his hands down to her waist. She moved her mouth to his neck, and she thought he was liking it—he sounded like he was liking it, so she kept doing it.

“Carol,” he said, moving his head a little, “that’s enough.”

She paused. “You want to stop?”

“Just stop kissing my neck for now.”

“You don’t like it?”

“No, it’s just…” he sighed.

Suddenly, she thought she understood. “You don’t want a hickey!”

“No, I don’t.”

She laughed. “Have you ever had to hide one at school?”

“No, and I’m trying not to start doing that now.”

“Okay, well what if I get one?”

“You’re not going to.”

“You sound so sure of yourself.”

“I’d like to think I know what I’m doing.”

“And I don’t?”

They both knew the answer to that question, and almost instantly a self-conscious heat rose to her face. He avoided actually saying anything by kissing her, and she followed his lead, letting him kiss her the way he wanted to. He pulled her closer to him, pressing his hands firmly against her back as he repositioned them, laying her down on the couch. Her heart skipped a beat, or maybe two, she couldn’t tell. He was fully on top of her and it felt really good and he was… standing up?

“It’s late,” he said.

“Okay…”

She reeled a bit from the sudden stop, and she felt a slight shift in the air when he stepped back from her now. As she sat up, she straightened her shirt; it had ridden up past her belly button—for some reason that made her feel a little weird when he looked at her. She felt like he was assessing her.

“What?” she said, self-conscious.

“Nothing,” he said, turning away from her, “It’s just really late. We lost track of time.”

“Yeah, time and a few other things.”

He didn’t acknowledge her sarcastic comment and that felt worse than the times he had physically pushed her away from him. Maybe she had said the wrong thing. Or maybe it was just really late. She glanced at the clock by the tv. Fuck, it was definitely later than she thought it would be.

“Shit,” she muttered.

“Everything okay?”

“No, I still need to finish my homework.”

“You still have homework? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I don’t know…”

He sighed. “What subjects do you have?”

“Just calculus and, well… your class.”

“Okay, well, do your calculus and…” He sighed. “Don’t worry about French tonight. I know you do all your other work, so just turn in what you have during class tomorrow and I’ll let it pass this once.”

“Really?”

“Yes, but this isn’t going to become a regular thing.”

“I mean, if all I have to do to pass your class is let you touch my boobs, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Carol…” he scolded, trailing off and blushing.

It was like he didn’t want to be reminded that he touched her boobs or French kissed her or whatever unless he was actively doing it. She wasn’t always sure if she found his discomfort more funny or weird, but tonight, it was leaning towards more weird. It just felt like they really were doing something wrong.

 


 

Yon stayed up a little later to help Carol finish her calculus homework so that she could still get to bed at a decent hour. He felt guilty for distracting her like he was also some kind of hormonal adolescent.

It was just so difficult to resist someone that was so, to put it bluntly, easy. He knew more than anyone how badly she wanted affection, and, when paired with her schoolgirl crush on him, of course she would be eager to do anything with him. At times, he could step far enough away from the situation to see that he might be taking advantage of her.

But Carol just seemed so much more mature than all of her peers. Maybe it just seemed this way because he was closer to her than he had ever been to anyone else her age. And she had been forced to hurdle through life experiences that most people, her age or otherwise, would never have to endure. Those experiences, while tragic, gave her an almost adult perspective on life. Sometimes he even thought that she had handled her tumultuous experiences with a maturity that would rival most adults.

He still knew that Carol’s maturity didn’t actually make her an adult, though—she was very much a teenager. The fact remained that Yon was the only adult in this situation and he was still giving in to his attraction as if he didn’t know any better.

But the more he gave in, the more his attraction to her evolved. It wasn’t just physical anymore—maybe it never had been just that. But he was starting to enjoy the feeling that Carol belonged here, with him.

He hadn’t thought about that sense of belonging until she had brought it up. Whether or not he fully admitted it to himself, he had never felt so protective.

It was up to him and him alone to take care of her, to be responsible for her. He had to look out for her best interests and basic needs. While he knew he couldn’t just sit there and pretend that feeling her up on the couch was something he was doing for her best interests, she also never objected. If she had any objections, of course he’d stop.

Being with her added a whole new kind of stress to his life, but the experience of being with her was so unlike his other experiences with women. Part of this was because she really wasn’t his equal—she looked to him for everything and her pure adoration for him had always been so clear. He couldn’t resist someone who saw him like that and who needed him so much.

The reality of their relationship was that he was currently more significant to her than anyone else in almost every area of her life. He liked that feeling. He hadn’t expected to feel that way, but he was savoring it more than anything else.

When he had convinced her to change her mind about which university to attend, he had been offering her advice he’d give to any of his students. He really didn’t think she needed to spend the extra money just to go to a school that had been her escape fantasy for so long. But he had also been surprised at how easy it was to convince her to change her mind—she really did value his opinion more than anything. He liked being that significant to her.

And he was beginning to loathe the idea of someone else taking that place. Not that he really had any competition right now, but perhaps that was also part of her appeal to him.

Chapter Text

As the days grew colder in November, official track team meetups for the fall semester were coming to an end, and the team had their last meet a week before Thanksgiving. It was bittersweet for Carol, knowing that this was the last time she’d do cross country in the fall during high school. But she knew she still had more to look forward to as far as track was concerned.

“Hey, Carol,” her teammate Angela said, coming up to her as their last cross country meet ended. “We’re going to keep doing unofficial meetups during the winter off-season again this year. You in?”

“Oh yeah, I’m in. I just have to, uh… double check with my parents.”

“Okay, cool. It’ll be the same schedule as last year. I can give you rides again if you need me to.”

“Thanks, I’ll let you know.”

“Cool. I’ll see you around, then.”

Carol watched Angela walk away and smiled. Meeting with some of her track team over the winter off-season was always something she looked forward to—she enjoyed regular track, but there was something special about training with just the other girls. When Carol still lived with her parents, she had been beyond grateful to have this reason to spend more time away from home, and she found herself still looking forward to it.

Even though she liked Yon as a coach, it would still be nice to meet up without his supervision. The entire atmosphere changed when it was just the girls—it was more chill. She jumped at any opportunity to socialize with her peers outside of school.

She didn’t think Yon would have a problem with her doing this, so she brought it up during dinner that night.

“Since cross country is over and we don’t start track and field until after winter break, some of the team meets up to train by ourselves.”

“Yes, you girls mention it every year.”

“Yeah, so I said I would be able to go again this year, I just had to check with my parents. So… this is me checking with my… adult.”

He gave her a look then sighed.

“You already told them you were planning on going?”

His tone struck Carol in an odd way, as if she should brace herself for disappointment.

“Yeah, I go every year…”

“How are you going to get there?”

“Angela said she could give me a ride if I needed one.”

“Give you a ride here? To my house?”

She knew he was making a valid point, but she wasn’t quite ready to abandon the idea of her informal winter track meet ups.

“I mean, couldn’t you just give me a ride then? I’m training for track—for your team.”

“Yes, and you live with me. I can just keep training you.”

“But… I do this every year.”

“You didn’t live with me every year before this.”

“Yeah, but it’s kinda nice training with the girls.”

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea. You can’t get a ride from someone else to come here, and we don’t need anyone asking why I’m coming to pick you up from something that isn’t sponsored by the school.”

“I could get dropped off somewhere else and—”

“I know it’s a tradition for you to do this, but you’ll probably get better training if you just train with me. It’ll be a good chance to get some more one-on-one time.”

“I thought me living here was enough one-on-one time. And also when you shove your tongue down my throat, that seems pretty one-on-one.”

He sighed, trying to act like he wasn’t blushing right now. “We’ll put in extra focus on your training to make it worth it, I promise.”

“How? Are we going to do a Rocky montage together?”

“I don’t think we have any steps that are quite as impressive as that around here.”

“Ugh.”

“If you want, we can… look into getting you a gym membership for the winter.”

“At your gym?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you didn’t want me to go there with you.”

“Well… we can figure out the details.”

“Really? You’re not joking?”

“Why would I be joking?”

“I don’t know.”

“This’ll be good, Carol. You’ll be in better shape than all of them when track starts again.”

“I guess.”

“It’s for the best. Trust me.”

She sighed, defeated. She couldn’t argue with his logic—getting rides to his house would be risky, not to mention awkward.

Still, she fought not to show how disappointed she was. After all, he was now offering to let her go to his gym. It wouldn’t be the same as hanging out with her teammates, but she didn’t want to appear ungrateful, not after everything he had done for her. And it was almost like they were a real couple, getting gym memberships together and stuff. This could be a good thing.

“You said your gym has a pool, right?” she said, trying to sound unphased by her disappointment.

“Yes, it does.”

“Will I be able to use it?”

“If you want to.”

“Cool.”

After a moment of pause, he said, “I didn’t know you liked swimming.”

She shrugged. “It kinda makes me feel like I’m flying.”

He smiled. “You’re a very interesting girl, Carol Danvers.”

“So are you, Yon Rogg.” She paused. “I mean, you’re not an interesting girl. You’re an interesting man. I mean, I’m sure you’d be interesting if you were a girl, too.”

He rolled his eyes at her, still smiling. She liked when she could make him smile like that; sometimes she pretended she was the only person who could do that. For a brief moment, she imagined that he might try to lean closer and kiss her now, but he didn’t. He just looked back at his dinner plate. She sighed.

The disappointment at not being able to train with her teammates still stung. She was a little worried about telling them she couldn’t go this year—it was always embarrassing to tell people that her parents wouldn’t allow her to do something. Her parents hadn’t told her she couldn’t do this, true, but that’s what she’d have to tell everyone.

For a second, she caught herself thinking that if she still lived with her parents, she’d be able to go, and quickly shoved that thought out of her mind. Her parents kicked her out because they didn’t want her anymore. But, then, maybe if she had lived with Attlass she’d be able to go…

A little flustered, she shoved that thought away too. She shouldn’t be thinking about what she would be doing living with the people that didn’t want her around. Yon wanted her around and he had done so much more for her than anyone else. She didn’t want to be ungrateful.

Even though he wasn’t going to let her train with her teammates this winter, he was still providing her with everything she needed and more. She barely felt like she had any right to be disappointed about this one thing. She’d have to find a way to get over it.

 


 

Yon knew he shouldn’t have told Carol he would get her a gym membership, but he could tell she was much more upset than she let on about missing out on meeting with her teammates. He didn’t want to be the source of her disappointment, not after everything she had been put through this year, so the gym felt like a sort of compromise. Letting her use his gym might not even be that bad if they walked in and out of the building separately.

He briefly wondered if he would have been more willing to let her join her teammates if they hadn’t started their… affair? He wasn’t sure exactly what to call what they were doing. “Affair” felt like the most accurate term, but it also felt entirely wrong. Perhaps that feeling was appropriate, since what they were doing was wrong.

The lines were beginning to blur between his physical relationship with her and his more parental responsibilities to her. He couldn’t see himself as a father figure anymore, he hadn’t been able to do that for a while, but he still held all those same responsibilities.

Sometimes he wondered about her actual parents. Would they care about where their daughter was living if they knew what was happening? Would they want her back? Would Carol be better off with him or with them?

He tried not to let himself contemplate the answers to those questions for too long. He still thought that living with him had to be better than living with her parents. Carol had to endure years of blatant neglect and abuse from them. He had given her an environment to live in that was leagues better than where she had come from, and he really did care for her. Just because he was acting on his physical attraction to her didn’t mean that he had just stopped caring for her.

If—and to him this felt like a big if—they were still involved when she got older, maybe then their relationship dynamic would find a way to even out and become something resembling normalcy. But, for the time being, it would be impossible for him to relinquish any of his responsibilities. And that included making her keep a safe distance from situations that might threaten their living arrangement.

She probably wasn’t even going to miss spending time with teammates that she didn’t consider friends anyway, but he would make it up to her. He already promised the gym membership, but if she still seemed upset, then he might consider buying her some new workout clothes as well. It couldn’t hurt.

 


 

The rest of the fall semester went on in a strange, dragging blur for Carol. Without track, there wasn’t much to look forward to. She went to school, went back home, did her homework, and did it all again. Even Thanksgiving passed by in an odd, unceremonious blip that catapulted her into the forced cheeriness of the Christmas season.

As promised, however, Yon put extra focus into her training. He kept her on the same schedule she had gotten used to with cross country, only now she felt much more supervised. Normally she’d go jogging on her own time around the neighborhood, but now he timed her. And he’d oversee her stretches and her work out before each run, just like he would during the season, except now it was just them. He praised her when she was doing something right, but he was also quick to point out when she wasn’t meeting his standards. She was constantly pushing herself, maybe even more than she would during actual track.

And, true to his word, he did get her a gym membership. They’d go a few times a week, but they wouldn’t actually walk in and out of the gym together. But he still planned out for her ahead of time what she should be doing while at the gym. When she was done doing the routine he had planned for her, she’d spend the last half hour of her gym time swimming. She loved the sensation of floating and gliding through the water—it was the freest she felt every week and maybe the only thing she actually looked forward to.

Once he had got her the gym membership, Yon also started buying her more things, which felt weird at first, but he just said they were all early Christmas presents. At first he got her new workout clothes and running shoes to help with their new training routine. He also got her a Spotify subscription to make her runs and workouts more fun. But then he bought her a really nice new winter coat too. He said her old coat was useless, which she wasn’t so sure about, but the new coat was so nice that she didn’t mind when he suggested that they donate her old one.

He actually had her go through a lot of her old clothes and donate the ones she didn’t want, then he let her get basically an all new wardrobe. He always commented if he saw her wearing her old clothes now, so she ended up mostly wearing her new ones. She didn’t think she minded, because getting to wear new things instead of the same old t-shirts she’d been wearing for years was kinda nice.

And making out with Yon when he wasn’t in coach mode was also still kinda nice. They didn’t really do it every single day or anything like that—they were still “trying” to take things slow—but every time they did, she felt like things were getting more intense. She had kinda accidentally felt him get hard once, and for some reason that was really embarrassing. She had tried to act chill, and he was really calm about it, but making out made her more nervous now. Not because she was scared of penises or anything, she just felt really unsure about all things sexual.

She always imagined she’d be in love with the person she had her first time with and she thought she was in love with Yon, even though she hadn’t said anything to him about it, but how could she not be? If she was in love with him, then she didn’t know why the idea of going further with him made her so nervous.

 


 

Carol sat on the couch one Saturday evening after dinner. Yon didn’t have her scheduled to do any training today, and she needed a break from studying for finals, so she was flipping through the channels until she found a suitably cheesy Christmas movie. Winter break was only a week away, and even though the approaching holiday made her feel a little off this year, she was still trying to grab onto a bit of everyone else’s generic holiday cheer. Watching Christmas movies was one way she could tap into that semblance of normalcy.

Yon eventually joined her on the couch and it didn’t take long before she wasn’t watching tv anymore—warm Christmas cheer replaced by a different heated sensation. She didn’t mind the distraction, though; she was so into it that she barely noticed his hand inside her shirt. That wasn’t a new move at this point, but she still gasped when she felt his hand on her breast.

“Are you okay?” he asked, loosening his grip on her.

“Yeah… yeah… I’m fine,” she said, and then kept kissing him.

His hands slid to her back and she felt him unhooking her bra.

His mouth was on her neck and then he spoke into her ear, “Can I take your shirt off?”

That was new. She shivered and nodded, then realized that he wasn’t actually looking at her face, so she said, “Yes.”

He took the bottom edge of her shirt, started pulling it up, and she lifted her arms up over her head. She watched as he set her shirt and bra to the side. His eyes lingered over her half naked body and she wanted to cover her chest, but she didn’t. She could be brave and mature.

He looked her in the eyes and said, “You’re so beautiful.”

Then he started kissing her body and she really had no idea what she should be doing anymore. She liked how it felt and she liked that he wanted to be with her, but it started to sink in that she was actually half naked with him and he was on top of her. But he was still fully clothed. Was she supposed to ask him to take off his shirt, too? She didn’t know when to ask that. He kept kissing her and then she was pressed between him and the couch, his hands travelling down her body.

Briefly his hand went between her legs, then he moved it away, then back, then away again. The small involuntary gasp that came from her seemed to help his hand make up its mind and press resolutely between her legs. Her head was spinning, but still she found herself pushing her hips against his hand and he pushed against her with more purpose. His hand slid under the waistband of her sweatpants, still over her underwear, but she was a hundred times dizzier than she had been before.

Should she have known this was coming? Should she have shaved her legs? She hadn’t shaved this week yet. Her pants were still on, so maybe it didn’t even matter if she had shaved or not.

But what if he asked if he could take her pants off? She’d probably say yes and then—oh fuck, now his fingers were pushing aside her underwear and he was actually touching her.

“Is this okay?” he asked.

“Mmhmm.”

It felt good, but it was kinda overwhelming.

The longer he kept touching her, though, the less good she felt about it. She didn’t know if he was expecting her to do the same thing back to him and she was getting too embarrassed to ask. The heated, melting sensation in her abdomen started giving way to something colder.

“Carol,” he said, as if he could sense this change in her, “are you alright?”

“Yes,” she said. “I just… you’ve never… you’ve never done this to me before.”

“We don’t have to do anything, Carol.”

“But I… want to.”

He sighed, taking his hands off her and sitting up. She watched his shoulders slack as he let out another sigh, and then he shook his head and ran a hand over his hair. For a second he rested his hand on his knee, tapping his fingertips against it. Her stomach started feeling a little twisted as she watched him, as if she were waiting for him to give her some kind of lecture. And she felt really weird just sitting there with no shirt on.

Then he straightened his posture and turned to her. Her heartbeat raced as he leaned towards her again, but he was just reaching behind her for a blanket, putting it over her shoulders. Suppressing a sigh of relief, she pulled the edges of the blanket together across her chest. Despite the feeling of safety the blanket brought, she still felt exposed.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asked.

“No, of course not, Carol. It’s just… we’re not taking things slow.”

She was silent. Even though she had been scared about letting things get further with him, she was embarrassed that they stopped because of her. Not being ready just made her look like a childish idiot, and she didn’t want him to see her like that.

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” she finally said.

“I know you’re not,” he said.

“Then why can’t we—”

“You’re too young to really understand.”

Hearing those words hit her like a blow to the chest.

She tried to hold her tongue, but failed and blurted, “You know you sound really condescending right now.”

“Carol…”

“You can’t sit there and tell me what I do or don’t understand or how I’m going to feel about something. What about what I’m feeling right now? Does that matter?”

“Not as much as you think it does.”

She hadn’t expected that answer from him. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You can’t be emotional about this. Being emotional is what will turn this into a bigger problem than it is.”

“So I’m just a problem now?”

“That’s not what I said. The situation is the problem. You’re not the problem.”

“Yeah, but we wouldn’t be in this situation if I didn’t live with you, right?”

“I don’t know, Carol.”

“Well, I know. If I hadn’t agreed to move in with you then I wouldn’t be here right now and you wouldn’t have any problems.”

“I did not say that and that is not what I meant.”

“Well, I have no idea what you meant.” She shook her head. “You keep saying that we can’t do this, and then you go and do it again. I don’t know what you really want.”

He paused for a long moment. “I just want you to be happy.”

Bullshit, Carol thought, barely holding herself back from actually saying it.

Perhaps she would have said it out loud if she could actually tell if it was bullshit or not. He had done so much for her, and she was happier here with him than she had been with her parents, but as things kept getting more physical with him, everything around her was becoming more confusing—she had no way of knowing what his intentions were with her, not when he said one thing and did the opposite.

Carol stared at him now, her body burning and her head pounding. She felt increasingly embarrassed sitting there half naked in front of him, clinging to the blanket wrapped around her. She wanted to put her clothes back on but she didn’t want to do it in front of him.

“You should get dressed,” he suddenly said, as if he were reading her mind.

Then he stood up and walked towards the kitchen. She glanced at him over her shoulder. He was keeping his back to her, but she still felt weird about exposing herself again, so she picked up her shirt and bra, gripped the blanket tighter across herself, and headed up to her room.

In the privacy of her room, she realized her hands were shaking. She didn’t know exactly why, though. She felt so many things, it was like someone had unleashed the butterflies from her stomach and they were fluttering around her head, making it impossible for her to actually see anything clearly. She wasn’t even sure butterflies was the right word anymore; this felt more painful, like maybe she had struck a hornet’s nest.

But as she redressed, she suddenly noticed one thing for certain: She was noticeably wet.

She told herself not to be embarrassed, because he had been touching her on purpose and it wasn’t like he was a virgin, so he probably expected this to happen. And it wasn’t like she had never touched herself before or as if she lived under a rock and didn’t understand that this was what happened when girls were turned on. But she had never been that turned on with someone else before, at least not while being touched. And that, along with the way the entire interaction had ended, made her dizzy.

For a second she worried that she had been too turned on and that maybe he stopped because of that. But she already knew they had stopped and argued because of her hesitation, and that ate at her. She felt a little ashamed that she hadn’t been ready. And the fact that he had seen her without a shirt and had had his hand between her legs made her start feeling a whole new and unexpected kind of embarrassment—it was practically unbearable. So much for being mature.

 


 

Yon knew he had to tread carefully with Carol, and part of that was making sure that she wasn’t actually upset about anything. He couldn’t ignore how relieved she had looked when he wrapped the blanket around her, how she had clung to it—he had almost forgotten how insecure he was in his own body at her age. He had years to get comfortable with that side of himself, but she was just beginning.

Everything that was happening between them was new to her, and he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. He tried not to linger over the fact that he had seventeen years of experience over her—her entire lifetime so far.

But the fact that she was having all of her reactions for the first time with him made being with her increasingly, frustratingly irresistible. This wasn’t just another sexual experience for her—this was defining her sexual experiences.

He knew he was being selfish. But he did care for her. He really did care about her more than anyone else, just not quite romantically. Even in their physical moments, he was thinking about her, trying to make the experiences enjoyable for her. She wasn’t going to get that kind of attention from anyone her age. If she were dating some oblivious teenager right now, he doubted they would be able to handle all of her complexities or to even truly care about her like he could.

But he couldn’t let himself forget that she might be having a hard time internalizing this. However much she wanted to be with him, they both knew this situation wasn’t normal. If he was having a hard time processing this, he wasn’t sure how she would be holding up. He thought she was fine, for the most part, but he also knew how well she could hide when she wanted to.

With that on his mind, he decided he had to talk to her before either of them went to bed. He couldn’t leave her to simmer alone in her room all night after what had just happened, so he went purposefully upstairs.

Taking a breath, he knocked on her door. He realized then that he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to say, but then there came an uncertain, “Come in.”

He opened the door to see her sitting crossed legged on her bed, an open textbook sitting next to her. He was almost certain that the textbook had been opened just for show when he knocked, but he wasn’t going to bother pressing her on that.

“I just wanted to check on you,” he said.

“Well… check,” she used her pointer finger to make a checkmark in the air. “I’m still here.”

“I see that.”

“Is that all you wanted?”

He sighed. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry if I said anything that hurt you.”

She scoffed, then seemed to catch herself.

“I want you to know that I’m not upset with you,” he said. “I know we argued, but I’m not upset.”

“Okay.”

She wasn’t looking at him and a strange pang of guilt struck him.

After mulling on that pang for a second, he said, “You understand that you’re still safe here, right?”

She looked at him then. “Why wouldn’t I be safe?”

“I know you had a lot of trouble with your parents, and I don’t want you to feel that way with me.”

She was silent, her fingers fidgeting with the comforter. He could practically feel the pressure from the storm of thoughts and emotions brewing inside her. She tried to tuck her feet even further under her criss crossed legs and she ran one of her hands up to the opposite shoulder, as if she were hiding herself from him.

“I don’t want you to feel ashamed about what happened between us,” he said.

“I’m not,” she instantly came off as defensive, hinting that his instincts were right.

“I know we’re in a complicated situation,” he said, “and I know a lot of this is new for you, but you know you can talk to me about anything, right? If you’re ever uncomfortable, you can talk to me.”

“I’m not uncomfortable.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Are you uncomfortable?”

“No.”

“Okay then.”

He didn’t want to keep pushing her on this, but he still said, “We do need to take things slower, though.”

She rolled her eyes. “You keep saying that, but you’re the one asking me to take off my clothes and shoving your hand down my pants. I’m just going along with it.”

“You go along pretty enthusiastically, Carol.”

Her face flushed red and she stared down at the open book next to her. Her shoulders tensed a little as she said, “Well, I never said I didn’t like it.”

“I know,” he said, “which is why we just need to try harder to take things slower in the future. And if you’re ever uncomfortable, you need to tell me.”

“I know.”

He smiled at her, and when she smiled back, he tried not to acknowledge the slight urge to reach for her. Carol had just pointed out the contradiction in his words versus his actions, and he wasn’t about to provide more fuel for her apparent confusion. But part of him already knew that the conviction wasn’t going to last for long.

Chapter Text

There were only a couple days until Christmas and its approach couldn’t have felt more like a wet blanket. Carol was trying to look forward to a low-key celebration with Yon and she knew he was going to attempt to make the day special, but she still felt so disconnected from it. Despite having already spent Thanksgiving with him, celebrating Christmas with him felt even more foreign. She was pretty sure it would end up being fine and she would have a nice holiday with him, but she couldn’t stop herself from wondering what her family would be doing right now.

Her holidays with her family had been far from the picture-perfect Hallmark movies that Carol had been mindlessly watching, but her memories weren’t entirely bad. Her dad’s unpredictable personality had ruined Christmas more than once, but most years he was pretty placated. Even if he did do anything upsetting, her brother was always there to suffer with her in solidarity.

She wasn’t super close to Steve since he had gone to college, but there was a growing ache in her chest that missed him right now. She missed him and she missed feeling like her parents wanted her around and she missed having friends to text and hang out with over winter break. She wanted the comfort of everything that was familiar back. And she wanted someone to miss her too. Even her evolving relationship with Yon wasn’t relieving that ache.

The closer the holiday came, the more her chest ached. As she got ready for bed now, she gave in to that aching, taking out her phone to text her brother. She sent him a simple, “Hey” and was surprised at how quickly her phone lit up with his response.

Steve: Hey

Carol: How are you?

Steve: Alright. You?

Carol: Fine. Are you coming home for Christmas?

Steve: Yeah, I’m home right now

Carol: Oh, that’s cool

Carol: Did mom and dad say anything about me?

Steve: Not really

Carol: Do you think they want me to come home at all?

Steve: I don’t think that would be a good idea

Carol: Why?

Steve: Dad doesn’t really seem to want you here…

Carol: I thought you said they didn’t say anything about me

Steve: I didn’t want to say anything… but dad is still pretty mad

Carol: What about mom?

Steve: You know how she is

Steve: But if you came home I think you would regret it. I’m not even going to stay here long, probably leaving right after Christmas.

Carol: Can I see you?

Steve: I don’t know when

Carol: Anytime

Steve: I have a lot going on. I’ll let you know.

Carol: Glad to know how important I am to you

Steve: I said I’d let you know. I’m just busy right now.

Carol: Of course you are

Steve: Seriously? You’re going to act like this right now?

Carol: I’m not acting like anything

Steve: This is why you coming home wouldn’t be a good idea. No one wants to argue with you.

Carol: Because I’m the one that starts all the arguments?

Steve: You don’t always have to act like a victim

Carol: I don’t

Steve: If you say so

Carol: Whatever. Enjoy your life as an only child.

Carol stared at the messages on her phone and felt her eyes stinging. That conversation hadn’t been at all what she intended to happen, but part of her felt like she should’ve known better. And even though she was furious at her brother, her sadness was heavier.

She squeezed her eyes shut against the forming tears, but they escaped anyway. Wiping the tears away, she put her phone face down onto her nightstand. Then there was a knock on her door.

“Come in,” she said, quickly wiping away more tears as Yon opened the door.

“I just wanted to say goodnight and—are you crying?”

“No.”

“Carol… what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“You can talk to me about anything.”

She sighed, eyed her phone, then looked at Yon. “I messaged my brother.”

“About what?”

“I asked if they wanted to see me for Christmas and he said no.”

Yon stood motionless in the doorway, his somber expression taking her in. “Did he say anything else?”

“He just said that my dad is still mad at me and I would regret it if I came back home because he thinks I’ll just start an argument. And I asked if I could see just him and he basically said no.”

Saying the words out loud made Carol feel suddenly more emotional, and she bit her lip to stop it from quivering. Yon stepped closer to her, but she couldn’t look at him.

“Not getting to see your family right now must feel incredibly painful,” he said, sitting down next to her.

“I don’t want to miss them because of some stupid holiday, though. I was fine for Thanksgiving, so this should be fine too.”

“You’ll get through it, Carol. And you’re not alone. I’m here.”

“I don’t know…” She took a deep breath “You’re here now, but…”

“But what?”

“No one really wants me.”

“That’s not true,” he said, softly. She flinched slightly as his fingers unexpectedly touched her cheek, wiping away a final tear with his thumb, then he traced his fingers up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “I want you here, Carol.”

“No you don’t.” Her body tingled, rooted at the spot where he had touched her, but her gut was still sunk with the weight of rejection.

“I do, Carol.” He touched her again, uselessly retucking her hair behind her ear. She looked at him and he stroked her cheek.

“You’re saying that now,” she said, “but then you’re just going to change your mind and tell me that everything is a mistake. You think me being here is a mistake.”

“No, I don’t think that.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I’ve never thought you being here is a mistake. Not once. I’m glad you’re here and I want you here.”

She gazed at him, hopelessly drawn to the way he was looking at her and touching her and speaking to her.

“I lo—” she sighed. “You’re better than anyone I know. I really never… I’ve never liked someone the way I like you.”

“I like you too, Carol.”

“No, you don’t understand…”

“Understand what?”

“No one’s ever treated me like you do and I… I don’t know… I just, I don’t want you to leave me too.”

“I’m not going to.” Again with the useless tucking of hair behind her ear, but this time he kept his hand at the back of her head. She leaned towards him.

“Can you… will you touch me right now?” she asked.

“Carol…” He leaned towards her, but then drew back, sighing. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“You’ve never hurt me, though. You’re the only person I trust.”

“Carol…” He stroked her cheek. “If you only knew how badly I want to give you what you want, but—”

“I know we’re supposed to take things slow, but I just… I like you so much and I wish I was someone else so I could be with you.”

“You don’t have to be someone else, Carol. You’re the most… you’re everything anyone could ever want.”

“So can you just hold me for a bit or just kiss me? That’s all I want.”

“I don’t know if that’s what’s best right now…”

She fought against the lump in her throat. “Do you actually want me?”

“Carol,” he brought his other hand up and cupped her face, “I do want you. You can’t even imagine how much I want you.”

She could feel her heart beating as she held his gaze. He seemed almost sad and it took her breath away how beautiful the emotion was on him. When he parted his lips, her body started to shake. She realized she was holding her breath, and when she opened her mouth to breathe, he suddenly pulled her towards him and kissed her, not allowing her to breathe but still filling her with momentary relief.

His hands moved to her waist and pulled her towards him and she sighed at the feeling of his body against hers. She was filled with a dizzying reassurance of his want for her—she didn’t want to lose that feeling.

Picking up the momentum of their contact, she guided his hands underneath her shirt and unhooked her own bra.

“Carol,” he spoke against her mouth. “We can’t do this again. Not right now.”

“Please,” she said. “I want to do this.”

She kept kissing him and pressing his hands harder against her chest, as if doing so would keep him from abandoning her. There was a moment of hesitation from him, but then his hands wandered over her body of their own free will. It didn’t take long for her to be swept up in his urgency.

“Do you know how much I want you?” he said to her, laying her back. She let him take her shirt off, and she closed her eyes and shivered as his mouth traveled down her body. His breath was warm against her skin as he said, “You’re so beautiful.”

Despite her eagerness to be with him, a persistent anxiety beat within her. She didn’t understand why the hornets were back in her stomach as his mouth reached her hips. He pulled her pajama pants down, taking them off and dropping them to the floor. Her breathing faltered then quickened at the sight of him taking his own shirt off. Seeing him like this was a turn on, but she was so nervous.

“Are you okay?” his voice was soft and his hands were on her thighs and she pretended not to care that she was naked.

“Never better,” her voice was breathless and she couldn’t tell if it was from the rush his touch filled her with or if it was anxiety latching onto her vocal chords.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he spoke so reassuringly and gently, she couldn’t imagine herself saying no to that voice.

“Yes, yes I’m sure.”

He kissed her inner thigh and her heart thudded in her chest and he asked, “Is this okay?”

She thought he was going down on her—why else would his face be right there? He was basically staring at the most private part of her body, which wasn’t exactly bikini ready right now, but it clearly wasn’t phasing him. She kinda thought they would just stick to some standard penis and vagina action for the first time, but he actually knew what he was doing, so maybe this would be fine. Whatever they were going to do, though, she was intimidated by how much she didn’t know.

“Yes, that’s okay,” she finally said.

Please just be mature about this, she begged herself.

But then she started laughing and couldn’t stop. She didn’t know if it was because she was so fucking nervous or because what he was doing actually kinda tickled a lot or if just the concept of his head actually being between her legs was insane. Either way, she had to take a moment to calm herself down.

“Are you alright?” he asked as she started laughing again.

“Uh-huh, yeah I’m fine.”

“I don’t have to keep doing this if you don’t want me to.”

“No, no, it’s fine. It just tickles.”

“You’re sure that’s all?”

“Yeah, yeah, keep going or… yeah, whatever, just don’t stop.”

“Okay, then just try to breathe,” he said against her thigh, taking her hand and giving it a reaffirming squeeze. “Just breathe and relax.”

She focused on her breathing and soon her giggle fit seemed to subside. But fuck, she was still nervous. But she couldn’t tell him. If she told him she was scared then she would just seem immature and he would look at her like she was a kid and she would feel like an idiot. That couldn’t happen.

She didn’t want him to leave her feeling frustrated and incomplete and alone. She didn’t want to have another conversation with him about how they shouldn’t be doing this, only to find themselves once again doing exactly what they weren’t supposed to be doing. She just wanted to have finally done this with him, and since he wasn’t stopping them right now, she wasn’t going to ruin it.

“Do you like this?” he kept asking, or at least some variation of that.

All she could get herself to say back was, “Mmhmm.”

But in her head, she kept repeating like a mantra: This is exactly what I wanted to happen, calm down. This is okay.

Eventually the mantra was silenced as the feeling of him outweighed her incomprehensible anxiety and she was able to momentarily lose herself to all the physical sensations.

He brought himself up to her and kissed her. Which was weird. His mouth was just… Whatever. She was trying not to think about it. Plus they weren’t exactly slowing down; she didn’t have time to think about it. She was still breathless, but as she caught her breath a bit, more anxieties started catching up to her too.

“Should we…” she spoke, feeling small against her insecurity. “Should we use, you know… something? I mean, if we’re actually doing this, shouldn’t we use… protection?”

“Don’t worry,” he said, giving her another kiss as he pushed himself off of her, standing up. “Stay there. I’ll be right back.”

He was gone for less than a minute, but she didn’t know what to do with herself in that time. Should she sit up or change position? What was a sexy position to sit up in? She didn’t know how to feel sexy when she was naked, she just felt exposed and, honestly, a little cold.

He was back in the room before she could formulate an answer to anything in her head. A condom from his nightstand was in his hand and the sight of it struck a much more tangible form of anxiety into her gut: she was actually going to have sex with him right now.

Despite how she was really feeling, she found herself laughing again.

“What’s funny?” he asked, coming back down to the bed with her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “You look like a Trojan commercial.”

“A Trojan commercial?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. You’re still really hot, though. I’d still tap that.” She groaned. “Just ignore me.”

He gave her a look—that amused smile that she felt belonged to her—then kissed her again, slightly easing her worries with the tenderness of it. Then things started heating up again.

She wanted to be into it; she liked what he was doing to her and her body was responding more eagerly than perhaps her mind was. But still she felt a little stiff and unsure and it seemed like he could tell, because he kept reassuring her and caressing her in the softest ways.

His reassurances actually soothed her, and she started once again losing herself to the moment. She liked being held by him and she liked that he was who she was doing this with. No one had ever cared for her like him, and she had always cared about him—she couldn’t believe that her unrealistic crush had become… this.

Everything about this was surreal. When she wasn’t feeling her anxiety, she felt really lucky to have her first time be with someone that cared about her so much and who meant so much to her.

When she really felt like this was the closest she could ever be to anyone, she heard herself say, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” the words left him in warm vibrations against her skin, elating her.

The fleeting intensity of that moment was almost enough to make her weep; instead she smiled. She couldn’t believe she had been scared to have him with her like this. He loved her. He loved her, he loved her, he loved her.

Everything was going to be fine, because he loved her.

 


 

“How are you feeling?” Yon asked, facing her as they lied together in her bed. She was on her back, focusing on the ceiling, his hand on her arm and his legs touching hers. Her head was spinning.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“Just fine?”

She glanced at him and he gave her a look that made her blush. She squirmed a little as he started to lightly trace his fingertips over her stomach. Her heart was fluttering.

“Did you mean it?” she practically whispered.

“Mean what?”

“That you love me?”

He tilted her face towards his and kissed her. Then he pressed his forehead against hers and said, “Of course I meant it.”

She felt a little squirmy again, like she was going to explode out of her skin from how good hearing him say that made her feel. She wriggled her body to face him. He wrapped his arms around her and she bit her lip to try to contain herself.

“I meant it too,” she said.

He kissed her again, pulling her closer to him. God, she couldn’t believe that he really loved her. They loved each other. This was crazy. All she had wanted in her wildest dreams was for him to say that he loved her, and now he had. There was no way her life could be this amazing.

So why was there still an anxious pit in her stomach? Particularly right now, she still couldn’t fight how weird being naked with him felt. They were both literally butt naked and sweaty, and she was pressed up as close as she could possibly get to him. Damn it, Carol. She just had sex with him, so why did she still have to feel so overwhelmed by being naked?

“Are you okay?” he asked. “You feel a little tense.”

“Mmhmm, I’m fine.”

But suddenly the twin bed they were in started feeling even smaller and his body heat was too warm and the sheets underneath her were damp and she was just really sweaty and smelly.

“Are you sure you’re fine?” he pressed.

“I…” She didn’t want to say it, but she did, “I feel gross.”

“You feel gross?”

“Yeah… I don’t know…”

“Do you want to take a shower?”

“Maybe…”

“It’s probably a good idea.”

“Yeah… I think I want to take a shower.”

She wasn’t sure exactly how to detangle herself from him, she felt a little frozen and self-conscious. But, to her relief, he started to move first, loosening the embrace. As she sat up, she draped her feet off the side of the bed, pressing her legs tightly together, and hugged her arms over her chest. She looked down at the floor and suddenly started blushing again: the torn condom wrapper was right at her feet.

She hadn’t known where to look when he had put the condom on; was she supposed to be just watching him put it on his dick or was she supposed to look at his face or should she just pretend that it wasn’t happening at all?

The awkwardness from that moment was trying to push back into her. From the corner of her eye she could see Yon was standing from the bed, and she still wasn’t really sure if she should be looking at him or not. He was pulling his sweatpants back on, and, once again, it felt so surreal that she had fantasized so often about being with him like this. And now here she was and she was feeling just as immature as ever.

When he faced her now, she felt her entire body flushing. And oh god, now he could actually see that her entire body was turning red. She really just wanted to put her pajamas back on, but they weren’t within arm’s reach and she felt like she couldn’t get herself to move, not when he was looking at her.

But then he picked up her clothes for her and handed them to her. Why was he always so good at reading her mind? She didn’t even know what was going on in her own fucking head half the time.

“Thank you,” she mumbled.

Trying to keep her arms as close to her body as possible, she started putting her top back on. Yon picked up the condom wrapper, and as he turned to toss it into her trash bin, she stood and pulled her pajama pants on. From this angle, she could also see the used condom in the trash.

All of the anxiety she had tried to ignore while she was caught up with him seemed to be fighting its way back into her brain. She had actually just lost her virginity to him. To Yon. To her high school track coach. If anyone found out, they were going to be in so much shit and—

“Carol, is everything okay?”

“Mmhmm, yeah, everything’s fine.” She had to avert her eyes from him.

“You’re being awfully quiet.”

“I… I think I’m just tired?”

“You don’t sound so sure about that…”

He was standing right in front of her now, reaching out to gently touch her arm. She eyed the clock on her nightstand and realized it was actually a lot later than she expected.

“I’m just tired… just, like, suddenly really tired.”

“Okay… are you sure that’s all?”

“Yep. Yep, I’m just tired and… I need to shower.”

His hand was still on her arm, lightly stroking up and down. It probably would have been more comforting if those stupid hornets weren’t starting to buzz through her entire body. She wanted to look at him, but her face seemed to just burn more every time they made eye contact.

Then he gripped her arm, gently but firmly.

“I need you to know,” he said, “that I have no intentions of leaving you. You don’t have to worry about that. I still want you here. I do love you, Carol.”

She forced herself to look at him, to just stop being so fucking weird and not stress out about who-the-fuck-knew what. He looked exactly the same as he had before. Everything was the same except for the nauseating twinge spreading from her stomach and she couldn’t ignore it as easily as she had while he was on top of her. But she would try.

“I love you, too,” she said, meaning it.

 


 

Yon knew their first time would be awkward—the first time with anyone was always somewhat awkward. But this had been her first time. He was forward thinking enough to know that virginity was a social construct, but that didn’t make having sex for the first time any less impactful, especially for a teenager.

He had tried to make the experience more about her, and it was obvious she had enjoyed herself, but when they were redressing, he had sensed a change in her. She seemed almost frozen. She hadn’t been able to look at him, so he gave her space because he didn’t know what else to do.

Something had unsettled her, but, especially since this was her first time, it could have been anything. Should he have asked her if she had concerns before they had sex? As if a sex education lecture wouldn’t have ruined the moment. He cringed as it suddenly occured to him that he really had no idea how much Carol actually knew about sex beyond what he had done with her. What if she really hadn’t been ready? The feeling that this had been a mistake coiled his gut.

There were a few moments when he had almost stopped. When she had pressed his hands against her chest, he thought he could push her away, but he hadn’t. There was a second when he was pulling down her pants and again when he was taking off his shirt that he told himself to stop. Instead he found himself asking her if she was sure about this and he knew she would say yes and he would use her consent to ease his mind.

And of course when he had left the room to get a condom, he knew that was the perfect opportunity to stand back and take a sobering look at what he was actually about to do—he was about to have sex with one of his students, with a seventeen-year-old girl. But as soon as the condom was in his hand, he knew he would go through with it.

Now it was done, he didn’t know if it was worth it. He had enjoyed himself with her, yes, but he regretted not taking the moment to reflect when he had left to get the condom. But he could never let her know that. If she thought he was second-guessing things, then she would become even more insecure and nothing good could come from her feeling like he had knowingly wronged her.

And also, despite his regret, he was still filled with some kind of love for her—not quite the romantic love he had perhaps expressed, but still significant. Maybe it was wrong to tell her that he loved her and let her believe that he actually loved her in the way she had no doubt taken it for.

He hadn’t said it to hurt her, though, he reasoned. He never tried to intentionally hurt her. She had no reason not to keep trusting him. What had happened wasn’t necessarily right, but she said she loved him. Even though he thought girls her age couldn’t possibly mean anything they said—not when it came to the kind of love Carol thought she was talking about—he still recognized that her saying that meant she at least felt safe with him. And if saying it back could reinforce that safety, so be it.

He hoped by the morning she would feel better. Maybe taking a shower and going to bed would be exactly what she needed to process this and then things would go back to… a new normal for the remainder of her time living here.

It was bizarre to think that she had been officially living with him for almost three months and they were already having sex. Graduation was still about five months away. He never would have predicted this and he had no idea what to imagine “normal” would look like for the next five months.

It might even be more than five months. It wasn’t as if she was going to turn eighteen and graduate and suddenly have the means to support herself. She’d most likely be staying with him the entire summer, so that added roughly another three months. So they had eight more months together in total. And if she needed a place to come home to on school holidays, she’d be coming back to him. So eight months plus whatever the hell was going to happen after that.

He was sitting on the edge of his bed, tapping his fingers against his knee as he listened to her shower running. He couldn’t get a handle on his spiraling thoughts, so he stood up and went to the hall closet, grabbing the extra set of sheets for Carol’s bed. He went into her room, pulled off the dirty sheets and replaced them with the clean ones, moving quickly so he wouldn’t still be in there when she was done showering. Bunching up the dirty sheets in his arms, he went downstairs to the washing machine, not sure why he hadn’t thought to do this right away.

As he went back upstairs, he could still hear her shower running. She didn’t usually take showers for this long. That guilty coiling in his gut constricted even tighter as he walked past her bathroom door. He hesitated by it for a second, listening to the splashing water behind the door.

He had decided to give her space tonight, but he wasn’t sure if that was actually the right thing to do. They were both uncomfortable, but he was uncertain if the space would make her discomfort find relief or give it room to grow. The risk in that was something he couldn’t afford anymore.

 


 

Taking a shower hadn’t really made Carol feel any less gross. Getting all of the sweat and other filthiness off of her body made her feel physically clean, but she still felt so weird. Despite how much she loved Yon, her mind was reeling, taking off the sugar coating and continuously throwing the harsh fact in her face: She was a senior in high school and she just lost her virginity to her thirty-four-year-old track coach.

If anyone ever found out about it… She had to take a deep breath as she thought about that. He might go to jail and no one would ever look at her the same again. Even if no one ever did find out, she didn’t know if she’d be able to look at herself the same again.

She couldn’t fully believe that they had sex tonight. He had seen her naked and heard her make embarrassing sounds and probably saw her make weird faces. She saw him do all of that too. She felt like it shouldn’t be embarrassing, but it was.

And how was she supposed to look at him and not think about him having an orgasm on top of her? Wasn’t it supposed to make her feel sexy? She hadn’t really felt sexy when it happened. She felt like they were having two different experiences. They didn’t even finish together. Everything she had read about sex implied that maybe that wasn’t a realistic expectation, but it was still surprising when he came and she wasn’t really feeling anything other than awkward and sweaty.

But she had wanted to have sex with him so badly and she did like parts of it, it was just that everything leading up to it and during it hadn’t prepared her for the sickening sensation of falling she felt once the rush was gone. Was it like that for everyone? Would that feeling change when they had sex again? Or would she feel that way every time?

She wished that taking a shower would have washed away all of these intensely uncomfortable thoughts and feelings coursing through her, but it didn’t. She tried to shake the thoughts away by focusing on the fact that he said he loved her. He actually loved her. That had to mean more than how weird sex made her feel.

Maybe everyone’s first time just felt weird like this. Granted, most people’s first times probably weren’t with their high school track coach, but she couldn’t imagine the whole process feeling less awkward with anyone else. At least he loved her.

And she loved him, she really did. He was always so good to her and he had given her so much. It felt right to love him for that, it’s just that their special situation made everything so complicated. Hopefully someday things would be easier for them.

Maybe when she was in college, they could finally tell people that they were together. No one would ever be able to know that they started their relationship when she was still in high school, but they could think of something. They could act like they had ran into each other a couple years later, and realized that they actually had a lot in common and now that she was older, they had decided to give this thing a go.

And of course she pictured that they would still be together when she was in college. She wasn’t just going to stop loving him when she went away. And she didn’t think he’d tell her that he loved her unless he really meant it and actually saw some kind of future with her—he was older than her, so he had to be more certain about their future. She wasn’t sure what that future looked like yet, but they had to be together. He was everything to her. Even if she felt really strange right now, she couldn’t imagine him not being in her life after this.

Her head kept running through all of this in circles as she finished showering and got ready for bed. When she went back into her room, she paused at the sight of her bed. It was completely made up. Yon must have come in and done that. She pulled back the comforter to see that he had also changed the sheets. From the floor below, she could hear the rhythmic rumbling and humming of the laundry machine. Through the walls upstairs, she could hear his shower running too.

A hint of relief lightened her. She was glad she wouldn’t have to look at her gross, damp sheets or even have to consider lying back down in them. It was actually pretty nice of Yon to change them for her and she found herself smiling a little as she climbed into her bed. Lying down in clean sheets felt so good. God, she really was exhausted.

She had barely settled herself into a comfortable position on her side and was ready to turn off her bedside lamp, when a knock came on her door. She hadn’t even noticed that Yon’s shower had stopped running.

Her heart skipped a little, and she said, “Come in.”

Yon slowly pushed the door open. “I’m sorry, I know you’re tired.”

“That’s okay… I only just got in bed.”

“Well, I wanted to say goodnight. And I wanted to make sure you’re still okay.”

“I’m… fine.”

“You know, if you weren’t… you can tell me.”

“I know.”

He walked further into her room, then knelt down next to her bed, so he was level with her. She still felt weird looking at him, but couldn’t help but notice how good he smelled after his shower.

He spoke softly, “I need you to be honest with me.”

“Honest about what?”

“About everything. If you’re uncomfortable or concerned about anything, you need to talk to me. I want our relationship to work, and I can’t read your mind if something is troubling you.”

“Why would anything be troubling me?”

“You seem a little distant.”

“I’m just tired.”

“Are you sure that’s all?” His gaze fell on her in such a soft way, but she felt like it was piercing right through her. She pulled her comforter a little higher up to her neck.

“I don’t know… I just feel kinda weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know exactly.” She sighed. “I guess I just never thought that my first time would be like this—I mean, that it would be with you and everything.”

“Is that bad?”

“No… I’m glad it was you.”

His smile was warm, but she still had to cast her eyes from him.

She pulled her comforter to her chin, almost over her mouth, and in a hushed voice said, “I really love you.”

“I love you, too,” he said. He leaned in closer to her, kissing her forehead, and whispered, “I’ll let you get some rest now. We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Okay.”

He stood, going to the door. “Goodnight, Carol.”

“Goodnight.” She watched him walking away, then called after him, “Yon.”

He turned to her, “Yes?”

“Thanks for changing the sheets.”

“Of course. Sleep well.”

Chapter Text

Carol opened her eyes to see subtle gray light illuminating the edges of her curtains, and the glowing numbers on her alarm clock told her she had woken up far too early. She buried her face in her pillow, hoping sleep would take her back, but the events of last night replayed in her mind.

She had sex. She and Yon had sex. They had sex together. With each other. Last night.

Her stomach started to fill with that weird mix of butterflies and hornets and she knew she wasn’t going to be able to sleep anymore. She sat up in her bed and realized the various insects in her stomach weren’t the only things bothering her. Nothing had really hurt last night, but now her inner thighs and everything in between were just really fucking sore.

The pain wasn’t unbearable, but knowing that she was sore specifically from sex was weird. She felt almost embarrassed by it. Which was silly, because who the fuck was even going to know unless she told them? Absolutely no one. It wasn’t like she even had anyone to tell.

Once again, the fact that she had lost her virginity to her coach/teacher/guardian hit her in an uncomfortable way. But then she remembered the way he had come to say goodnight to her and how gently he told her that he loved her. The situation was pretty fucked up if she thought about it too much, but it couldn’t actually be wrong if they loved each other.

With a sigh, she picked up her phone from her nightstand, hoping that scrolling through her apps would be a distraction from all the complicated thoughts. But as soon as she unlocked her screen, she saw her text conversation with her brother from last night and it made her just as upset as it had originally.

She didn’t want to be upset, though—she just wanted to not care about her stupid family the same way they didn’t care about her. She had Yon and he loved her, so why wasn’t that making her feel any better?

Carol pushed aside her covers and stood up from the bed. She changed into her running clothes and pulled back her hair, determined not to let all of her useless emotions get the better of her.

Quietly, she opened her bedroom door and looked down the hall at Yon’s closed door. She didn’t know why, but right then it struck her as odd that they had slept in separate rooms. It hadn’t felt odd last night—it had just felt like the most normal thing to do. But right now it somehow made her feel like they weren’t actually together.

Shaking her head, she headed downstairs and geared up for a quick jog in the grey morning. She had hoped the movement and the shock of cold December air would quiet her mind, but the air was colder than she anticipated and even the warmth from her rising heart rate didn’t make the stinging in her lungs feel any better. So her jog ended quicker than she had wanted it to.

Once back in the house, she headed for the kitchen to get some water, but nearly jumped when she saw Yon.

“Jesus,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I didn’t mean to startle you.” He smiled at her. He was leaning against the counter, his phone in hand. He set it down as he looked at her now.

For a moment, she felt frozen—not just because she had been out in the cold, but because she didn’t know what they were supposed to do. If they were an actual couple, was she supposed to give him a kiss when they said good morning or hello or whatever? But he wasn’t moving towards her to do anything. Did that, along with the fact that they hadn’t actually slept together, mean that what happened was just a casual thing to him? But he said he loved her, and that hadn’t felt casual.

It wasn’t like she had any relationship experience to draw from, so maybe she was overthinking this. Still, she kinda wished he would do something, but he wasn’t. So she just stood there too.

“Were you really out running this early?” he asked.

“No, I was just pretending to run,” she said, finally making herself move to get a glass from the cupboard and fill it at the fridge.

He rolled his eyes at her. “You shouldn’t run outside when it’s this cold. It’s not good for your lungs.”

“Well, don’t worry, I didn’t actually run for that long.”

“If it wasn’t Christmas Eve, I’d say we could go to the gym.”

“Nothing says Christmas Eve more than a nice work out.”

He chuckled and then just gazed at her. Something in his look made her feel squirmy, and she was glad her face was already flushed from the cold. She sipped at her water to keep herself from smiling.

When she set down her glass, she said, “Why are you up this early anyway?”

“I thought I heard the front door, so I got up and then saw you had left.”

“Were you scared I left you for good?”

He hesitated, almost laughed, then said, “No.”

“Well, I got what I wanted from you last night, so I’m good to bail whenever.” Ugh, she couldn’t even make sex jokes without making herself blush. Everything still felt weird. He was turning a little red too. Great, so this was just going to be super awkward for both of them?

“Well…” He seemed a little flustered and he shook his head. “You can bail if you want, but it is Christmas Eve… I’d be a little disappointed at your timing.”

She chuckled, feeling some tension lift at his attempted joke.

“Okay, I’ll stick around for now,” she said. “But it’s really all hinging on how good this Christmas is.”

“What constitutes a good Christmas to you?”

“For one, you have to not storm out of the house because I was texting during Christmas-themed Scrabble.”

“That’s highly specific.”

“I’ll let you open a present early if you can guess why that is.”

“I don’t think I need to guess.”

“So you don’t want a present early?” She didn’t seem to have any control over herself adding, “I mean, other than my virginity.”

Oh boy, he was red now. He opened his mouth as if he might lightly scold her like usual, but nothing came out. For a second, she thought she broke him. She was uncomfortable too, but she laughed, because of course she would.

“Carol…” There it was, that light-hearted scolding he was trying to get out. “Sometimes I… I don’t know what to do with you.”

“You knew last night.” Fuck, why couldn’t she just shut up?

He closed his eyes, fighting a smile.

“Sorry I keep making things awkward,” she said.

“You’re not making things awkward,” he said, somewhat awkwardly.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he said. “Part of your charm is your odd sense of humor.”

“You think my sense of humor is odd?”

“I also said it’s charming.”

“Okay, whatever, weirdo.”

He sighed, but he was smiling. He was doing that thing again where he just looked at her, but she couldn’t tell what the look meant. It was somewhere between assessing and admiration.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know…”

That look he was giving her lingered over her and he said, “I was just thinking that you’re very beautiful.”

“Pfft. Yeah right, liar.”

“Why would you think I’m lying about that?”

“Because I just went running… I don’t know.”

He laughed and then he came towards her and her heart jumped a little as he pulled her to him.

“Maybe I haven’t said it enough already, but I always think you’re beautiful.”

She just giggled and then he kissed her. He pulled away and stroked her cheek.

“You seem to be feeling better this morning,” he said.

“I told you I was just tired.” She still wasn’t sure if that was entirely true, but she kinda believed it when she said it.

“Well, I’m glad.” He kissed her again, then said, “I want to give you something now.”

“Is it in your pants?”

“Carol…”

“Sorry.”

He shook his head, then headed towards the living room. She followed him and sat down on the couch as he selected a small box from underneath the Christmas tree.

He sat next to her, handing her what looked suspiciously like a jewelry box. It took everything in Carol not to make a joke about a proposal—she somehow felt like that would go over even worse than her sex jokes. Holding her tongue, she opened the gift and saw that her suspicions were right, it was jewelry. Specifically, it was a silver necklace with a dainty eight-pointed star pendant.

“That’s supposed to be Polaris,” he said. "The north star.”

“I didn’t know you were into astronomy.”

“Well, I know basic facts, like that Polaris is the one constant star in the sky, that you can always depend on. The necklace is simple, but I felt like… it was something I wanted you to have.”

Carol looked at the necklace in her hands, a weird sort of giddiness and self-consciousness coming over her. She didn’t really care that much for jewelry, but the sentiment he had put into this made her feel like this might be the most thoughtful gift anyone had ever given her.

She had no idea how to respond to this form of affection from him, and she said, somewhat meekly, “This is actually pretty nerdy of you.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“It’s good.”

He moved his hand to her knee, gently caressing his fingertips against her. “Do you want me to put it on you?”

“Oh, that sounds très romantique.”

He held out his hand and she handed him the necklace box.

“Turn around,” he said, and she did. When he pushed her hair aside for her, she shivered a little and bit her lip to stop herself from smiling too much. He draped the necklace over her neck and fastened the clasp. She touched the pendant and then felt him gently kiss her neck.

“Let me see,” the way he spoke so warmly next to her ear made her shiver again. She turned back around for him and he smiled at her. “I think it suits you.”

“I feel like my workout clothes might clash with it a little.”

“Nonsense,” he said, leaning closer to her. “You look great.”

The way he kissed her urged a gradual and joyful dizziness over her, until she barely felt like any version of herself she could recognize. But she liked the sensation. The necklace seemed to physically radiate the celestial sentiment of security he had assigned to it, and the ways he was touching her right now emphasized that feeling within her.

But she was still self-conscious as she said, “I really do like this necklace, but I feel kinda bad…”

“Why do you feel bad?”

“Because I couldn’t get you anything this fancy.”

“I didn’t expect you to. I’m glad you like the necklace.”

“But still… I wish I had something this nice for you.”

“Just keep it on for me, then. That’ll be enough.”

“Okay. I will.”

 


 

They had sex again later that night. It was still really weird. Maybe it was weird because they did it in his room. When things started getting heated on the couch, he said they should go upstairs, and before she knew it she was half naked and climbing onto his bed. The feeling that his room was off limits still lingered in her mind the entire time, but part of her was excited to be there with him.

True, she had lost her virginity to him roughly twenty-four hours ago, but being in his room, in his bed, somehow made being with him feel so much more official. They weren’t just getting randomly carried away. They went to his bedroom to have sex on purpose.

But, even with the excitement of being with him in a way that felt more adult, sex still felt awkward and overwhelming to her. It was good during parts of it, but she felt so weird when they were finished and just lying there or whatever. She thought post-coital bliss was supposed to be a thing, but in her very limited experience, she was mostly feeling post-coital stress.

She was trying her best not to let him catch on to how strange she felt, though. After everything he had done for her and all that he had given her, she didn’t want him to feel bad or regret anything. He was always so reassuring and kept telling her that he loved her. And the star necklace was such an amazing gift—she liked it more every time she looked at it or touched it. Having an actual symbol of how he felt about her filled her with happy butterflies. She couldn’t wait to wear it everywhere she went.

She kept looking at it in the mirror as she got ready for bed that night. She pushed aside her weird feelings and focused on him telling her that he loved her while she adjusted the pendant on the chain. Fighting back a stupid grin, she left her bathroom and went down the hall to peak into Yon’s room.

“Goodnight,” she said, poking her head in his room to see him standing by his bed, adjusting the comforter.

“Goodnight, Carol,” he said, smiling at her.

“I’ll see you in the morning, and then we’ll finally find out if you were good this year.”

“What?”

“You know, we’re gonna find out if Santa left any coal in your stocking in the morning.”

“Ah, well, seeing as we don’t have any stockings out…”

“He can get creative. You’re not off the hook yet.”

“I’m shaking in my boots,” he said flatly, giving her a soft, playful grin.

“Okay, well, whatever, Scrooge. Goodnight for real.”

“Goodnight,” he said, and she started to turn away. But then, “Carol.”

“Yeah?” She turned back to him.

“Would you like to sleep in here tonight?” He asked it so simply and calmly, but it still shocked her.

“What? In here? In your bed?” Why did she always have to sound like such an idiot?

“Yes… Only if you want to, though.”

God, she felt ridiculous trying to get herself to stop smiling. But he was being so casual about it, she didn’t want to act too excited about this.

“Your bed is pretty comfy,” she said, trying to match his level of casualness.

“It’s up to you.”

“Okay, well… Since it’s Christmas and everything.”

So she climbed into his bed with him. It was bizarre. Did this mean they were a couple couple now? She thought so, but she didn’t want to ruin the moment by asking. Instead, she just curled up next to him, and when he kissed her and said goodnight again, she was just happy to be with him like this—this maybe even felt better than having sex. More than ever, she felt like she finally had somewhere she belonged.

 


 

When Yon woke up next to Carol on Christmas morning, he felt a strange sense of guilt—the same he had felt when asking her to sleep in his bed with him last night. Having sex with her and then sending her back to her room felt like some kind of formal transaction and he didn’t want her to end up feeling that way too. She was clearly happy when he asked her to sleep with him, and he was slightly relieved that he could use this kind of affection to continue making her feel comfortable.

Even though it would have been ideal to have waited to have sex until she was at least eighteen, he still found some relief in the fact that they had done it over winter break the first time. Somehow, he felt like having the two weeks away from their normal lives would make this new development easier to process. He imagined that losing her virginity on a school night would have hit her a lot differently. So he was glad that it would be just them for a while, giving him a little bit of time to figure out the best ways to soothe the situation.

But there was also something serene about having Carol all alone to himself for the two weeks of winter break. As break continued, and the awkwardness from the first couple times had slightly subsided, he felt like she was at least starting to get more comfortable, which eased his mind. She continued to be more taken by him than anyone else he had ever been with, and he was finding it fairly easy to reassure her when she seemed insecure.

He could tell she loved the necklace and he was glad he had ordered it for her on a whim. And he actually found that he did like seeing it on her, maybe even more than he liked seeing her in all the other things he had given to her. Having her in his home, seeing her wear the clothes he bought for her, seeing her in the necklace, having her in his bed… That feeling of belonging began to resonate even deeper within him.

He had never felt this way with anyone else. No one had ever needed him so much or had been so infatuated with him. She was so willing to comply with him in so many ways, and, even if he did carry some guilt with him still, he was no longer trying to resist how satisfying that felt.

What Yon always liked most about sex was watching the other person lose control because of him. He liked knowing that if he paid enough attention to his partner, he could push them into that indescribable place where everything about them disappeared, except the sensations he was creating. Seeing someone so overcome gave him a rush that he sometimes enjoyed even more than having an orgasm himself.

With Carol, he had found the perfect partner. He could take the lead with her, telling her what to do and of course, she almost always listened. Even when she surprised him, he still felt like he had command of the situation. There was still the risk of being exposed, but the more he came to understand Carol, the less he worried about being caught.

It was especially easy to relax when he was alone with her. Living together on their normal schedule was entirely different from living together when that schedule was gone. The real world barely existed. For those two weeks, Carol didn’t belong to anyone but him.

Chapter Text

Carol thought that going back to school after winter break would feel fine—after all, she had pretty much gotten used to carrying her secret with Yon around. But as she walked alone through the crowded halls, she felt exactly that: alone. Her secret with Yon had gotten so much bigger over break and, even if she had friends, she still wouldn’t be able to tell anyone.

Maybe she should’ve been glad that there were no friends to keep the secret from. She didn’t think she’d even want to share this secret if she could anyway. If she had still been friends with Attlass and for some reason decided to tell him about this, she knew he’d be judging her. She couldn’t imagine a scenario where she had a friend that wouldn’t judge her for this.

The whole day, she kept touching the star necklace, feeling both reassured that Yon loved her and worried that someone would, for some reason, ask her about it. Of course no one noticed she had a new necklace, though. She didn’t have a reason to be paranoid that everyone would be able to guess her secret just by looking at her—no one even paid attention to her.

By the time French class rolled around, she was still feeling kinda paranoid and uncomfortable. But at least Yon wasn’t ignoring her like he had after the first time they kissed. He was a little preoccupied with something on his computer when she walked in to his classroom, but he did still look at her and smile when she sat at her desk.

“Hey, Carol,” came a voice behind her.

Startled, she turned to see Attlass approaching her and a strange kind of panic trickled over her. He hadn’t tried talking to her like this in forever.

“How was your break?” he asked.

“Fine,” she offered flatly, trying to cover how frazzled this actually made her feel.

“That’s good.” Attlass’s tone felt so awkward, like he was talking to a stranger, and it stung a little. “I, uh… I tried to text you over break. I got a message that your number is out of service.”

“Oh.” Fuck.

“Is everything okay?”

“It’s, uh…” Carol glanced at Yon over at his desk, catching him averting his gaze, and she knew he was paying attention. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” Attlass lowered his voice a little, “Did your parents kick you out again?”

“Yeah, but it’s fine—I mean, no!” Fuck. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. “No, I’m at home, I just got grounded. I got grounded… from… my phone?”

“What?” Attlass squinted his eyes at her, doubtful. “You got grounded from your phone so now it’s out of service? That doesn’t make sense.”

She glanced at Yon again to see him staring at his computer screen, pursing his lips together. He stood up.

“Is something else going on, Carol?” Attlass seemed genuinely concerned, and that, coupled with Yon obviously overhearing her fuck up, twisted her stomach. “What’s actually—”

“Bienvenue à la classe,” Yon suddenly announced to the chattering class. “Let’s all get settled in our seats now.”

“But the bell hasn’t rung yet,” one of her classmates protested.

“Well, it’s—” Yon was interrupted by the bell.

“Can we talk later?” Attlass asked her, stepping back towards his own desk, but still trying to linger near her.

“Attlass,” Yon said, as calm as ever, “asseyez-vous s'il vous plaît.”

“Désolé, Monsieur Rogg,” Attlass mumbled, going back to his seat.

Yon’s eyes met Carol’s for the briefest second, so brief that no one else could possibly notice, but she could feel a warning in him gripping her even as he turned his attention to the class, beginning the lesson. For the rest of class, she found it a little hard to look at him. She hoped she hadn’t fucked up too bad.

 


 

“What was that today?” Yon said once they were driving home after school that same day.

“What was what?” Carol knew exactly what he was talking about.

“With Attlass.” His voice sounded just as calm as it had earlier in class. “You told him you were kicked out.”

Yon glanced at Carol and she turned to look out the passenger side window, feeling her stomach knot as she said, “I told him I was grounded.”

“After you said you were kicked out.”

“But I took it back.”

“It wasn’t very convincing, Carol.”

“I didn’t actually tell him anything important, though.”

“Because I intervened.”

“I wouldn’t have told him even if you hadn’t.”

“How can you be so sure? You slipped up very easily.”

“Because you were right there staring at me and I got frazzled—I don’t know.”

“I wasn’t staring at you.”

“Well, you were right there.”

“So if I hadn’t been there, you wouldn’t have slipped up?” There was a shift in his tone, becoming less calm and more commanding. It made Carol’s skin itch and she flexed her hand in and out of a fist to ease the tension within her.

“I didn’t even say anything that bad,” she said. “It’s not that shocking to him that my parents might have done something weird like ground me from my phone.”

“The problem is less him knowing about your parents and more you not being able to control what you were saying.”

“I had control over it.”

“You could’ve had more control.”

She groaned. “It’s not like he even really cares about me.”

“He seemed pretty concerned for someone that doesn’t care, Carol. He can’t start asking more questions about your home life.”

“He’s not going to.”

“You don’t know that.”

She kept flexing her hands in and out of fists, feeling frustrated heat creep up the back of her neck. “If he had really wanted to talk to me, he could’ve sent me a message on any of the apps we’re friends on. But he didn’t.”

“I still think you need to be more careful with him.”

“Kinda like how you and I were careful?”

“Carol,” Yon reprimanded. “Take this seriously.”

“I am.”

He sighed, and then, continuing a little more calmly, said, “If he asks you about it again, just tell him that you got a new phone for Christmas. That should explain the out of service number and that’s all you need to say.”

“He’s probably not even going to talk to me again.”

“He said he was trying to text you over break and he’s trying to talk to you in class now. He clearly wants to talk.”

“And do you have a problem with that?”

“No, not as long as you can keep us a secret.”

“I can—I haven’t said anything this whole time I’ve lived with you, not even when my family asked.”

“I know you haven’t.”

“I don’t know why you’re acting like I made some huge mistake today, though. I didn’t say anything about us.”

“It could’ve been a huge mistake, Carol. All it takes is just one slip up like that and then this is all gone. You have to assume that one person finding out means that everyone is going to find out, and once that happens… you’re not going to have anywhere to go.”

“I know, I know.” She sighed. “I didn’t actually tell him anything bad, though.”

“Just be more careful in the future.”

She bit her lip and nodded in silence. Being careful seemed to be the most important thing in their lives right now. First they had to be careful not to kiss, then they had to be careful not to keep making out, then to not have sex, and, through it all, they had to be careful not to tell anyone. Clearly they hadn’t been careful with each other, but so far no one knew about that.

Carol had thought that being with Yon would be so easy because all they had to do was not say anything. But she hadn’t anticipated how odd keeping that secret would make her feel. At first she thought maybe it was a little hot to have that forbidden, hidden relationship with him, but she didn’t really feel that way anymore. Having sex the first time had made her feel gross, and she still carried some of that feeling with her everywhere she went. She didn’t like that part of their secret. She was beginning to think that she didn’t like secrets at all.

 


 

Later that week, seniors were filed into the auditorium for some boring assembly, and Carol was, of course, sitting alone. But she could see Yon next to some other teachers across the room, standing there with his arms crossed, nodding and talking. With this distance between them, she felt pretty safe openly staring at him. She touched the star pendant at her neck and thought about him saying that he loved her. In this big auditorium, their relationship seemed like something that belonged in a dream, not in the actual world. She felt a bit like she was shrinking.

Then she started picking up on a conversation a couple of girls behind her were having.

“Okay, but he’s literally the hottest teacher,” one of them said.

“It’s the British accent,” said another. “It’s literally so hot.”

Carol suppressed a laugh as she realized they were talking about Yon. A small, bright bubble rose in her chest, unexpectedly elating her with an unfamiliar sense of pride.

“Do you think he’s single?” the girls continued.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a ring on his finger.”

“God, if I wasn’t seventeen, I’d be all over him.”

Get on my level, Carol thought.

Hearing those girls talk about him like that made her feel slightly accomplished. She had always known that she wasn’t the only one with a crush on him, but now she was the only one that actually got to be with him. It was a little amusing to think that they were talking about this right behind her—they had no idea. No one had any idea.

For once, Carol had a secret that wasn’t about her shitty parents. This new secret was actually enviable, if she thought about it. Maybe she could make the bad feelings go away if she really tried to focus on things like this. Between everything in her past and what was happening now, having this secret with Yon was an upgrade.

 


 

Carol curled up on the couch after completing her homework that night, switching on the tv to wind down before bed. Yon joined her, and she repositioned herself to be curled up against him. Now that they had basically done everything physical, she liked that he would touch her in simpler ways too. They didn’t have to worry about cuddling leading to something more since it had already happened. It was nice to have these moments with him.

As they sat watching tv together now, she was enjoying how good it felt to be so close to him. And she kept thinking about the girls behind her at the assembly, feeling that bubble of pride within her.

“So do you know that half the girls in school have crushes on you?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

He gave a half hearted, breathy chuckle that she could feel vibrating through her. “I wouldn’t say it’s half.”

She squinted her eyes. “Wait, so you know?”

“I can pick up on things,” he said. “Some people aren’t too secretive about those things, especially people… in your age group.”

“Okay, so… could you tell that… I did? I mean… was it obvious?”

“Well, I can tell now.”

“No duh. But… before.”

He did that half hearted laugh again. “I had suspicions.”

“Suspicions? Like what?”

“Like how often you blush, the way you’re probably starting to right now.”

She was indeed blushing. Had she really always been that obvious?

“Blushing doesn’t mean anything,” she said, not sure if she was being brazenly sarcastic, or just awkwardly fumbling around in an attempt to defend herself. But then another thought came to her.

“Okay, wait,” she said. “So you knew the entire time that I had a crush on you? Even before I moved in?”

“Well…” He paused. “Like I said, I had suspicions.”

Something in the way he had hesitated struck her.

“You did know!” She sat up fully, so she could look at him, and was a little surprised to see him turning red.

“It wasn’t exactly hard to tell, Carol,” he said.

“But you knew the whole time and you never said anything?”

“What was I supposed to say?”

“I… don’t know. But you knew the whole time!”

“I don’t know what you want me to say. I knew, but that didn’t affect anything.”

Carol stared at him for a moment. It was odd that he had just tried to lie about knowing and that he was also blushing over it. She didn’t know why exactly, but the fact that he had known about her crush the entire time shed new, strange light on their relationship.

“It didn’t feel weird living with someone who had a crush on you?”

“It didn’t affect anything, Carol.”

“But the first time you kissed me…”

“Carol…”

“Did you start wanting to kiss me before or after I moved in?”

“I didn’t anticipate any of this happening, Carol. I didn’t think we’d end up like this when you moved in.”

“But did you see me as more than a student before?”

“No. Of course not,” he answered quickly. Then he added a little clumsily, and perhaps as an afterthought, “I never saw you as anything but a student until… until I didn’t.”

“When did you?”

“After you moved in.”

“But when?” Carol waited for him to answer, but he hesitated too long, so she said, “How long before you kissed me for the first time did you realize?”

He sighed and said, “It wasn’t long before. It happened quickly.”

“What changed?”

“I… I saw how different you are from everyone else and I…” He paused, looking her over. “I saw how mature you are for your age, and once I realized that, I think I saw something more in you.”

“You don’t ever think that about the other girls who have crushes on you?”

“Why would you even ask that?” He was starting to sound so calm now, which, for some reason, annoyed Carol.

“Because you know about all these other girls that have crushes on you,” she said, trying to stay calm like him, but feeling heat rise to the tips of her ears. “Why am I different from them?”

“I think our living situation answers that pretty clearly in and of itself, Carol. I wouldn’t have gotten to know you like this otherwise.”

“So if I hadn’t moved in, you wouldn’t have seen me as something more?”

“It gave us an opportunity to get to know each other better.”

“If a different girl with a crush on you had moved in, would you have hooked up with her?”

The sigh he gave signalled that he was really having enough of this conversation and he gave her a look somewhere between puzzled and irked, but his voice was still calm as he spoke, “Why are you asking me all these questions, Carol?”

“I don’t know…” She had to avert her eyes from his stare. “It’s just weird that you knew I had a crush on you the whole time.”

“Why is it weird?”

“Because… because—I don’t know.” She groaned. “It’s just weird.”

“You’re overthinking it.” He put his arm around her to pull her back towards him. “Don’t get too emotional about this.”

“I’m not.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” he said, almost playfully. She didn’t like that he was reprimanding her for being “emotional,” but that hint of playfulness in his tone made her decide not to push the issue any further. She sighed and made herself settle back into her position against him.

For a moment they were silent against the sounds from the tv, then he said, casually, “Who were you talking to about having crushes on me, anyway?”

Ugh. She should’ve known he would ask about that.

“I wasn’t talking to anyone,” she said, trying not to let herself get tense. “I just overheard some girls behind me during the assembly.”

“Ah, I see.”

She didn’t know why she felt the need to keep dragging this out, but she added, “I actually thought it was kinda funny.”

“How so?”

“Because they were talking about it right behind me and… I don’t know, it felt funny, because of… everything.”

“Funny in a bad way or…?”

“I just think it’s funny that nobody knows.”

“It’s good that nobody knows.”

“Right, but I’m saying that’s it’s funny that they’re just casually talking about how hot you are and I’m right there. It’s funny in a good way, I guess.”

“You still have to be careful,” he said, and she was glad her position meant he couldn’t see her roll her eyes. “Try not to join in any conversations like that if you can.”

“I mean, that’s not the first time I’ve heard people talking about you, and I’ve never joined in before so…”

“Okay, just making sure.”

She suppressed a sigh. She was still vaguely heated from the crush thing and being told that she had to keep being “careful” just itched at her even more. But she knew he was just trying to look out for both of their best interests, even though that didn’t really cover the fact that he had known about her crush the entire time. That probably didn’t mean anything though, and he was right about her overthinking things. She didn’t think she had any actual reasons to be annoyed with him, so she just tried to keep being calm and mature.

 


 

Yon could feel how tense Carol was in his arms after that brief argument, but he was determined not to let her moodiness get to him. Of course, she had been right to infer that her obvious crush on him made it that much easier for him to make the first move, but there was no point in confirming it out loud. And this relationship definitely would not have happened with just any girl in a similar situation, but he wasn’t willing to let himself reflect on that for too long.

It was getting late. Carol had relaxed after a bit and was now resting with her head in his lap. He thought she may have fallen asleep, so he was a little hesitant to move. But then her phone made a ding and her hand slowly found its way to her sweatpant pocket, pulling out the device and bringing it up to her face. He watched her trying to unlock her phone with her fingerprint, but after failing the first couple of tries, she punched in her PIN—he had watched her do that so many times now, he practically had it memorized—and she opened a messenger app. She groaned.

“Something wrong?” he asked, trying to make out who she might be messaging before she locked her phone.

“No… Attlass just finally decided to message me on Facebook.”

“What did he say?”

“Just that he wants to talk again. I don’t really know what he wants to talk about, though. I’ll message him back later.”

“Just remember to—”

“Be careful. I know.”

She sighed and he watched her slide her phone back into her pocket. There was a sudden small burning inside of him to know exactly what Attlass had said to her and to know what she was planning on saying back. He wanted to ask her, but somehow felt like pressing her on this wouldn’t do any good right now. He wanted to trust her, but he didn’t want to find out the hard way that she had made a mistake. How exactly he was supposed to handle this, he wasn’t sure.

“I’m tired,” she said, sitting herself up on the couch. “I’m going to go to bed now.”

“Okay. I’ll be up in a minute.”

“Okay.”

She went upstairs and he straightened up the living room before going up himself. By the time he got into the bedroom, she was already fast asleep. Her phone was on what was now becoming her nightstand. Since she had slept in his bed over winter break, she slept in here pretty regularly, but there was still the off-night when she decided to sleep in her own room.

As he got ready for bed, he kept glancing at her phone. It was just right there. She wouldn’t even notice if he tried to unlock it right now. But he couldn’t invade her privacy like that; it would be a complete breach of trust.

Although, after the way she had been so close to slipping up with Attlass before, it might be in both of their best interests for him to know exactly what was going on. Looking at her phone might be slightly invasive right now, but it would be nothing compared to what could happen if he didn’t look and something was amiss. It’s not like she would even have to know that he looked.

He finished brushing his teeth and blankly stared at himself in the mirror as he contemplated this. He shook his head, turned off the bathroom light and went to his side of the bed, trying not to look at her nightstand.

He lied down and listened to the sound of her steady breathing, staring at her for a moment in the dim lighting of his bedside lamp. She was facing him, half her face buried in the pillow and one of her hands resting close to her face. The necklace he had given her was still around her neck—as far as he knew, she hadn’t taken it off even once. He reached over, lightly pushed a lock of hair out of her face, then traced a fingertip over the chain at her neck, lingering over the star pendant. Her steady breathing continued, her peaceful sleep undisturbed from his touch.

With a sigh, his eyes travelled to her nightstand. She really wouldn’t know if he looked.

Before he could stop himself, he was standing up, walking to her side of the bed, picking up her phone. He punched in what he thought was her PIN, and, with a small gleam of satisfaction, found that he had been right. He then tapped her Facebook messenger app and opened her conversation with Attlass. It was just as she had said, he only wanted to talk. He scrolled up a bit in their older messages, but those were inconsequential.

And since he had her phone out right now, he eyed over her other recent messages, and not just in the Facebook app, but also her texts and any other apps he thought might have messaging. But still, he found nothing important. Most of the conversations he skimmed over were brief and formal, just about school or track. Seeing that lack of any meaningful personal interactions suddenly swirled into an unbearable pity for her. She really wasn’t lying when she said she didn’t talk to anyone.

He finally placed her phone back on the nightstand and got into bed. He shut off the light, and after a moment, he reached for Carol. He was relieved he had nothing to worry about right now, as long as the situation with Attlass didn’t turn into anything, but at least he now knew he could attempt to monitor that. Still, he felt slightly guilty for looking through her phone, even if it was for the best.

As he started to feel like he was falling asleep, he felt her move closer to him. She wrapped an arm around him and then nuzzled herself against his chest, mumbling something incoherent in her sleep.

“Goodnight, Carol,” he whispered, somewhat pointlessly.

But then she mumbled back, “I love you.”

Her drowsy statement filled him with relief. Knowing that she hadn’t been lying to him about anything almost made him a little proud—though he wasn’t sure if he was more proud of her or himself. He had gained her trust so completely, he probably wouldn’t even ever need to look through her phone again to know that she was sharing everything with him. But, as long as she didn’t know what he was doing, checking her phone now and then couldn’t hurt anything, just to be safe.

He held her a little tighter and kissed the top of her head. Their relationship had never felt quite as comfortable as it did right then.

Chapter Text

The start of the spring semester meant that track was finally coming back. Carol was glad to return to this part of her routine and found that she actually missed her teammates more than she realized. Although, since she hadn’t been part of the unofficial winter meetups, she did still feel a little like she had missed out.

But Yon had been right that she was in better shape than all of them, thanks to all of their extra one-on-one training time. She felt like she could easily outrun all of her teammates now, and Yon could see it too. He had already admitted to playing favorites with her before, but it had never felt more clear than when track started again.

He always seemed to be calling her name to pick up the pace or to watch her form while doing push-ups or sit-ups. He’d call out some of the other girls too, but it felt more like he was doing that just to cover up the fact that he was constantly watching her.

After track practice one day, Angela came up to Carol outside of the locker room and said, “Looks like you didn’t even need to come to our winter meetups.”

“What?” Carol didn’t know why she sounded so panicked and she tried not to look at Yon across the gym.

“You’ve been showing us all up since we came back,” Angela said, smiling. “You didn’t even have to train with us over break and you’re making us all look bad.”

“Oh, well I did train a little… on my own.”

“Yeah, you’re just trying to impress Mr. Rogg,” came a familiar voice from behind, making Carol’s face flush. She groaned and looked over her shoulder to see Minnerva walking out of the locker room.

“Why are you eavesdropping on other people’s conversations?” Carol said.

“You’re standing right outside the locker room,” Minnerva said flatly, shrugging. “Maybe don’t have private conversations in public if you don’t want other people to hear.”

“It wasn’t really that private,” Angela said, perhaps a little too politely to make up for the bordering on hostile interaction in front of her. “I was just telling Carol that she’s been doing really good lately.”

“Yeah, because she’s always sucking up to Mr. Rogg.”

Carol clenched a fist at her side. “I am not always sucking up to him.”

“Of course you’re not, Vers.”

“Vers? I don’t get it.” Angela laughed, maybe from discomfort. Carol’s face was practically on fire.

“It’s my name in French class,” Carol muttered, flexing her hand out of the fist, trying to stay calm.

“Except it’s not even a real name,” Minerva said. “You just made it up.”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t. It’s just difficult not to notice how hard you’re always trying to get him to pay attention to you. It’s kinda embarrassing, honestly.”

Carol had to clench her jaw to stop herself from blurting that it actually wasn’t embarrassing because he was in love with her and she didn’t need to try to get him to pay attention to her because she slept next to him every night, so take that, Minnerva!

As it were, she just glared at her and stammered out, “Why don’t you—why don’t you just go back to whatever miserable hole you crawled out of and—and fuck off?”

Minnerva scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Oh wow, real mature, Danvers.”

“At least I’m not the one butting into other people’s conversations just to be an asshole.”

“Okay, guys, just cool it, okay?” Angela said, focusing beyond them. “I think Mr. Rogg’s coming over here, so just don’t get in trouble?”

Carol’s heart skipped a beat when she saw that Yon was indeed coming towards them, looking somehow sterner and taller than usual.

“Everything okay over here, girls?” he said.

“Yeah, just talking,” Angela said.

“Just talking?” He gave them a pointed look that Carol was pretty sure made all of them blush.

“Yep, just talking,” Carol said.

“Good, because for a moment I thought you might have been arguing, and I’d hate to see anyone on my team arguing.” He paused. “If I ever did catch anyone being less than civil, there would be repercussions. Don’t let that happen.”

It was weird how small he made her feel. She wanted him to be on her side so she could rub it in Minnerva’s face, but she also just wanted to feel like he really actually was on her side. She understood that there wasn’t any other way he could treat her in front of them, but it was kinda frustrating that he got to be so authoritative and she just had to quietly accept it.

 


 

When they got home, Yon asked, “What was actually going on in the gym today?”

Of course she knew what he was asking about, but she said, “Uh, we had track practice?”

“Carol,” Yon said, unamused, “you know what I’m talking about.”

She sighed. “I was just talking to Angela, then Minnerva walked over to be a bitch.”

“You really shouldn’t argue with anyone on the team, Carol.”

“But I didn’t start it. I was just minding my own business.”

“Still, you should keep your emotions in check and try not to engage.”

“Try not to engage? What is that supposed to mean?”

“If someone is trying to get a rise out of you, just stay calm. You don’t need to react.”

“Why are you acting like you’re on her side? You’re telling me to stay calm but you don’t even know what we were talking about.”

“What were you talking about?”

Carol felt her face heat up. “Nothing important.”

“Please don’t lie to me.”

“How do you know I’m lying?”

He just gave her a look and she clenched her jaw, casting her eyes down.

“Angela said I was doing really good at track and then Minnerva came over and said I was only doing it to impress you and I told her that wasn’t true.”

“Why did she think you were trying to impress me?”

“I don’t know, she just kept saying that I try too hard to get you to notice me, which is stupid because I don’t do that.”

“What exactly did you tell her?”

“I didn’t tell her anything.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I didn’t say anything about us, don’t worry about it.”

“I have to worry, Carol. I shouldn’t need to explain that to you.”

“Okay, then don’t explain it. I understand the whole situation, okay? I’m not saying anything, I’m just standing there and shutting up while you get to boss me around just like everyone else on the team.”

“I’m your coach. Nothing’s changed about that. I’ve never tolerated any hostility between anyone on my team. I can’t turn a blind eye to you arguing with Minnerva if I wouldn’t do it for anyone else.”

“I’m not asking you to turn a blind eye, I’m asking you to just, I don’t know, be on my side?”

“Why would you ever think I’m not on your side?”

“Because you’re telling me not to engage her as if I started anything when you already know that she hates me. I don’t ever go out of my way to talk to her—I don’t go out of my way to talk to anyone anymore and I don’t get any credit for that. I’m not provoking anything! Everyone always thinks I’m provoking things, but I always just have all these shitty people trying to provoke me and I’m doing my best to just stay away from them!”

“Carol, slow down. I didn’t mean to upset you. I know you’re not trying to provoke anyone, but I did hear you raising your voice in the gym earlier and—”

“Because she was being an asshole!”

“I understand that now, but can you understand why I would be worried? We all say regrettable things when we’re upset, not just you.”

“But I didn’t say anything regrettable, that’s what I’ve been telling you! All I wanted to do was to tell Minnerva why she was wrong. I wanted to rub it in her stupid, smug face that I’m fucking sleeping with you, but I didn’t say anything like that, I just told her to fuck off.”

Yon sighed. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t say anything.”

“Of course I didn’t say anything. You don’t have to lecture me every time I talk to someone.”

“I wasn’t lecturing you.”

“Yeah, says the teacher.”

“Just… try to avoid being at the center of any… drama.”

“I literally just said that I’m trying to stay away from it. I didn’t do anything.”

“Alright. I believe you.”

 


 

Yon was used to teenagers disliking each other and being dramatic for various reasons, which was why early on in his teaching/coaching career he had made it a point to penalize anyone on his team for starting petty arguments. He didn’t care what anyone was arguing about, he just didn’t want it to become a distraction to the team. And he had always known there was some degree of hostility between Carol and Minnerva, but it was never anything that raised any real alarms. But of course he now had a much more significant stake in Carol’s personal life, so her odd feud with Minnerva became slightly more concerning.

But only slightly. He had a feeling that their run-in in front of the locker room was about as escalated as any of their interactions would get, especially since he had stepped in. While Carol may have disliked her, Minnerva did have a respect for authority that Yon appreciated. And since he had started to monitor Carol’s private conversations, he felt almost confident that everything was in hand.

All the same, the fact that Minnerva had openly judged Carol for apparently trying to impress him during track and class was something that he couldn’t ignore. He didn’t realize that he was noticeably playing favorites with her again, but he would have to make it a point to be more conscious about where he focused his attention.

He knew part of why he was paying so much more attention to her was because he had devoted so much of his personal time into training her. He liked seeing the work he put into her reflected in her improved performance. It was simply impossible to put that same level of energy into every student, but he would have to find a way to even it out. Perhaps if he caught himself about to say something to Carol in front of the rest of the team, he could just refocus on someone else in that moment instead.

Whatever he decided to do, he was already fairly confident that his actions towards Carol in public weren’t going to raise any serious alarms. But, if he was honest with himself, it was his thoughts about her—all the secret, forbidden moments with her that he carried with him—that he didn’t know how to control. He tried to compartmentalize his thoughts about her, but wandering thoughts were harder to control than actions.

When they were at school, he tried to see her as just a student, just that version of Carol that he had never let slip into his personal life. And when they were home… he still didn’t know quite how to look at her when they were at home. But the important part was, when they were at school, he needed to see her as a student and only a student.

But of course he should have known that he wouldn’t be able to do that.

Seeing Carol wearing the necklace he had given her made it impossible for him to see her as just a student. When he caught a glimpse of her toying with the pendant or when it dangled as she leaned over her an assignment on her desk, he had to make himself look away from her. All he could picture was the pendant sliding down to the dip in her clavicle as fucked her. He imagined her straightening out the necklace as she sat up and he looked at her naked back.

He liked knowing that perhaps anyone could imagine her in all the ways he did when the necklace distracted him, but no one else knew. He liked that no one else knew that the necklace was from him, and when she wore it, she was his. And what he liked, more than anything, was that she never took it off.

He had to stop thinking about that though. At least in school. If he could stop distracting himself with lewd thoughts about her, it would no doubt be easier to stop playing favorites with her in front of everyone else. He just had to ignore his personal feelings towards her as much as he could. Maybe not to the extreme he had attempted at the beginning of their whole affair, but there had to be some degree of apathy in their public interactions. It would be for her own good.

 


 

Later that night, Carol sat on the couch looking through her phone. She pulled up her conversation with Attlass, which she had been avoiding for a couple days while also just trying to avoid looking at him in class, but when she saw he was online, she decided to just face it now.

Carol: Hey, sorry. Been busy.

Carol: We can talk if you want

Attlass: I thought u were just going to leave me on read tbh

Carol: I still could

Attlass: lol

Attlass: so how are u?

Carol: Fine

Attlass: so ur parents took ur phone away???

Carol: It wasn’t a big deal

Carol: I ended up getting a new one for Christmas, so it’s fine

Attlass: oh so new number and everything?

Carol: yep

Attlass: gotcha

Attlass: could I get ur new number?

Carol: Why do you suddenly want to be friends again?

Attlass: look I get why ur upset… I feel really bad about my parents. I would’ve let u just move in with me if I could… I’m still really sorry and I wish I could change everything that happened… I miss u.

She had to look up from her phone then. She wanted to accept his apology and she wanted to tell him that she missed him too, but part of her was still upset. His apology didn’t really do any good—she was still forced out of her parents house. And she couldn’t even be honest with him about all of that. If she told him that she missed him and then they started to become friends again, how much would she really be able to talk to him about?

“Everything okay?”

Yon was over at the kitchen table, putting away the papers he had been grading.

She sighed and said, “Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“Are you sure?”

She stared at her open conversation with Attlass for a moment, that white blank space with the blinking cursor staring back at her, waiting for her reply. Everything that she could say was trapped somewhere inside her, locked in some imaginary yet foolproof cage with steel bars. She wasn’t sure when it had got there or if there was a way to open it, but she could feel little truths wanting to slip between the bars.

“Carol?”

She closed out of the messaging app and locked her phone. “What?”

“I said, are you sure everything’s okay?”

“Yeah…”

He came into the living room, standing just next to the couch. “What’s wrong?”

She didn’t know if she was just that easy to read or if he really did just know her that well. Either way, it was always difficult to really hide anything from him.

“I don’t know…” she said. “Do you ever think…”

“Think what?”

“Do you ever think about when we’ll be able to tell people about us?”

“Carol, is someone—”

“No one’s asking me anything; I just want to know for myself.”

He let out a deep sigh and sat down next to her. “What’s making you think about this?”

“I mean… why wouldn’t I? I love you and we’re together but… no one knows.” She was sitting with her back leaned against the armrest, and brought her knees up closer to her chest. “It just feels a bit like maybe this isn’t real.”

“What do you mean? Of course this is real, Carol.”

“But… but it’s like this is the most important part of me and it’s just invisible to everyone. It’s like I’m invisible.”

“You’re not invisible to me.”

“I know… I know, but…”

“But?”

She fidgeted with her phone in her hands and said, “Attlass is apologizing to me and he said he misses me and I… I don’t know what to say to him.”

“Even if he does want to try to be friends with you again, you can’t say anything about us. You know how important that is.”

“But when could we tell anyone?”

“Carol…”

“I just want to know how long we have to keep this a secret. I get that right now it has to be a secret, but someday it won’t have to be, right?”

“Someday, but right now, this just has to be between us. No one else would understand. You know that I love you—I love you more than anyone else could, but no one else is going to see that. The minute someone else finds out, then both of our lives as we know it are over. At best, I’d lose my job. And you would be homeless. I don’t want that for you.”

She stared at the empty space between them on the couch. With each word he said, she could feel those steel bars inside of her getting somehow thicker. Everything that she thought she might be able to say to Attlass seemed to be pulling back deeper into that entrapment—she didn’t even think she would be able to say that she missed him.

“Carol?” Yon spoke after she had been quiet for a moment. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah…”

“Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I just… I don’t know.” She sighed.

“Carol…” Yon moved closer to her, and reached to her, tucking his finger under her chin to tilt her head up towards him. “I love you. I’m always here for you, no matter what. I know this all feels hard right now, and I wish we didn’t have to keep this all a secret either, but it’s what we have to do right now. It’s for the best.”

His hand travelled down her neck, stopping over the star pendant on her necklace. She shivered a little.

“I just want to keep you safe,” he said. “All I want is for you to be safe and happy.”

“I… I am happy,” she said, putting her hand over his at the base of her throat. “I’m happy with you.”

He turned his hand over, so he could take hers, then brought it to his lips. It still made her feel a little swoony when he did things like that, even if she was feeling super bummed about everything else. She knew that he loved her, though. It didn’t make sense to her that she was feeling so many negative, heavy things when he really loved her.

She really wanted to just be happy with him like she said she was. He had given her so much to try to make her happy, and she didn’t like how ungrateful she felt when she was down. She didn’t want to keep going on about how negative everything made her feel—she didn’t want him to regret being with her if he realized how immature she actually was.

So when he pulled her closer to him, she let him do what he wanted. Physically, she was into it, but the conversation with Attlass that she had abandoned wouldn’t leave her alone. There was no way for her to get close to him again in a way that wouldn’t make her a liar. And if she did tell him the truth, then everything would just be fucked.

She couldn’t stop thinking about those dumb steel bars holding every moment with Yon inside of her. She couldn’t stop thinking about how, to the rest of the world, everything between them didn’t exist. All of these important things in her life were being kept inside of her and she wasn’t sure exactly who she was supposed to be outside of this.

 


 

Carol was walking to French class the next day, still feeling weird about Yon reprimanding her just like anyone else. She didn’t particularly want to have to go sit in his class right now just so she could be yet another one of his students. And she started to wonder how many other people thought she was sucking up to him. As if all these other students with crushes on him wouldn’t give anything to have him pay attention to them. It wasn’t fair that she got made fun of for it.

But she didn’t even know if anyone else thought that besides Minnerva. Still, she felt pretty shitty imagining that everyone else felt that way. Maybe looking like a teacher’s pet all the time was part of why she couldn’t actually make any other friends.

Thinking this all over as she walked through the busy hall, she didn’t register that someone had called her name out behind her. She didn’t notice until they said it again, “Danvers.”

Surprised, Carol turned and, to her complete confusion, saw Minnerva staring expectantly at her.

“Did you say my name?” Carol asked, pausing in front of the lockers just outside of Yon’s classroom.

“Yeah, like twice,” Minnerva said. “Do you have a second?”

“Why, did you leave something out yesterday?”

“Look,” Minnerva said, blinking a couple times, then rolling her eyes. “I’m sorry about that.”

“What?” Had she heard that right?

“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I shouldn’t have butted into your conversation or whatever. And I shouldn't have called you a suck-up. So… sorry, I guess.”

“Okay…”

“Okay, so are we cool for now?”

“Uhh… I mean…” Carol really didn’t know what she was supposed to say to this weird, out-of-the-blue apology. “Sure?”

“Cool. See you in class.” Without any further formalities, Minnerva walked past her, and Carol stared after her as she turned into Yon’s classroom.

She just continued to stare for a second. Had she just hallucinated that? What the fuck.

Shaking her head, she went into the classroom. She glanced at Minnerva and Attlass, but Minnerva wasn’t paying attention to her in the slightest. Attlass smiled at her a little though. Carol smiled back and quickly went to her desk.

On the list of strange things happening to her this year, Minnerva apologizing was definitely up there. But she wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad thing yet. She had no idea why Minnerva would go out of her way to do something like that.

 


 

As Carol got ready for bed that night, she couldn’t stop thinking about Minnerva’s apology. After she had changed into her pajamas and brushed her teeth, she went into her own room to make sure her backpack was all put together for the morning. Then she switched off the light and headed down the hall to Yon’s room, hopping onto her side of the bed. The door to his bathroom was open, and he stood facing the mirror as he brushed his teeth.

Carol scrolled through her phone for a second, looking at Minnerva’s Instagram posts, feeling a bit jealous that Attlass was in so many of her pictures. Then Yon shut the bathroom light off and was going to his side of the bed, so she locked her phone and set it on the nightstand.

Yon had barely pulled back his side of the comforter when Carol said, “So remember how Minnerva was being a bitch to me at track?”

“Yes…”

“So she apologized.”

“Really?” he said, getting into bed next to her. “Well, that’s good, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s weird.”

“Maybe you should just take it for what it is and not overthink it.”

“Ugh, can you not be boring for one second?”

“I didn’t realize I was supposed to be making my advice more exciting.”

“I wasn’t asking for advice, I was telling you that she apologized and it was weird.”

He sighed, maybe finding it hard to hold back the rest of his boring advice. “Why was it weird for her to apologize?”

“You don’t think it’s weird that she apologized out of nowhere?”

“Maybe it wasn’t out of nowhere. You don’t know what else she might have going on in her life to bring her to apologize.”

She rolled her eyes. “Like what?”

“I don’t know, Carol. Maybe she talked to someone about it.”

Carol stared at him for a second, considering. Then she said, “Did you have anything to do with it?”

He raised his eyebrows, almost laughed. “Me? Why would I have talked to her about this?”

“I don’t know…” From his reaction, she started to feel a little dumb for suggesting it, but went on, “You could’ve said something else to her about the team rules and not told me about it or something. I mean, she’d probably apologize if you told her to.”

“No, I spoke to you both at the same time, there’s no need for me to bring up the situation with her again. Besides, even if I did, I wouldn’t have urged her to apologize. That would obviously be me playing favorites and we don’t need to draw more attention to that issue.”

She didn’t know why what he said had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty stupid of me to think that you might ever stand up for me.”

“What—what does that even mean, Carol? The issue isn’t me standing up for you, it’s about keeping us safe.”

“Yeah, I know… I know. I just—I don’t know, nevermind. I’m just tired. We don’t have to keep talking about this.”

Carol laid herself back and pulled the comforter up to her chin. Yon looked at her like he had more to say, opening his mouth, then closing it.

Finally, he sighed and said, “I’m glad she apologized, Carol. I hope it’s a good sign for you.”

“We’ll see, I guess,” she said.

He switched off his bedside lamp and, even though she was still kinda annoyed by his comments, she pressed herself close to him as he settled himself into a comfy position. She still just really liked cuddling up to him at night—it was nice to feel this close to someone and he always smelled so good.

“You’re so boring,” she said, “but you’re still hot.”

“Thank you…?”

“You’re welcome.”

His exhale sounded like a laugh. “Goodnight, Carol.”

“Goodnight.”

 


 

Carol sat at a table in the library during her free period one day, trying to focus on her French assignment. A small part of her kinda resented having to do homework for Yon’s class still, even though she knew that was immature of her. Just because she was sleeping with him didn’t mean that she was suddenly fluent in French. But at the same time, no one else in class had ever given him a blow job so… maybe there was a balance to be found somewhere.

As Carol sat somewhat bitterly bent over her assignment, someone set their books down across from her and she looked up to see Attlass.

“Hey, Carol,” he said, his mouth twitching into an uncertain smile. “Mind if I sit with you?”

She didn’t know if the panic she felt was from Yon’s warnings, or because she had left his last message to her on read. Either way, she just said, “Sure, if you want to.”

He sat across from her, nodding towards her open books, “Is that the French homework?”

“Yep,” she said, trying to act like she was still focused on the sentence she had been writing before he sat down. She couldn’t even remember what she had been writing now.

“I finished mine if you need help,” he said.

“I’m almost done,” the words came out sounding maybe a little more harsh than she had wanted, so she quickly added, “but thanks.”

A quiet, heavy moment passed between them as Carol forced herself to write a few more French words while willing herself to somehow not look too concerned about Attlass’s presence.

“So…” Attlass attempted to lift the heavy silence. “You never replied to my last message.”

So the silence got heavier. Cool. Carol glanced up to him, feeling her face burn.

“If I had known you were going to hunt me down, I might’ve replied faster,” she said.

“Were you actually going to reply?”

“I don’t know, it was pretty late when we were messaging. I was tired.”

“Look, I just really want to talk to you.”

“Okay. Well, we’re talking now.”

“Yeah, but I mean… like, actually talk about… everything.”

She fidgeted with her pencil, staring down at the French words that were becoming even more foreign as she tried to wrestle all of the various anxieties that a conversation with Attlass brought.

When she didn’t say anything, he continued, “What I said was true: I get why you’re upset. And I am really sorry. Maybe I should’ve tried saying this in person first, but I really do miss you. This year has been really weird without you.”

Carol stayed silent, filled with a want to tell him that yes, this year was weird and he couldn’t even begin to imagine exactly how weird it was. But she could hear Yon telling her that that would just lead to Attlass asking more questions that he shouldn’t be asking, and Carol didn’t know what to do. She just kept fidgeting with her pencil.

“So… are you just going to ignore me then?” Attlass said.

“No… no, I’m sorry.” Carol put her pencil down, clasping her hands together on her lap, still having a hard time looking at Attlass. “I just… I don’t know what to say. We haven’t talked in a while.”

“I know, but that’s why I want to talk now. I want to keep being friends with you, Carol. I don’t like not having you around.”

“I…” She was fidgeting with her hands on her lap, made herself stop, brought a hand to the back of her neck, then fingered the chain down to the star pendant at her throat. She took a deep breath and without thinking said, “I miss you, too.”

When she looked up at him, he smiled. It was actually a little awkward. Now that they both knew that they missed each other, what were they supposed to do? Run off into the sunset to get friendship bracelets?

“So…” Attlass said. “Does this mean we can talk?”

“I thought we were talking…?”

“I mean more like… can we catch up? I mean, your parents finally got you a new phone? We never thought that would happen.”

“Yeah…” She thought about the day her parents cancelled her phone and about Yon picking out a new phone for her and how weird it was that that felt like so long ago now, but Attlass had no idea. “It’s crazy.”

“Does that mean things are going better with them?”

That was exactly the kind of question that Yon would be losing his shit over if he could hear this conversation. As it were, Yon had no idea this was happening, but she still felt like he was somehow listening over her shoulder

“Uh… I mean, things are fine… I guess.” She toyed with the pendant on the necklace and tried to smile at Attlass. “My dad’s still a piece of shit.”

“Well, I doubt he’ll ever not be a piece of shit.”

“Probably not.”

“But we’re half way through senior year now. You won’t have to live with him for too much longer.”

“No… no, I guess I won’t.”

 


 

Getting to talk to Attlass again after so long was pretty nice, but also just as stressful as Carol had feared it would be. Unless they were talking about things happening at school, she had to lie about pretty much everything. Maybe it would get easier eventually, but catching up with him was hard. But she really wanted to have him as a friend again, so she hoped she wasn’t acting too weird around him and that she wouldn’t scare him off or something.

And then there was also the whole issue of whether or not she was going to be honest with Yon about catching up with Attlass. She felt like she was going to tell him eventually, but she didn’t want to have him freak out and give her another lecture about being careful. She didn’t know if she’d be able to enjoy being friends with Attlass again if Yon was going to be constantly reminding her not to fuck everything up.

When she was in French class that day, turning in the assignment that she never actually finished—Yon was going to ask her about it later of course, but he might give her full credit anyway if she played it off right—she could barely look at Yon. She was glad that her back was to Attlass too, because she didn’t want to look at him either.

God, sometimes she really really wished that she was just a normal teenager worrying about normal teenager things. As if dealing with her shitty parents hadn’t been enough, now she had to worry about getting Yon sent to fucking prison if she started having friends again. It was great that she had Yon and that he loved her and everything, but maybe it would’ve been better if they had just waited.

She immediately shoved that thought out of her brain.

There was nothing she could do now to change anything. And she had wanted all of this with him so bad, she felt like she had practically begged him to be with her, so she just had to deal with the parts of it that sucked. And it wasn’t like everything sucked, either. Most things were fine, and he was doing so much for her.

But since he did do so much for her, she felt like she shouldn’t be having this dilemma over whether or not she should be honest with him about Attlass. It felt like she owed him honesty about this. Plus, Yon was the one person in the world she could talk to about anything right now, so why would she start hiding things from him, too?

She just didn’t want him to tell her that she couldn’t have her friend back.

The same thoughts kept cycling through Carol’s head, and none of them resolved themselves into anything that made her feel any better about her situation. If anything, they just made her feel increasingly worse, until the spinning cycle of her thoughts seemed to be physically banging against her skull and swirling down to twist her stomach.

By the end of French class, she had a headache and a stomach ache and no idea what she was going to tell Yon about Attlass. As she went through the rest of her classes for the day, her indecision was outweighed by how much physical pain it had put her in. The end of the school day was rolling around, which meant it was almost time for track practice, but she was nauseous and her head was pounding and she just wanted to close her eyes and lie down.

Wincing against the sounds of the other students clamoring to get to their lockers after the last bell, Carol trudged back to Yon’s classroom. God, had everyone in this school always been so fucking loud? She wished she could just teleport from here directly to her bed.

She reached Yon’s classroom and, cautiously, she peaked her head in, just to make sure no one else was around. Only when she saw that everyone from his last class had left, she walked in. He was focusing on his computer and she wasn’t sure he had noticed her.

“Hey,” she said.

He looked up then, wrinkling his forehead in confusion. He stood, eyeing the door behind her, then said, “Why aren’t you at the gym right now?”

“I don’t feel good.” She set her bags on the floor and plopped in the desk she sat in for French, folding her arms on top of the desk and resting her head on them.

“What’s wrong?” he asked

“My head hurts,” she mumbled. “And I feel nauseous.”

He kept his eyes on the door as he stood from his desk and walked to the front of it, leaning against it, arms crossed. The buzzing fluorescent lights overhead were grating against her and she shut her eyes.

“Did you go to the nurse at all?” he asked.

Shaking her head, she mumbled, “I thought it would go away.”

She was keeping her eyes shut, so she couldn’t tell what he was doing in the silence, but she imagined he kept glancing at the door. Then he said, “What do you want to do about it?”

Peaking at him, she said, “Can I go home?”

He sighed and ran a hand over his face, looked at the door, then back to her. Voice low, he said, “I don’t know how you’re going to get there.”

Just above a whisper, she asked, “Can’t you drive me?”

“I’d miss too much practice; I might as well cancel at that point. I don’t really want to cancel on everyone else at the last minute like this.”

She put a hand over her face. “Can I just wait in your car or something?”

“No, you’re not waiting in the car the whole time. It’s too cold out and I’m not leaving the car running in the parking lot for that long.”

Sighing, she pressed her hand against her forehead—the aching just seemed to become worse the more they talked.

“Are you certain you can’t just take some aspirin and try going to track?”

She removed her hand to look at him, then immediately had to cover her face again, suddenly feeling prickling at the corners of her eyes. “I can’t…”

“Okay, okay, you don’t have to go. You can just…” He let out a long sigh. “You can just wait in here. If anyone comes in, just… just be honest and tell them you didn’t feel good during track and you needed to wait somewhere quiet until your ride got here. Alright?”

“Mmhmm.”

She heard him sigh and then rustle around his desk as he got his things together for track. His footsteps came towards her and she squinted her eyes open. Hesitantly, he touched his fingers to the desk, close to her arm.

“I’ll text you when track is over, then meet me at the car,” he said, softly, touching the back of his fingers to her arm. “Feel better.”

“Will you turn the light off when you leave?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.”

Closing her eyes again, she listened to him walk away and flick the light switch. The buzzing overhead faltered and ended, and she heard his footsteps fade down the tiled hallway.

As she sat there in Yon’s dark classroom, she remembered that she still had to decide whether or not she was going to tell him about Attlass. The pulsing pain beating at her temples wouldn’t let her think about it for too long, but the unsettled feeling in her stomach made her wish that she didn’t have to lie to anyone. She just wanted to be normal.

 


 

Yon felt terrible making Carol just sit and wait for track to be over while she was clearly in pain, but he didn’t know what else to do. For a moment as he walked to the gym, he thought that maybe he really should just cancel practice. But he still didn’t want to do that to the rest of the team last minute, especially to the team members who were dependent on someone else picking them up.

So Carol waited in his classroom while he coached the rest of the team. If Carol had been any other student, he wouldn’t have had much anxiety about letting her wait in his classroom. But of course she wasn’t any other student, and showing even the tiniest hint of favoritism now worried him more than he wanted it to.

But track finished and Carol met him at his car and everything was fine. Well, other than Carol’s headache. He had hoped that she would be feeling better by the time track was over, but she silently slouched in the passenger seat of his car, covering her face with her hand, wincing if he hit a bump in the road.

“Do you normally get headaches like this?” he asked. He had lived with her for months now and this hadn’t happened, so maybe that was a silly question.

“I don’t know,” she mumbled. Now probably wasn’t the best time to ask her about her medical history, or anything really.

When they got home, she dropped her bags, took off her shoes, and went straight upstairs to her room. He listened to her bedroom door shut. For a second, he thought it was odd that she wouldn’t just go straight to sleep in his bed—that’s where she slept every night now—but her headache meant the decision didn’t really mean anything other than her needing a dark, quiet space.

He picked up her backpack and gym bag, setting them near the kitchen table, and as he did, he heard a buzzing sound. She had put her phone in the side pocket of her backpack. Looking towards the stairs, as if she would come walking down any second, he pulled the phone from the pocket. On the lockscreen was a new message from Attlass, reading: It was good to talk to u today.

He felt a coldness wash over his limbs as he unlocked her phone, pulling up her chat history with Attlass. There was nothing else to indicate what they had been talking about. Yon almost pulled up the keyboard, ready to type under Carol’s name in an attempt to figure out what she had told him today. But he locked her phone and replaced it in the backpack before he could do that.

Whatever Carol had talked to Attlass about, it probably wasn’t anything important. And anyway, she would probably tell him about it once she was feeling better. He’d have to wait until then to find out.

But Yon kept looking at that pocket on her backpack. What if Carol had told him too much?

When he heard the buzzing again, Yon was quick to pull her phone out. Another message from Attlass: I’m glad things are better w ur parents.

Of course Carol hadn’t said anything she shouldn’t have. All the same, he was overwhelmingly relieved.

Once more putting her phone in her backpack pocket, Yon went to the kitchen to fill up a glass of water. He brought it to Carol along with some aspirin, setting them on her nightstand for her, gently stroking her hair the way he had wanted to earlier when she had buried her head atop her desk.

“Are you hungry?” he asked, sitting next to her on the bed.

She just shook her head. He’d make dinner for her anyway and leave it in the fridge if she didn’t feel better at all tonight.

“Take some aspirin and try to drink all the water,” he said, stroking her hair again.

She propped herself up a little on her elbow, squinting, even though the only light in the room was coming from the hallway, spilling through the open door. She reached for the glass at her nightstand, and, for fear that she’d spill it, he helped her. He watched her swallow the aspirin and drink about half the water in the glass. Then she handed him the glass and buried her face in her pillow.

“Let me know if you need anything,” he said, touching her back. She made a vague mumbling sound and then he stood, leaving the room, gingerly closing the door behind him. He didn’t know exactly why, but in that moment, knowing that he was still safe with her, and being able to care for her in her weakest moments… it made him feel like he might actually be able to love her. At least in the way he always told her he did.

It was a nice, strange feeling, one that he didn’t know if he could trust. Was it actually her that he thought he could love? Or did he just love how comfortable he could feel in a situation that no one should actually be comfortable in?

He wouldn’t overthink it. After all, feelings like this didn’t really mean anything.

Chapter Text

Valentine’s Day was around the corner and this year Carol felt its approach looming in a way she never had before. In the past, the holiday had been mostly a joke, but she had never been in love with someone before. Now that she had Yon, she wasn’t sure how to handle a holiday about love. For one, she wasn’t even sure that he cared about the holiday, but if he was her boyfriend or whatever, she felt like she should do something for him.

He was probably going to do something for her, right? That’s what couples did for Valentine’s Day—they did things for each other. After the star necklace he gave her for Christmas, though, she couldn’t imagine him getting her something that meant more than that.

If they were a completely different couple, she imagined that they might go out to dinner together, maybe even a movie. It’d be so nice to just go out like a real boyfriend and girlfriend, no terrible consequences for being together. But there were consequences and that meant that they didn’t get to do anything in public. Everything they did was in his house. How were they supposed to celebrate Valentine’s Day if it had to be like literally every other day they spent together?

Ugh. She knew their relationship couldn’t be anything different right now, so why couldn’t her brain just leave well enough alone?

Trying to remain positive, she started to brainstorm what she could actually do for Yon for the holiday. Her first thought was that she should get him something, like maybe a card. But she couldn’t think of what to get him beyond a card—what were you supposed to get guys for Valentine’s Day?

A quick turn to the internet gave her a plethora of gift ideas, but most of them were out of her budget, AKA the unimpressive amount of cash she still had stowed away from her summer job. So, with guidance from various sites and articles, she decided that her budget friendly gift to him would be mostly sexual.

Although, she still wanted to make it different than all the other times they had sex. The only suggestion she found online that she was mostly comfortable with was lingerie. That was pretty simple, right? It was basically just fancy, extra-feminin underwear for adults, and she wore underwear everyday so she could muster up the self-confidence for that.

But of course self-confidence wasn’t the only thing she needed to wear lingerie. She needed to actually obtain the lingerie. Ordering anything online was out of the question since she only had cash. So she had to go out somewhere, which meant Yon had to take her.

If she ever needed to go to the store to pick out anything herself, he’d usually just drop her off and they’d agree on a general time for him to come back, and she’d keep a close eye on her phone the whole time. This time shouldn’t be any different, but asking him right now made her a little nervous. Probably because she wanted to keep her gift a surprise.

On a Friday evening, she came up to him while he was grading papers—honestly, he was so fucking boring, he was always grading. She touched his back, playfully tiptoeing her fingers up to his neck.

“Can I go to the mall this weekend?” she asked, moving her fingers to the top of his head. He moved his head a little, probably annoyed, and she took her hand away.

“What do you need at the mall?” he asked.

“To be at the mall.”

He was quiet for a moment as he finished writing something in red pen at the top of the paper he was grading. Then he flipped the paper over onto his completed stack and he said, “There’s no specific reason why you need to be at the mall?”

“Do I need a specific reason?”

He turned away from his papers to look at her. “Well, you usually have a reason for wanting to go somewhere.”

“Maybe I’m just bored.”

“Are you?”

She thought about it for a second and knew the honest answer was that yes, she was bored; watching Yon grade papers on Friday nights wasn’t exactly exciting. But that wasn’t why she wanted to go to the mall. She just shrugged.

“You’re being very evasive right now,” he said.

She fought a smile and said, “No, I’m not.”

“You’re not going to give me an actual reason why you want to go?”

“Yeah, I already told you.”

“To just be at the mall?”

“It has surprisingly more things to do than your house.”

He started smiling back, giving her a skeptical look. “Alright, I’ll drop you off there tomorrow. I have to run errands anyway.”

“Oh, are you going grocery shopping?”

“Yes.”

“Can you get Doritos?”

“Didn’t I just buy you some?”

“No, you bought me Cheetos last week and I ate them pretty much right away, obviously.”

“I don’t know, Carol, that’s a lot of junk food lately. You should really be sticking to your track diet.”

“Basically all we eat is healthy stuff.”

“I don’t hear a problem in that statement.”

“What about all things in moderation?”

“That’s what the Cheetos were, and clearly you didn’t enjoy them in moderation. Anyway, if we start buying junk food all the time, then it’s not in moderation.”

She threw her head back and groaned. “I just want a fun snack.”

Yon chuckled and said, “I’ll find you an alternative.”

“Don’t laugh at my pain.”

“Well, you’re being over-dramatic.”

“Because you’re being overly lame.” She groaned again and dragged her feet to the couch, flopping herself down. Staring at the ceiling, she called over, “I’ll let you put it in my butt if you buy me Doritos.”

“Carol, no, that’s—no, I don’t even want—no.”

“I thought all guys wanted that.”

“No, they don’t.”

“What if I wanted it?”

He hesitated before saying, “Do you?”

“Not really. Unless I’m getting Doritos out of it.”

“Well, then it looks like we’re not doing it.”

She propped herself onto her elbows so she could look at him bent over his grading again. Thinking about both the possibility of convincing him to buy her junk food and her Valentine’s gift she said, “Is there any other weird thing you want to do?”

Head still bent down, he glanced at her, then focused back on his papers. “Nothing weird comes to mind.”

“Okay, then anything different? I mean, from what we normally do.”

“Why are you asking this right now?”

She let herself flop back down onto her back. “Maybe I’m bored.”

“Bored just right now, or bored about… sex?”

“No… I don’t think sex is boring.” She held herself back from adding, For the most part.

She didn’t think sex was boring so much as it still just wasn’t everything she had expected. It was less… cinematic than she had hoped, even after she had mostly gotten over how overwhelming it was at first. Bored didn’t really cover that feeling. Maybe the right word was disappointed, but even that didn’t feel right. Yon always tried to make sure that things felt good for her, so not everything about sex was disappointing—sometimes it was the opposite, sometimes it was fun—but it was still awkward.

She wasn’t sure that she could ever really be comfortable being naked in front of anyone, and sometimes it was still just weird to see Yon’s orgasm face. And she felt like she made a lot of jokes after sex, which Yon would just roll his eyes at. He knew her so well and he knew that she got extra sarcastic when she was uncomfortable but he seemed to forget that when it came to sex.

She wished she could just get herself to say that sometimes sex still made her feel gross—the kind of gross that can’t be showered off. And sometimes she’d feel that way when she was at school, like when he had reprimanded her for arguing during track.

The feeling was a deep-rooted, grimy thing that started in the middle of her brain and leaked down her body to become stagnant in her heels. It was toxic sludge that left a trail of every bad thing she had ever thought about herself and everything that made her too sick to talk about. It felt like all the times her dad yelled at her, it felt like her mom pouring a drink as she looked the other way, like her brother barely talking to her once he went to college, like having only one friend that she never saw, and it felt like Yon’s hand between her legs when she hadn’t been ready for it.

But she didn’t like thinking about that. She doubted she’d ever even talk to Yon about it—it felt like too much to say when all he wanted to know, at least right now, was if sex bored her. Maybe she’d just grow out of that feeling eventually. Keeping it to herself was probably fine.

“So you’re just restless in general right now?” Yon asked, bringing her out of her thoughts.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I’ll be done grading soon, if you want to do something.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know… pick out a movie or something.”

“And we can cuddle?” She did still really like cuddling; that never really made her feel awkward or gross.

“Yes,” he said, sounding farther away than the kitchen table, most of his attention on the papers in front of him.

She sighed and pulled her phone out of her sweatshirt pocket, scrolling through social media apps to see what everyone else was doing right now. Her brother was at some party. Attlass and Minnerva were hanging out. Some girls on the track team went to a movie together. Post after post about what everyone was doing tonight.

It wasn’t as if she had a roaring social life before Yon, so she probably wouldn’t be doing much right now anyway. But, for some reason, she kinda wished she could just make a dumb post about spending time with her boyfriend, just so she could feel a bit like everyone else. Obviously she couldn’t do that, though.

The sound of shuffling papers made her look up from her phone. Yon was putting away his grading, and he glanced over at her, her phone still up close to her face.

“Has Attlass tried talking to you again at all?” he asked.

Self-conscious heat crept up Carol’s neck—she still hadn’t told Yon about her conversation with Attlass in the library. It was easy not to say anything if it never came up, but here it was, being brought up now. But she knew she had to tell him, even if he might lecture her again.

“He, uh…” She locked and unlocked her phone, then put it back into her pocket, hands still fidgeting with it. She just had to say it. “He talked to me at school and it went fine and I didn’t say anything important, so you don’t have to freak out or anything.”

“I’m not freaking out,” Yon said, tucking away the last of his papers into a folder. “I’m glad you got to talk to him. Just keep being cautious.”

She couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes, or from letting out a deep breath. That hadn’t been nearly as bad as she had worked it up to be. It was a little suspicious.

“Is that all you’re going to say?” she asked, as he walked into the living room.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you usually have a whole lecture planned for when I talk to anyone.” She moved her feet so he could sit down.

“No, I don’t. I just remind you to keep being careful; that’s not a lecture.”

“Okay, well the way you said it right now wasn’t a lecture, but it usually is.”

“You always say that. But right now it feels like you’re the one trying to give a lecture.”

She scoffed. “No, I’m not.”

“Alright. Well, I wasn’t either.”

Rolling her eyes at him, she reached for the remote on the coffee table. His hand was on her leg, and she briefly remembered the first time he had touched her leg on this couch and how jittery and excited that had made her. Right now, it didn’t make her feel quite that electric—it felt pretty normal. But she still wondered if he was going to move his hand up her leg tonight, if he’d end up on top of her, or if she’d be pulling herself onto his lap when they were twenty minutes into whatever they decided to watch. Or maybe they were just going to watch tv. It would be nice to just cuddle like she asked.

She turned on the tv and they settled on a movie and it became clear that they weren’t just going to cuddle. Which was fine. After their conversation, she didn’t want to seem like she had, for some reason, lied about not being bored with sex. And once she got her Valentine’s Day gift for him, she hoped that she’d be excited to wear it. She didn’t want him to know about any of the other feelings. Maybe lingerie would help her get over all of that.

 


 

The next day, Yon dropped off Carol at the mall. The mall was usually busy enough for her to be dropped off without anyone noticing, but she still always felt a little tense whenever she got out of his car in public. He pulled his car into a parking spot, so she could get out at an inconspicuous distance. It made him too nervous to drop her off closer to the door; he thought it would be more likely that someone walking in or out would notice them that way.

“I’ll text you when I’m on my way back,” he said as she unbuckled her seatbelt.

“Okay.” She glanced out the back window as a few unfamiliar faces walked by, then looked to Yon. For a second she wished that she could lean towards him to give him a kiss goodbye, but that obviously wasn’t an option. Glancing out the back window again, she said, “Coast is clear. No one here to arrest you today.”

“Carol.”

“Sorry.” She met his eyes for a brief second, ducked her head and started opening the car door. “I’ll see you later.”

“Have fun.”

She got out of his car and walked through the parking lot in the cold February air. She looked over her shoulder once to see him pulling away, then directed her attention ahead of her. Now that she was actually at the mall, she felt a little giddy that she was putting her gift idea into motion.

After browsing through Victoria’s Secret and a few other nicer stores, Carol was almost defeated. She just wanted some lingerie that made her feel adult and stayed in her budget, but she couldn’t find anything to meet those parameters. Finally, she gave up on being a classy adult and wandered into one of those cheap fast fashion stores that was overflowing with girls her age.

The music overhead was too loud and seemed to be more fitting for a nightclub than a clothing store, and she could barely hear herself think as she found her way to the underwear section. But at last, the price tags fit into her pathetic budget. She dug through various cheap and flashy undergarments, all the while trying to imagine exactly what Yon would think was hot. It wasn’t really like he looked at her in her underwear for long anyway, but she had her fingers crossed that this would go over well.

Finally, she paired some lacy black bottoms with a lacy black bra bedazzled with rhinestones. The bra was marked down, probably because some of the rhinestones had fallen off and another one fell to her feet as she looked it over for any other flaws. It was the best she could do though, so she settled, planning on flicking off the remaining rhinestones when she got home, and took her finds to the checkout.

She felt a little embarrassed buying glitzy underwear, as if she were basically advertising that she had some kind of sex life, but the cashier gave no indication that she cared in the slightest, which was oddly reassuring. Leaving the store with her purchase in hand, it seemed like her Valentine’s Day plan was going to be mostly successful.

She checked her phone for any texts or missed calls from Yon, but didn’t have any, and now that she had what she had come here for, she let herself wander a bit more aimlessly. It was nice to be somewhere besides school or home for a change. She hadn’t realized how incredibly cooped up she actually was until now; her footsteps were somehow lighter walking around the mall on her own.

As she wandered, she walked past a jewelry store boasting a Valentine’s Day sale. A sudden knot twisted her stomach as she observed a couple holding hands, pointing at something within the glass counters and smiling at each other. They just got to be out in public like that. And they probably had some really nice plans for the holiday because they didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing them. Meanwhile, she could barely get away with saying two words about Yon without potentially risking everything.

Compared to all the couples that got to walk around in public together, her relationship with Yon felt almost like a joke. She knew it wasn’t a joke, but was it even a real relationship if literally no one else knew about it? It wasn’t like she wanted to start telling everyone that she was sleeping with her teacher, but part of her wished that they could just be normal.

But of course nothing in her life really seemed to be normal, so maybe she just needed to accept that.

Suppressing a sigh, she turned away from the jewelry store, touching the star pendant around her neck. Yon loved her, and as long as he kept loving her, then maybe someday they’d get to have a normal relationship.

Thinking about the future of their relationship didn’t really bring her much comfort though, at least not right then, because she had no idea when they were actually going to start acting normal. Whenever they talked about their relationship, it was always about keeping it a secret right now, and then someday things would be different. But when was someday?

She thought maybe during college would be a good time to start being open, but Yon never really specified exactly what he thought. She knew it was probably because he was too worried about keeping everything secret right now to really discuss the future, but she just wanted to be able to picture how all of this stress was going to be worth it.

 


 

After dropping Carol off at the mall, Yon went to run some basic errands. He ran errands on most weekends, although Carol usually stayed at home and did homework while he was out. It was probably good for her to be out doing something today, though.

He knew she didn’t have much of a social life since moving in with him, and because of their unique situation, she didn’t really get to go out much beyond school in general. It was for the best that she didn’t socialize too much right now, just in case she slipped up. And he felt like he was doing his best to keep her happy with him.

Even so, he could still sense that she might be somewhat frustrated with his routine. He spent most of his weeknights coaching, and when he wasn’t coaching, he was grading. Even before Carol moved in with him, he didn’t have much of a social life—just the occasional drink with coworkers. It certainly wasn't a very exciting lifestyle, especially for a teenager.

But, other than her being bored and restless lately, he didn’t think she was unhappy. Even if they had the odd argument about their relationship, she always warmed back up to him. She was just as willing as ever, and he continuously enjoyed having a partner that seemed so eager.

As Yon got to the store and grabbed one of the red shopping carts, the thought of Carol’s eagerness to be with him reminded him that, among other items on his list, he needed to buy more condoms. At the thought, he felt the smallest bit of heat travel up his neck.

Buying condoms hadn’t made him anxious since he was much younger, but these days, just placing the box in his shopping cart made that feeling of vulnerability return. Logically, he knew there was nothing suspicious about an adult man needing condoms, but his anxiety kept telling him that it was blaring evidence against him. His conscience flung accusations at him, insisting that this deliberate purchase was somehow pushing him even farther away from his morals. As if he were trying to fool himself into feeling “responsible” by using protection to shag a teenager.

The genuinely responsible choice would be to not buy the condoms—and put an end to the relationship.

But he wasn’t going to do that. Ending things now would hardly clear his name, anyhow. And since he couldn’t erase his past choices, he didn’t want to end things with her now. What was done was done. And since things with her were clearly going to continue, then he had to buy them. At this point, it was just practical.

So today as he walked around with the condoms tucked underneath some other items in his shopping cart, the anxiety didn’t concern him too much. There was no way that anyone in the store—whether they saw what he was buying or not—could possibly know who he was sleeping with, he reminded himself.

He completed his shopping without any incident, moral or otherwise, and got in line at the checkout. While he was waiting, he took out his phone to text Carol that he would be heading back for her soon. He began to unload his cart as the person in front of him finished paying for their purchase. Absentmindedly, he glanced at the cashier as she handed the other customer their receipt, and it briefly struck him that she looked familiar.

“Did you find everything okay today?” the cashier greeted him as he stepped closer to her. She was a possibly middle aged woman, her name tag reading “Marie.” He didn’t think he knew her, but there was something familiar… It was probably nothing.

“Yes, I found everything okay,” he said, smiling. “Thank you.”

She gave him a polite smile in return as she started to scan his items, but then she stared at him for a second too long, as if she also recognized him.

“Aren’t you…” she began, uncertain. “I’m sorry, but are you a teacher at Hala High?”

“Yes, I am,” he said, smiling again. “I’m the track coach as well.”

He winced at sharing that bit about himself; he didn’t need to explain who he was to the cashier. But now he looked at her a little harder and a new anxiety coursed through him. Fuck. He was beginning to realize why she looked familiar.

“I thought so. You coach my daughter, right?” she said. “I’m sorry—my daughter is Carol Danvers.”

All he could do for a moment was just continue to smile, watching her scan a box of Carol’s favorite cereal. Then he said, “Yes, yes I’m her coach. She’s a great student.”

“That’s good to hear,” she said, and he swore she was turning a shade of red, up to the tips of her ears. For a moment she silently focused on scanning all these things he was buying for her daughter.

“So… how is she?” she asked, turning even more red before adding, “I mean, you know how teenagers are… the last thing they want to do is talk to their parents. She’s actually doing okay in track and… everything?”

“She’s the best athlete I have,” he said, mentally adding, And everything else has been going okay for her, despite being kicked out of her home by you. “She’s a pleasure to have on the team.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” She smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, somehow only emphasizing the dark circles underneath them. An infuriated part of him felt that she deserved to be as tired as she looked. He could practically feel the vibrations of her tired, anxious energy as she said, “She always had good things to say about you.”

“Really?” was all he could think to say in return. The way she spoke about Carol in past tense made him feel a bit like they were at a wake, and he was somehow a medium between the two of them. For all he knew, this was the closest she had come in months to anyone who had regular contact with Carol, and perhaps she was hoping to get an impossible glimpse of her through him.

“You’ve been a good influence,” she said, a little forced, like she was just trying to keep this conversation going, just hoping to get another glimpse of her daughter through him.

“I’m glad you think so,” he said, smiling, unwilling to volunteer much more to this conversation than he already had.

His palms were starting to sweat as she silently scanned and bagged the condoms. She didn’t have the slightest clue as to what was happening in Carol’s life and somehow here she was, telling him he was a good influence as she unwittingly helped him buy the condoms he was going to use with the daughter she was probably losing sleep over.

He wished his heart would stop pounding, rushing blood past his eardrums. He wasn’t the one who had forced Carol out of her home. He hadn’t done anything like that to Carol. It wasn’t his fault that Carol had all but vanished from her mother’s life.

“Will you be paying with cash or card today?” she asked, a slight crack in her voice. She cleared her throat and smiled.

“Card,” he said, taking out his wallet, returning her unsteady smile. He heard the faint ding of his phone’s text tone, indicating Carol had texted him back.

The formal transaction ended with her handing him his receipt and saying, “It was nice to see you.”

“You too.”

He pushed his cart away, hearing her greet the next customer, and he imagined he could feel her watching him a moment longer. But then he was leaving the store and he felt like he could still feel her watching him.

After loading up the car and returning the cart, he just sat in the car, heart still pounding, hands on the steering wheel. He counted to ten, inhaling, exhaling, telling himself that nothing had really happened. Then he texted Carol that he was on his way to pick her up. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he decided that he couldn’t come back here, not for a while. It was for the best.

 


 

Carol felt her phone vibrate and pulled it out of her back pocket. Yon was coming back for her now, so she texted him that she was heading towards the parking lot. She was more than ready to be done with Valentine’s shopping.

She tried not to focus on how bummed she felt about the happy couples and the unaffordable lingerie, because she knew how complicated their situation was and that he was doing so much for her right now. Thinking about all he did for her didn’t exactly make her cheap Valentine’s Day gift for him feel that much better, though. They always had sex, and she was beginning to think that adding clearance underwear into the mix wasn’t really going to make Valentine’s Day that special.

On her walk back to the mall entrance, she was a little zoned out as she mulled this all over. But she was swiftly pulled out of her thoughts as she nearly ran into someone walking out of a store.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry!” She was ready to keep her forward momentum and move away from this awkward situation, but a double take at who she had run into stopped her in her tracks. “Oh—hi, Attlass.”

“Carol? Nice to literally run into you,” he said, laughing a little at the mishap. Rather quickly, Carol realized that Minnerva was right next to him. And they were holding hands.

What the actual fuck.

“Hey, Minnerva,” Carol forced herself to say, kind of awkwardly.

“Hi,” Minnerva said, not really giving away any emotion.

“You… seemed like you were in a hurry to get somewhere,” Attlass blurted, probably eager to move on since he had never ever mentioned anything about liking Minnerva like that and now here he was, holding her hand in public. Was there anyone in the entire world who wasn’t in this fucking mall holding hands?

“Oh, I’m not really in a big hurry or anything, I was just kinda spaced out and then, uh… almost ran you guys over.” She was trying so hard not to look at their hands.

“Your parents let you drive here?”

“No… I got dropped off.” She eyed Minnerva, embarrassed that she was hearing this. But who knew what else Attlass was telling her if they were just casually out and about holding hands now.

“Oh, well… do you need a ride back?” Attlass asked. “We were just going to stop at the foodcourt before heading out, but you could totally join us.”

“Oh no, I, uh… my mom is on her way now. But thanks.”

“Okay, I get why you were in a hurry now. But hey, if you want, we were going to study for our French quiz at my place later. You should come if you can.” He glanced at Minnerva, and surprisingly, she nodded and smiled, even gracing some of the smile in Carol’s direction.

“I— I…” Why couldn’t she think of anything to say? “I’ll have to… I mean, I’ll ask my mom and I’ll let you know.”

“Cool,” Attlass said, seeming genuinely happy. “Well maybe we’ll see you later then.”

“Yeah, maybe.” That definitely wasn’t going to happen.

They exchanged awkward goodbyes and Carol went on her way, trying not to get too lost in her own thoughts—god forbid she spaced out again and ran into her parents or something this time. Luckily her dad hated malls though, so that run-in was unlikely. But she hadn’t thought that Attlass and Minnerva being a thing was very likely either, and yet there they were.

A little frazzled, she waited on a bench at the entryway, leg bouncing up and down, until her phone vibrated with a text from Yon, telling her he was finally here. She found him in the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his car.

“How was the mall?” he asked, nodding towards her shopping bag. “What did you get?”

She clutched the bag closer to her chest, and found herself grinning despite herself as she said, “Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, now I’m worried about it,” he spoke like he was joking, but she felt like he was partly telling the truth.

“You’ll find out later; it’s a surprise. Don’t ruin it.”

“Ah, I see. As long as it’s not too surprising.”

She rolled her eyes. “What could I possibly have gotten at the mall that would be too surprising?”

“You never know.”

“Okay, well just calm down. It’s for Valentine’s Day, so you’ll find out what it is this week.”

“You shouldn’t be spending whatever money you have on me for Valentine’s Day.”

“Yeah, because the whole ten dollar bill I had to bust out at the mall was really going to make or break me.” She sighed. “You don’t need to be grumpy about it.”

“I’m not being grumpy.”

“Uh-huh, sure.” Her face was growing warm and she looked out the passenger window. All she had wanted to do was attempt to do something nice for him and he just wanted to lecture her about money.

“I’m sure whatever you got is going to be a nice surprise, though,” he said in a way that sounded a little fake, probably just trying to appease her. Or maybe she was just imagining that and he wasn’t being patronizing at all.

“Well, you’ll see for yourself soon enough,” she said, still staring out the window.

“I think you’re the one being grumpy, Carol.”

“What?” She glanced at him.

“Is something wrong?”

“Other than you lecturing me about getting you a surprise?”

He sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“I’ll forgive you this time, I guess.”

He smiled, and for a moment she watched his hands on the steering wheel, thinking about how they never really just held hands. She was burning to ask him what he thought about their future together.

Instead she blurted, “I saw Attlass today.”

“At the mall?”

“Yeah, I ran into him. He was with Minnerva… but, like… with her. They were holding hands.”

He nodded slowly. “And are you… upset about this?”

“I don’t know… maybe? I just don’t get why he never told me that he liked her like that.”

“Do you think it’s because he knows how much you dislike Minnerva?”

“Maybe… but she disliked me first.”

“He still probably didn’t want to upset you by telling you.”

“And finding out like this isn’t upsetting?”

“Do you feel like he wasn’t being honest with you?”

“Yeah, I just wish that he had maybe said something to me.” Carol paused, considering something. “Do you think that he asked Minnerva to apologize to me? I mean if they’re… together, then I guess she might listen to him.”

“That does seem likely.”

“Ugh, I just wished he would’ve told me! Especially since he’s trying so hard to be friends again now. He actually asked me to study with them today.”

“And what did you tell him?”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t tell him I was going to go. I said I’d have to ask my mom, so I’ll just say that she didn’t want to drive me anywhere else today. I don’t really want to study with them both anyway.”

Yon cleared his throat, then said, “It’s probably for the best that you’re giving yourself space if you’re upset with him right now.”

“I guess.” She didn’t really feel like she had any choice in whether or not she was giving herself space from anyone besides Yon right now, but she didn’t want to start that whole conversation. She sighed and said, “They were studying for French, anyway. I don’t think I really need their help with that.”

“No, but you should still study.”

She let out an exaggerated groan. “You suck.”

“I’m still your teacher.”

“Okay, then I’ll just remind you of that next time you’re taking off my pants.”

Yon said nothing, but color rushed to his cheeks. She knew he still didn’t like it when she said things like that. He shook his head, tapped his fingers a couple times on the steering wheel and she was waiting for him to say something but it was taking longer than she thought it should.

“Do you have a comeback or are you just going to give me the silent treatment now?” she said, trying to sound light-hearted.

“What kind of comeback am I supposed to have?”

“I don’t know, you’re usually all like, Carol, what am I going to do with you, you cheeky little blighter?”

He laughed. “When have you ever heard me say cheeky little blighter?”

“Never, but I’m not ruling it out as a possibility. I know it’s in your British vocabulary somewhere.”

“If you say so.”

She didn’t know why, but even though he was smiling, she still felt like something was slightly off.

“So was grocery shopping okay today?” she asked. “Or did something upsetting happen to you too?”

“What? No, it was uneventful.”

“Exactly how you like it.”

“Precisely. Dull and uneventful.”

She snorted. “You’re so boring.”

“I’m fine with that,” he said. “There are worse things to be than boring.”

 


 

That evening, Yon was trying to keep his mind off of his encounter with Carol’s mom. He wasn’t sure if not telling Carol about it was the right decision—if he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t even sure he knew why he decided not to tell her. Maybe part of him didn’t want to upset her anymore by talking about the encounter. He’d hate for her to keep picking at that wound more than she already did.

But there was a voice in his head telling him that if Carol knew her mom was asking about her, she might try to reach out herself. Other than all of the obvious issues that would arise if talking to her mom went better than expected, he didn’t think he wanted to see Carol decide that she’d rather go back to her parents than stay with him.

That idea was an absurd leap from the actual situation, he knew. Even if everything went the way his anxiety kept telling him it would, Carol wouldn’t willingly choose to go back to her parents; she was too stubborn and still too angry with them. And if, for some reason, Carol did ever forgive her mom, it seemed unlikely that it would lead to Carol moving back home, given that her abusive father had all the power.

And, perhaps more importantly, after everything that had happened between the two of them, he didn’t believe that she would want to leave him.

And he didn’t want her to leave—he needed her to stay. At least until after graduation. And if she left him after that, he hoped they would be on good terms. He didn’t see why they wouldn’t be, but the last thing he needed was for Carol to get upset and destroy his career. But she wouldn’t do that, not after everything he had done for her.

At any rate, these anxieties were mostly hypotheticals that he didn’t need to worry about, not tonight. Carol was safe at home with him.

Although she had been acting off since the mall, she was a little too quiet. After helping him put away the groceries, she had leaned against the counter, scrolling through her phone. With an exaggerated sigh, she had announced that she was going upstairs to study, and he watched her walk away, her shoulders slouched.

He blamed her mood on her run-in with Attlass and Minnerva. He didn’t quite understand why seeing them together had upset her, but then again, she was a teenager, and teenagers had a tendency to lean towards the dramatic. He hated that he sometimes forgot that about her.

After a few hours of silence, he went upstairs to check on her. He knocked on her door, didn’t get an answer, knocked again, then let himself in. She was lying on her bed, earbuds in, passed out with her open French textbook resting atop her chest. It was somewhat endearing, seeing her like that, but it made her look so young. For a moment, he imagined the bags underneath her mom’s eyes, the tired, fake smile.

Shaking his head, he counted the few strides it took to walk towards her, pushing aside the image of her mom. He sat at the end of her bed, gently touching her foot. She inhaled a sudden, large breath through her nose, opening her eyes.

“Did I fall asleep?” she said, pulling out her earbuds and pushing herself to her elbows, the book sliding off of her, and she slapped her hand on it before it could fall off the bed. He reached for the book, taking it from her.

“I’m glad my class continues to excite you,” he said, setting the textbook on the floor next to her backpack.

“Oui,” she said with a yawn. “Très excitant.”

She sat up, pulling her knees to her chest. Her eyes were cast down, towards his hand resting near her foot. She reached her own hand towards his and took it, holding it lightly, stroking the back of his hand with her thumb.

“What did you come up here for?” she asked.

“It’s almost dinner time,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

She just kept holding his hand, focusing on it. Maybe she was still a little out of it from her nap, but there was a heaviness in the air around her.

“Is… is everything okay, Carol?”

“Yeah.” She kept her eyes cast down.

With his free hand, he traced his fingers against her jawline to her chin, tilting her face up and she finally looked at him.

“Are you still upset about what happened with Attlass earlier?”

“No…” she said, her shoulders stiffening a bit. “I just…”

“Just what?”

“I just… I just want to know…” She cast her eyes away from him. “I just want to know that someday… that someday we can tell people about us.”

There was a sinking in his gut as he pulled his hand away from her face. “Carol…”

“I know, I know—we can’t tell anyone right now. But when? Maybe when I’m in college?”

He knew the answer, but he also knew it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“What about when I’m nineteen?” she continued, shedding the drowsiness from her nap. “That way it’s not right after graduation or anything, so no one would think that our relationship started when I was still in high school. And if you wanted, you could maybe even find a job at a different school, that way no one here would ever have to know.”

He couldn’t tell her that even waiting until she was nineteen wouldn’t look great for him. And getting a new job for the sake of their relationship was a step that, at least right now, seemed too complicated to be worth it. Whatever their future looked like, it wasn’t going to be as simple as her wide-eyed vision.

“You’ve been putting a lot of thought into this,” was all he could say.

“Well, I mean… I want to keep being with you so… yeah.”

“You’re very forward thinking.” He squeezed her hand. “I think it’s a good plan.”

“Really?” Her shoulders relaxed and she smiled.

“Yes, of course.” He tucked her hair behind her ear and she leaned into his touch. Reassuring her was so simple sometimes.

“I just want us to have a real relationship someday,” she said.

He knew what she meant, but he said, “We do have a real relationship.”

“But I want to be able to go to places with you and walk around together and just be normal.”

“We will,” he said. “Someday. Like you said, maybe when you’re nineteen we won’t have to worry.”

Brimming with pitiable sincerity, she said, “I hate being underage.”

Internally, he cringed. For a second, he was back at the store feeling her mom watch him walk away. But that had been mostly in his head then, and it certainly was now. No one was watching. No one knew anything and he found some comfort in their isolation.

“Everything is going to work out, Carol,” he said. “We’ll get through this. Together.”

Chapter Text

Carol really hated going to school on Valentine’s Day. Some club had organized a thing where students could send a carnation to someone during class and it was vaguely humiliating to sit there watching everyone get flowers from their friends and significant others while she got nothing. She wasn’t the only one who didn’t get a flower, but it still sucked. She didn’t want to be bothered by this dumb thing, but it was hard when it was all around her at school. Everyone else who had a boyfriend or girlfriend in the building got a tacky flower.

This particular Valentine’s Day was determined to be as irritating as possible. During French class, a couple giggly girls who also clearly had crushes on Yon decided to start asking him off-subject questions.

“How come no one sent you any flowers, Mr. Rogg?” one of the girls asked, making her friend giggle. Carol stared straight ahead at Yon, watching him smile and shake his head.

“Faculty doesn’t participate,” he said.

“Aw that’s a bummer,” the girl said, her voice flirtatiously lilting, grating against Carol’s ears. And Yon just smiled that smile that she knew was making them melt.

“Do you have a Valentine you’re going to see tonight, Mr. Rogg?” the other girl brazenly asked, making a few people laugh. Carol glanced over her shoulder at them; they looked so pretty and confident with their fancy makeup and low-cut tops. They didn’t even notice her staring. She wondered how much about them Yon was noticing. She looked back at him.

“Let’s get back on track,” he said, calm and smooth as ever.

“So that’s a no,” one of the girls said, probably meant just for her friend but it was just loud enough for everyone to still hear, and Carol snorted. It was amazing how well Yon could avoid looking at her.

Class went on and she was increasingly annoyed at the girls behind her. Yon was talking about how Valentine’s Day would be celebrated in France, which seemed like it wasn’t really as big of a deal as it was in the US, but the girls still giggled over everything he said. It especially didn’t help that the lesson today took a turn to focus on things to say during a date.

In any other year, she would have been just as flustered as the girls behind her and would probably have barely noticed anyone else in the classroom. But now everything was different and she was an actual part of Yon’s Valentine’s Day plans, so, as far as she was concerned, those girls could fuck right off.

She also knew Yon was fully aware that they were crushing on him—everyone within a ten mile radius probably knew with the way they were acting—but she tried not to get jealous. Yon had already told her that she was different because he had never gotten to know a student as well as her. And it wasn’t like he was suddenly going to start romantically pursuing every student that had a crush on him. Yes, she was sleeping with him, but she still didn’t think he was like that. These girls meant nothing to him, so they shouldn’t mean anything to her either.

For the last fifteen minutes of class, Yon let them all start on their homework. Carol kept her head bent down, focusing on her assignment, but she glanced up to see Yon looking at his phone. As if he could feel her looking at him, he glanced up at her and smiled. She smiled back, but focused back on her assignment as another student approached him with a question.

When the bell rang and she was walking to her next class, she peaked at her phone and her stomach did an excited little flip to see that she had a text from Yon reading: You look very beautiful today. I love you.

In that moment, Carol felt a little smug. Those girls in class and anyone else in this school could giggle and act as flirty with him as they wanted, but they were never going to get what she had. Maybe it didn’t even matter that she didn’t get a dumb flower from anyone either; the flowers were pretty silly and childish if she thought about it, but she was more mature than that now. After all, she had a real, adult relationship.

 


 

“So… some people in class today seemed pretty concerned about your Valentine’s Day plans,” Carol said once they were driving home after school.

Yon sighed and said, “That was rather awkward, wasn’t it?”

“Uh, yeah, they were practically ready to throw themselves at you.”

“I’m never really sure of the best way to react to those situations.”

“What do you mean? Does this happen a lot?”

“No, not a lot, but there are occasionally students that feel a lot more confident than perhaps they should, and, as a teacher, it makes me rather uncomfortable.”

“Really?”

“Yes, of course. It’s inappropriate for them to behave like that and I have to be careful to respond in the right way, seeing as I have an entire classroom watching me.”

“Hmm, yes, it’s very inappropriate for a student to flirt with a teacher. Imagine your shock when you find out I’ve been a student this whole time.”

“You’re not flirting with me in front of the entire class, Carol.”

“No, but… you said before that you could tell I had a crush on you…”

“Not because you were acting out-of-line. You never put me in an awkward position like that.”

“Yeah, but I can think of a few other positions I’ve put you in that might be even worse for the whole class to see.”

“Carol.”

She snorted and he just rolled his eyes at her.

But then Carol considered for a moment exactly how on-the-spot Yon actually was in that situation. There really were a lot of eyes on him, waiting for him to react. The wrong reaction could easily trigger one of the students to say something to another faculty member who might get Yon in trouble.

In this instance today with the girls, there really wasn’t anything alarming to uncover if the issue got out of hand, yet he still had to be careful how he handled it. Maybe it really was in both of their best interests when he didn’t pay her much attention in class. An entire classroom noticing the wrong thing could really fuck them both over.

Then it all made her wonder exactly why he wanted to be in a relationship with her if it really were that easy to get in trouble. He was concerned about saying the wrong thing to girls that he wasn’t involved with at all, and yet he was actually sleeping with a student. She knew they were both stressed about this relationship all the time, but maybe he really did think she was mature enough to trust, even if he did constantly remind her to keep everything a secret.

Thinking about how much he had put on the line for her made her start worrying about her Valentine’s gift to him—what if it wasn’t enough? But it was too late to do anything else.

They reached home, and once they were inside, coats and shoes removed, Carol felt her veins tingling with a buzzing urgency to get ready for her gift. But she had to play it cool.

Carol set her backpack down on the kitchen table, thinking maybe she should just start her homework to distract herself for a bit before getting ready. But she had barely put her backpack on the table when Yon pulled her closer to him, hands on her waist. He kissed her.

“It was hard to stop looking at you today,” he said.

“Yeah, you even stopped class early so you could text me,” she said.

He rolled his eyes, then kissed her again.

“I know we can’t go out to do anything special tonight,” he said, “but I thought we could order out something and have a nice night here.”

“Really? We haven’t ordered food in a while.”

“Well, seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I think the occasion calls for something different.”

“I think you’re right,” she said, thinking about her gift, hoping it was different enough from what they normally did.

He said that they were going to order food, but he just kept kissing her and she began to wonder if he actually wanted to eat dinner at all. She wasn’t ready to get too carried away right now, though, because that might ruin her gift. But then he slid his hand underneath her shirt and she found herself laughing.

“This isn’t uncomfortable for you as a teacher?” she said, pressing her hand over his.

She wasn’t sure if the sound he made was a laugh or a sigh, but he kissed her once more before loosening his hold on her, saying, “Let’s get dinner ordered before it gets too late, shall we?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

 


 

After they ordered dinner, Carol’s nerves about her gift started buzzing through her at a frequency she couldn’t ignore. She had to go get ready before she went crazy.

“I’ll go do homework until dinner gets here,” she said, trying to sound calm as she grabbed her backpack.

“Alright,” Yon said. “It should be here in about an hour.”

Carol went upstairs and locked her bedroom door, just to make sure he wouldn’t come in and see her before she was ready. She set out her cheap lingerie on her bed, feeling like it really did look a little lackluster, but it was still technically fancier than her normal underwear. Then she went to her mirror and did her makeup the best she could and let her hair down.

Finally, she stripped down and put on the lingerie and looked at herself in the mirror. She thought the lacy bottoms were pretty cute, and she didn’t hate the bra now that the rhinestones were all off, but it was a little scratchy. Her self-confidence wasn’t soaring through the roof or anything, but she felt surprisingly okay about how she looked right now. Although she wasn’t sure if she looked sexy or like a kid playing dress-up. She just hoped that she didn’t feel too awkward and ruin this whole thing when she revealed this to Yon.

Her “gift” was pretty much ready, but she realized that she couldn’t just go downstairs like this right away, so she went to her closet and dug through until she pulled out the same red dress she had worn on her college tour—it was still probably one of the fancier things she owned. The first thing she noticed when she looked in the mirror again was how much more pronounced her cleavage was with this padded bra, and somehow that made her feel strangely exposed. But the whole point of this bra was to make her look hot and mature, so she’d just have to act like it.

Feeling mostly ready, she looked in the mirror once more and headed downstairs. When she walked into the kitchen, Yon was sitting at the table with his laptop, probably doing some lesson or track planning. She just stared at him for a second. She hadn’t thought this through. Should she get him upstairs? Should she just strip in the kitchen? She didn’t really want to strip in the kitchen. Maybe she should wait.

“The food should be here soon,” he said, not looking up from his computer, but obviously he had heard her walk downstairs.

“Okay…”

He glanced at her, looked back to his laptop, then did a double take. “You changed… into a dress?”

“Well… it’s a holiday.”

“It is…” He was giving her a confused yet thoughtful look, then his eyes travelled over her and he shut his laptop, standing up. “Why don’t you go to the living room? I have a present for you.”

“I have one for you, too.”

“We’ll take turns,” he said, walking to the kitchen, opening a cabinet.

Carol sucked in a breath and went to the living room. As she sat on the couch, she watched Yon walk over carrying a decently sized gift box. He set it next to her and sat down.

“What is it?” she asked, fighting a smile.

“I can either tell you or you can open it.”

At that she took off the lid and pushed aside some tissue paper, revealing two variety packs of snack sized chip bags, Doritos and Cheetos among them.

“Doritos!” She was genuinely elated.

“Yes, and they’re in the smaller bags so you don’t eat them all at once.”

“We’ll see about that.” She picked up one of the variety packs and then saw underneath were a bunch of assorted chocolates. “And candy? And we’re ordering takeout tonight? You really said fuck the track diet this Valentine’s Day, huh?”

“The plan isn’t to eat all of this tonight, Carol.”

“Challenge accepted.”

“Maybe I should’ve just gotten you a teddy bear holding a heart instead.”

“What would I do with a teddy bear?”

“Not eat it.”

“Pfft.” Rolling her eyes, she put the variety pack back in the gift box and leaned closer to Yon. “Thank you for these Valentine snacks.”

“You’re welcome.”

She gave him a kiss and felt slightly relieved that his gift hadn’t been too fancy, since she was still feeling unsure about hers. But she was pretty happy with all of these snacks, especially since he was so into keeping her on their healthy track diet. Hopefully he’d be happy with his gift too…

“I have my thing for you, too,” she said.

“Ah yes, the big surprise from the mall.”

Her face was growing warm. She didn’t know what she should do. She should’ve planned this reveal a lot better, maybe she should’ve waited until they were upstairs or dimmed the lights or something. But she could do this. She just had to stand up, take off her dress, then she could sit on his lap or something.

She was starting to stand up to just try and make herself do this thing when the doorbell rang.

“And that’s the food,” Yon said. “I’ll be right back.”

Of course. She didn’t know if she was relieved or annoyed that her timing was so bad. Should she just wait until after they ate? No, it couldn’t wait, he was expecting her gift now. Plus, she wouldn’t want to feel all bloated after stuffing her face with dinner, and she was a little too nervous to eat anyway. So should she take off her dress and act all sexy and then they’d have sex or something before dinner? Would the food get too cold? Oh god, she really hadn’t planned this very well. She needed to think fast.

Yon walked to the kitchen table with the takeout bag and he barely had set the bag down when Carol blurted, “I left something upstairs.”

Yon gave her an odd look as she scurried past him. Once she was upstairs, she still wasn’t sure what she was doing. Okay, but she was upstairs now, so maybe if she could get him upstairs too then stripping in a bedroom would feel better.

“Is everything okay?” Yon called up to her.

“Uh… yeah!” she called back down, then, “Actually, can you come up here?”

She heard his footsteps coming towards the stairs, then she quietly dashed to his bedroom. She stood at the foot of the bed, brushed her fingers through her hair—ugh, she should’ve looked in a mirror before calling him up—and then he was upstairs, coming towards the room. He gave her an odd look as he walked into the room.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, everything’s fine—everything’s great, I’m great.” Why did she have to sound like such a moron all the time? “I just… I just wanted to give you my gift.”

“We did get interrupted, didn’t we?”

“Yeah… we did. So…” She was fidgeting with the fabric on the dress, but she made herself stop. “I’m going to show you now.”

He gave her a puzzled sort of look. “I’m very curious.”

This wasn’t really happening at all like how she had wanted it, and she wished she had put on something that she could let drop to the floor because that felt inherently sexier than having to pull the dress over her head, hoping she wasn’t going to get stuck in it the whole time. Luckily, she didn’t get stuck in the dress, but once it was off, dropping to the floor, she kinda wished it was back on.

“Happy Valentine’s Day…” She did some half-assed spirit fingers, as if that was going to be a turn on to anyone.

Yon was still looking at her like he was puzzled. “Are… are you the gift?”

“No, no it’s—” she gestured broadly up and down her body. “I got this lingerie. Well, I mean, it’s not super fancy, it just looks like a bra and underwear, but it was the best I could do…”

“So that’s what you were hunting the mall for.”

“Yeah… but it was supposed to be revealed a lot better…”

“You… you look amazing, Carol,” he said, stepping closer.

“Yeah, but I…” she sighed. She felt like such an idiot right now. She knew that her face must be red and she wasn’t feeling any of the confidence she had hoped to have in this moment. She was supposed to be seducing him or whatever right now, but she was too embarrassed to even really look at him. “The doorbell threw me off.”

He reached out to touch her hair, tucking it behind her ear, then cupped her cheek in his hand. His other hand was on her waist and he said, “You look beautiful. This is a very nice gift.”

“It’s not supposed to be very nice…”

“What is it supposed to be?”

“I don’t know… not nice, like hot or… something…”

“Well, you do look hot, or something.”

“Stop, you’re making fun of me.”

“No, I’m not. You look beautiful and there’s no reason for me to make fun of that.”

He kissed her, but she cut it off to say, “This wasn’t even the whole gift.”

“No?”

“No… I kinda… well, lingerie was step one, and the rest was, well… we can still do the other stuff.”

He smiled a little, then kissed her again. “Why don’t we eat dinner first?”

“Really?” she pulled back from him. “Was the surprise so bad that you just straight up don’t want to have sex with me now?”

“No… believe it or not, I’m very happy with this surprise, even if the doorbell did throw you off.” He stepped back from her, then picked up her dress from the floor. “But we did order dinner, and I know how excited you were about that, so I’d hate for it to go cold.”

He handed her dress to her and she took it, holding it against her chest. She didn’t want to put this stupid dress back on, she felt like an idiot. And she knew he was trying to be nice, but it just made her upset because he wasn’t supposed to be basically consoling her right now. Ugh, she should’ve known she’d fuck this up somehow.

“I’m, uh… I’m gonna go put on my sweatshirt before we eat…” she said.

“Okay, I’ll meet you back downstairs.”

Maybe she should just put the dress back on, but she didn’t want to feel ridiculous with her cleavage on full display for no reason. But she felt pretty ridiculous anyway as she walked to her room in her underwear. There was no winning here.

After she had not only changed into a sweatshirt and sweatpants but also changed into her normal underwear, she went back downstairs. Yon was setting the table and he smiled when he saw her.

“I like this ensemble too,” he said, and the look he gave her made her fight a stupid grin.

“Shut up, you see me in this every day,” she said, sitting down.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t like it.”

She just rolled her eyes. He walked by her before he sat down and kissed the top of her head. He kept being especially nice all through dinner, and even though she was still embarrassed at how she had fucked up her gift, he was actually making her start to feel like maybe it didn’t matter that she had fucked up.

Just like she had realized months ago that he genuinely wanted to be there for her, she realized now that he actually really did love her. Yes, he said it all the time and he did lots of other things to show it, but part of her was always scared that he didn’t mean it, or that he would change his mind just like everyone else. Maybe him consoling her wasn’t what she had wanted to happen and maybe it had hurt her pride a bit, but, strangely enough, it was making her feel really loved by him.

More than anyone else in her life, he really did make her feel wanted. This was exactly why she had fallen for him to begin with. Well, other than him just being super hot.

When they were cleaning up after dinner, the table cleared and dishes in the dishwasher, he stood by the sink washing his hands, and she came up to him, hugging him from behind. She nuzzled her cheek against his back and squeezed him.

“I love you a lot,” she said. He touched her hands with his, still wet.

“I love you, too,” he said. He moved to dry his hands on a dish towel, and she kept herself pressed against him, feeling the soft vibrations of his gentle laugh as she moved with him. Hands now dry, he took hers, loosening her grip so he could turn to face her.

“You’re remarkable,” he said, his touch on her waist making her feel a little giddy. “And I’d love to take a closer look at this gift.”

“I changed out of it,” she said, blushing as if he had never held her this close to him before. “But I can put it back on… and then I can complete my gift. If you want.”

He tucked her hair behind her ear and said, “If that’s what you want, then that’s what I want.”

Then he kissed her in a way that was both soft and comforting yet dizzying and electric. Kissing him right now was just as good as it was the first time, when it had just been him holding her close, comforting her, filling her with unexpected joy. Right now she wasn’t thinking about how that first electric kiss had so quickly turned into something confusing and nauseatingly stressful. She forgot about how those butterflies in her stomach had turned to hornets, because right now the fluttering in her stomach wasn’t violent. Right now, being with him was everything she wanted it to be.

“I love you,” she spoke against his mouth. “I love you more than I love those Doritos you got me.”

“I’m relieved to hear that.”

He kissed her again and his hands wandered over her and she wanted to keep pulling herself closer to him, but she said, “We should go upstairs before my gift to you gets ruined again.”

His mouth was close to her ear, making her shiver as he said, “I’ll follow your lead.”

 


 

Yon let Carol take his hand as they drove to school the next day. Since last night, she was being particularly affectionate. He wasn’t sure how the night would end up after the initial awkwardness of her gift, but after reassuring her, it didn’t take long for her to bounce back.

When he told her that he liked her gift, he wasn’t lying. It wasn’t so much that he was blown away by the cheap lingerie, but he saw how much genuine thought and effort she had put into it. And, somehow, the way she had fumbled her initial execution of the gift made his chest ache from how endearing he found her.

After her mood had lightened, their night ended on a high note. She was clearly still feeling the high this morning; he had woken up to her intertwining her legs with his, kissing his cheek and whispering that she loved him. He was completely taken with her, and wholly disappointed that today was a weekday.

Her contentment and love-struck behavior was practically contagious. As they drove in his car now, he didn’t see the harm in letting her hold his hand until they got closer to school.

“You should cancel track tonight,” she said, a flirty playfulness putting a drawl on her words.

He laughed. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t have an actual reason to cancel it.”

“Uh, I can give you a few good reasons right now.”

“Oh you can, can you?”

“Yeah, like, for example, I didn’t actually get to show you everything I learned for your gift.”

“Where exactly were you learning all this again?”

“The internet.”

“So, if I were to pull up your browser history, what part of the internet exactly would I be seeing?”

“Why pull up my browser history when I could just demonstrate all the best parts myself? All you have to do is cancel track tonight…”

She squeezed his hand and he glanced at her, unable to fight a smile.

“I’m not cancelling track, Carol,” he said.

“Well then…” she pulled their clasped hands closer to her, onto her lap, then pressed his hand against her thigh. “Your loss.”

“Carol…” They were starting to get close enough to school for a bit of anxiety to sink in. He gave her thigh a gentle squeeze, then pulled his hand away from her, gripping the steering wheel. “You’re very unruly this morning.”

“Yeah, but you like it.”

He side-eyed her and she wiggled her eyebrows at him. He shook his head and laughed. She wasn’t wrong—he did enjoy her like this. It was nice to see her so happy, and it was even nicer knowing that her happiness was because of him.

 


 

Yon had lunch duty during Carol’s lunch hour that day. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a teacher to stop and chat a bit with some of the students during lunch, although obviously he tried not to seek Carol out too much. More often than not, he’d see her sitting alone in the cafeteria. He remembered seeing her sit with Attlass the years before this, and it did sadden him to see her so lonely this year, even if that same loneliness meant their secret was safe.

Today, as he monitored the buzzing cafeteria and observed her sitting alone, her concentration focused on her phone, lunch half eaten in front of her, he didn’t fight the direction his feet were taking him and found himself standing next to her table. She glanced up at him from her phone, and her mouth twitched into a smirk that she tried to hide by ducking her head down.

“I hope you take a break from that phone to actually eat your lunch,” he said, trying not to sound any more personable than he would with any other student. But most of the other students were oblivious to what was going on beyond their own table, and the other staff members in the cafeteria had no reason to concern themselves much with him.

“I can multitask.” She held up her phone in one hand and grabbed the uneaten half of her sandwich in the other, taking a bite from it. Mouth full, she said, “See?”

“Very impressive,” he teased. He nodded his head towards the snack sized Doritos bag on the table. “That looks like a fun addition to your lunch.”

She was turning an adorable shade of red as she fought back a grin. “Yeah, they’re pretty fun.”

He had to focus down at his feet for a moment, scared if he looked at her for much longer that he wouldn’t be able to look away. He could feel himself starting to blush for no reason.

“Well, I’ll see you in class soon, Vers,” he said, starting to step away, but noting the way she bit her lip to uselessly hold in a smile at the use of her “French” name. “Enjoy your lunch.”

 


 

Carol’s French class period rolled around after lunch, and Yon was doing his best to keep his attention spread across the entirety of his students, not just Carol. But, of course, he was finding that difficult. She was raising her hand a lot today and clearly enjoying having him call on her so much. While he knew other students had the answers or wanted the attention as well, he really just couldn’t resist seeing the way Carol squirmed under his attention today, fidgeting with her pencil, casting her eyes down as she bit her lip, toying with the star pendant on her necklace, crossing and uncrossing her legs.

He also couldn’t help but notice the way certain other students, namely Minnerva, seemed to be picking up on what a terrible job he was doing at diverting his attention. A couple times after calling on Carol, he saw Minnerva roll her eyes as she leaned back in her seat, side-eyeing Attlass and raising her eyebrows. Minnerva had already all but made her frustrations about this clear to Carol, so he knew it would be in everyone’s best interests to just stop calling on Carol so much, but it was so difficult not to, especially today. He simply just wanted to keep giving her more attention.

About half way through class, though, he decided it would be best to just put on a video, avoiding the way he felt he was stumbling through the lesson. The class was, as he expected, happy to watch a video instead of listening to him lecture. He sat at his desk, attempting to look over the homework assignments that had been turned in today while trying to keep an eye on the class, but he just kept catching himself stealing glances at Carol.

He found his thoughts drifting a bit. He briefly entertained the idea that, if they had enough good days like this, then maybe they might actually have some kind of future together. Maybe moving somewhere else so they could be out as a couple wouldn’t be a terrible idea. If that ever did happen, he knew that it wouldn’t be when she turned nineteen, like she had suggested. It’d probably have to wait until she had graduated college, or at least until she was close to graduating.

He didn’t really imagine what their future lives would look like together beyond this vague happiness he felt right now—there were finer details that he couldn’t bear to think about. Like when she went to college and entered her twenties, how much would college change her? And if they were going to have a future together, would they eventually consider getting married or even starting a family?

Those were things that he might be thinking about if he were feeling this way with someone closer to his age; after all, he was getting to an age where he felt like he should be thinking about that. But he had a hard time projecting that all onto the seventeen-year-old sitting in his class, so his mind washed the thoughts away quickly, like waves lapping up writing in the sand. It was much more comfortable to think about a broader, sensualized happiness with her.

He never would have imagined himself fantasizing about having any kind of future with a student. He wasn’t sure he really believed that it would ever turn into anything more than an absent minded fantasy, but, then again, if someone had told him a year ago that he would soon be cohabiting and sleeping with a student, he wouldn’t have believed that, either.

If he thought about how he would have viewed this a year ago, he was unsettled. But, as it were, he was months into this relationship with Carol and he wasn’t unhappy. Neither was she. If he could hold her forever in this strange, fragile happiness, he would.

 


 

To Carol’s surprise, Yon let track get out early that evening. It was hard for her to control the stupid grin on her face as Yon had told everyone to enjoy their Friday night. She could barely stop smiling the entire time they waited for everyone on the team to clear away so she could sneak to his car with him.

“What made you decide to end track early?” Carol said as they were pulling out of the school parking lot. He took her hand, making her entire body tingle.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” he said, squeezing her hand. “And I didn’t think the rest of the team would mind having an early start to their weekend.”

“No, I don’t think anyone minded.” She was feeling a little light-headed at him being this brazenly affectionate to her right now, at least in regards to what she was used to from him. It was pretty crazy that he wanted her this much.

When they were home, she was blown away by how quickly he led her upstairs—she didn’t even get to take her shoes off when she walked in. She found herself laughing as she sat back on the bed and he took her shoes off for her.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Just that you seriously cancelled track so you could take me home and fuck me.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted? You kept going on about it this morning.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d actually do anything about it. I just like teasing you.”

“Well… do be careful what you wish for.”

“If all my wishes go this way, I don’t think I really want to be that careful.”

He laughed as he brought himself up to her, kissing her, dizzying her. Everything he did to her made her feel so good, so electric, and she was pretty sure she was making him feel the same way. God, she was so into what was happening right now.

Something about last night and right now felt so different from all the other times they had sex, and not just because she had been planning on doing something different for Valentine’s Day. She had a feeling that even if she hadn’t actually done anything different or put on that stupid, cheap underwear, last night would have still felt really special.

Part of her was even starting to think that maybe she really could get over how awkward sex made her feel, or that maybe their secret relationship wouldn’t always be so stressful. If everything could always feel this good, then the stress would definitely be worth it. She didn’t know if that was wishful thinking or not, but for once, she was too happy to care.

Chapter Text

Carol woke up early on a gloomy Saturday morning in early March, Yon’s arm draped over her. She almost always woke up earlier than him, especially on weekends, and sometimes she missed sleeping in her own bed so she didn’t have to worry about waking him with her. This morning she tried closing her eyes, thinking maybe the sound of rain blowing against the side of the house could lull her back to sleep, but of course that wasn’t happening.

Holding her breath, she gingerly pushed his arm off of her and scooted her body away from him. She let out the smallest sigh of relief as she was able to successfully sit up without waking him. Then she winced a little, realizing she was sore again—she was still kinda embarrassed about being sore from sex, even if no one knew.

Being sore on the weekend wasn’t as bad as at school, though, when she still felt like there was a sign over her head saying something like: Carol Danvers can’t sit right because she went too hard last night with Mr. Rogg—everyone should laugh at her.

Ever since their surprisingly romantic Valentine’s Day a couple weeks ago, they’d been having slightly more sex lately. Carol was still feeling mostly positive about everything with Yon, but her anxieties continued to sit in the pit of her stomach, impossible to ignore.

She tried to hold on to how good Valentine’s Day had made her feel. There were so many things about sex and her relationship with Yon that refused to sit well with her, but she really wanted to overcome those negative thoughts. She just wanted to always be that happy with Yon, to feel like she was finally on the cusp of getting over all of her stupid, immature anxieties.

So why did she still feel that tiny bit of gnawing shame just because of something dumb, like being sore?

Just then, she recognized a different sort of pain. She got up and hurried down the hall to her own bathroom. Since she started having sex, she had never been happier to get her period each month.

Of course, they always, always used protection, which relieved Carol a lot. She read so many things online telling girls to not give in to pressure from guys who insisted on not using a condom, but she never had to worry about that with Yon. He never so much as hinted that he didn’t want to use one. Once, out of curiosity, Carol asked him if it would feel better for him to not use one, and he had just said that it felt better to be safe, which made her laugh because it was such a boring, teacher-like answer. But she liked that he didn’t pressure her to have sex without one.

She supposed that maybe one of the perks to being with an older guy was that he was just a lot smarter about most things, including sex, so maybe she didn’t have to worry so much about whether or not he was going to knock her up. Regardless, she thanked God or whoever was listening when she got her period this morning. That made her weekend seem like it was off to a relatively good start.

After peaking into Yon’s room to see that he was still asleep, she went downstairs, served herself a bowl of Frosted Flakes she had convinced Yon to buy for her, and brought it over to the couch, turning on the tv. She felt like there were other things she should be doing, like getting caught up on her homework or starting on Saturday chores, but the sound of rain against the house and her cramps made her feel a little lazy.

But even if she wasn’t feeling lazy and she did get all of her homework or chores done early, what was the point? Spending time with Yon had been extra nice lately, but it didn’t change the fact that they didn’t really do anything outside the house. Getting to go to the gym in the track off-season had at least been something different, but since track started again, he didn’t like the risk of taking her there. So basically, she was just going to end up being stuck in the house. As always.

While Carol finished her cereal and lounged on the couch, her mind wandered a bit to one of her favorite daydreams about all the things she would do if she had her own car. She wouldn’t have to be stuck at home all the time because she wouldn’t be dependent on anyone else to give her rides. She would’ve been able to train with her track team over winter break and she would’ve been able to go to the mall without asking and she could just get up to drive anywhere she wanted right now.

She had tried to save up money from summer jobs to get a car, but that hadn’t panned out like she hoped. Getting jobs was hard when she needed rides from her parents or Attlass to get to work, especially since her parents weren’t dependable and Attlass had his own work schedule. And of course her dad always accused her of lying about her work schedule, which resulted in her being locked out of the house. So maintaining a job long enough to save any meaningful amount of money had been difficult, to say the least.

Maybe Yon would let her get a job this summer. She couldn’t imagine him disapproving of her wanting to make her own money. Plus if she had enough money to buy a car, then he wouldn’t have to be so stressed about taking her places all the time. He might be weird about having to drive her to a job at first, but that would only be until she got a car. And having a car when she went to college would be so convenient for when she wanted to see Yon on weekends or whatever. She could probably convince him that this was a good idea for both of them.

Carol wasn’t really sure how long she had been lounging on the couch, staring absentmindedly at the tv, but eventually she heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Yon walked into the living room, still looking slightly disheveled from sleep.

“Good morning” he said, stifling a yawn. “I was wondering where you went.”

“Because there’s so many places for me to go in this house,” she said. “I’m glad you were able to solve this mystery. ”

“Alright, it’s too early for this level of sarcasm from you.”

“What time exactly am I allowed to start being sarcastic?”

“Perhaps after breakfast.”

“Well, I’ve already had breakfast.”

“Then perhaps after I’ve had breakfast.”

“Okay, but you always say that you think my sense of humor is cute or whatever. So shouldn’t this whole conversation be, like, a huge turn on for you?”

He shook his head, looking down as he fought a smirk. He came over to her then, leaning over her to give her a kiss, and she kissed him back. But he put his hand on her shoulder and it started to travel and she put her hands on his chest, holding him back as she pulled away.

“I have my period,” she muttered.

“So I can’t kiss you?” he said, matching her quiet tone, brow furrowed.

“No… that’s just all you can do right now.” She lightly pushed him, and then he stepped back, standing up straight.

“That’s all I was doing.” He was looking down at her and she couldn’t really decipher what his mood was, he still just looked mostly tired. “I wasn’t trying to make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

“I know, and I don’t want to do anything other than kiss right now.”

“Okay, that’s all you have to say.”

“That is what I said…”

He sighed, and for a moment Carol thought she had upset him, but then he reached out, lightly tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, and kissed the top of her head. Then he turned towards the kitchen. She wasn’t sure why that interaction made her feel kinda like she had done something wrong, and she wasn’t really sure what she had done wrong, but she pushed that ugly feeling away.

In her most dramatic British accent, Carol called after him, “Are you finna put the kettle on, govna?”

He glanced over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow. “Is that meant to be your way of asking me to make tea for you?”

She nodded, suppressing a giggle as he gave her a look of mock disapproval.

“Why didn’t you make it yourself?” he asked, teasing. “I can only imagine how long you’ve been up.”

“Because I like when you do it for me,” she cooed. “Besides, what’s the point of having a British lover if he’s not making me tea?”

“Ah yes, how silly of me to forget that’s all I’m good for.”

When the tea was ready, he brought it over to her, setting the steaming mug down on the coffee table. As he did, Carol asked, “Can we do something today?”

“Did you have something particular in mind?” he asked, walking to the kitchen table where he had set his own mug of tea and a bowl of boring, healthy cereal.

“I don’t know, can we drive somewhere?”

“Drive where?”

“I don’t know…” She sighed. “I just want to do something.”

“Well, today isn’t really the best day for driving. It’s supposed to keep raining and it might be turning to ice later, if my weather app is right. I’d rather not go anywhere if we don’t have to.”

“What about grocery shopping?”

“I went earlier in the week, remember?”

“Yeah… well, could we go to a drive-thru to get lunch somewhere?”

“Carol, I just said I’d rather not drive anywhere today.”

“Could I drive your car then?”

He almost laughed. “No.”

“Why not? I have my license.”

“You’re not driving my car.”

“Would you let me if the weather was better?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think I really need to explain why I can’t let you drive around in public in my car.”

“Ugh.” Of course she knew he was right. Feeling a little unsure, she continued, “What if I got my own car?”

“How exactly are you proposing to do that right now?”

“I mean, not right now or anything, but if I got a job over the summer, I could save up, then I could maybe get a car before college.”

He paused, making her hold her breath, then he said, “That’s not a bad idea. We’ll talk about it more when the time comes.”

She couldn’t help but smile. “Really?”

“Yes, of course really.”

She kept smiling, reaching for her warm mug of tea, cupping it in her hands and holding it close to her chest. All in all, maybe things really were okay right now.

 


 

Yon finished his breakfast and then went to get ready for the day, wanting to get his basic chores out of the way. He decided he’d do Carol’s chores today too and just let her relax. Maybe she needed a break. She had come off as a bit defensive when he had kissed her and again with their whole car conversation, but perhaps that was due to her hormones. He’d take it, though; he was always relieved when she got her period.

But this morning, his relief was overshadowed by a sudden array of future problems.

He knew that Carol getting a summer job would be good for her, and he knew it was a good idea for her to try to get a car before college, but a part of him was uncomfortable with the whole notion of this. Maybe it was because he didn’t want to risk being seen with her over the summer. Or maybe it was because he didn’t like the idea of her getting a job in a place where he wouldn’t be.

At home and at school, he more or less knew what Carol was doing all the time, and he had a right to be in the same place as her. But if she had a job in a completely new setting with people he didn’t know, then he had no idea what kind of situations Carol would find herself in. He had no idea what she might say to anyone.

At school, he had some kind of authority to step in and ease her out of potentially harmful situations, but if she had a job then he would be leaving her alone for hours at a time, and he would have no way to step in if anyone started asking things they shouldn’t. That made him uneasy. He also knew this was exactly the kind of situation he would be facing once she went away to college, and that didn’t sit well with him either.

But there was still time before he actually had to worry about that. Plus, her getting a car did not equate her needing a place to live, nor did it change the fact that she was still in love with him. And he loved her. Maybe he wasn’t quite as foolishly in love with her as he had felt a few weeks ago, but his love for her had nonetheless evolved into something he wanted to keep as long as he could.

So, for now, it was best to appease Carol in terms of any long term plans. They would cross each bridge as they came to it, but he had to let her believe that everything was going to work out as smoothly as she hoped it would. There was no need to ruffle her feathers prematurely.

 


 

The following Monday, as lunch hour rolled around, Carol found herself once again sitting alone in the cafeteria. Yon was on lunch duty today, so he’d most likely walk by and say some kind of coded formality that would make her smile, but then she’d be left with no one to talk to. She didn’t know if she didn’t mind eating alone or if she had just grown used to it. Anyway, maybe it was for the best that no one ate lunch with her so that she wouldn’t have to work so hard to lie about everything going on in her life.

So Carol sat alone, opening her lunch bag. She had never regularly brought packed lunches to school before living with Yon, mostly because she couldn’t rely on having food at her parents’ house to bring for lunch. But Yon pretty much insisted that she pack a lunch every day, wanting her to always be eating healthy. Today she had barely started eating her healthy lunch when she was met with an unexpected sight: Attlass walking deliberately towards her.

“Hey, Carol,” Attlass said.

“Hey,” she said back.

“Nice lunch bag,” he motioned with his chin to her bag. “New?”

“Well… I mean, kinda…” She laughed, a little awkwardly. Was he just stopping by to ask about her lunch accessories?

“Nice, nice,” he said, nodding and smiling. “So do you… uh, I mean, do you sit alone every day?”

“Yes…” That shouldn’t have been news to him. “I’m super popular that way.”

“Oh, well…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “If you want, you could sit with us. We usually sit over at the student lounge.”

Carol knew Attlass sat at the student lounge. Although, “student lounge” was a rather broad term for it. It was set aside for juniors and seniors who kept their GPA up, and while Carol’s GPA had always been high enough to use it, she never did. Since Minnerva and her friends took advantage of the lounge, Carol and Attlass had avoided it last year. But of course this year Attlass was dating Minnerva, so that’s where he sat now.

She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to sit with Minnerva and all her friends, but she also really missed Attlass. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to just try eating lunch with them.

“Uh…” She eyed Yon across the cafeteria, and he didn’t seem to be paying any attention her way. “Yeah… yeah, why not.”

“Really? I mean, cool, let’s go.” Attlass smiled as she gathered her things and followed him to the student lounge.

She purposefully avoided looking at Yon, stupidly hoping that just maybe he wouldn’t notice her walking off with Attlass. But so what if he did see her? She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She told herself she was just being paranoid.

She was practically holding her breath as she walked into the student lounge. If it hadn’t been for the fact that she was about to sit down and have lunch with her apparent arch-nemesis and alienated best friend, this whole situation would have been underwhelming. The student lounge itself wasn’t even that exciting—everything in it was pretty dated. It was mostly nice that it was separate from the main cafeteria, which made it a little quieter. But her brain was buzzing as she watched Attlass sit next to Minnerva on a couch that was one bad day away from finding its new home in a landfill.

There was room to sit on the couch next to Attlass, but Carol hesitated. Neither Minnerva nor her friends sitting in armchairs across from the couch had acknowledged Carol, and she felt like she didn’t belong, like they actively didn’t want her here. Maybe coming here had been a huge mistake.

But was she seriously going to turn around and eat lunch alone again because Minnerva didn’t say hi to her? No, that was ridiculous. She could suck it up for the rest of lunch hour and see how things actually went.

So she sat next to Attlass and did her best to pretend that this wasn’t super awkward for her. If it was awkward for anyone else, she couldn’t really tell.

“How soon are they gonna sell prom tickets?” said one of Minnerva’s friends and fellow senior classman Elena.

“I don’t know, but I’ve been looking for dress ideas,” Minnerva said. “I think I want mermaid style. In, like, blue or green, maybe.”

“Ooh! That would look so cute on you,” Elena said.

“You’re going to dress like a mermaid?” Attlass asked, to which the other girls laughed. He gave Carol a look and she shrugged—she didn’t know what Minnerva was talking about either.

“No, it’s a style of gown,” Minnerva said, and Carol thought she hinted a bit of laughter in her voice. “Flared at the bottom, remember? I sent you some pictures last night.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize they all had names,” Attlass said.

“That’s fine, you don’t have to know what it’s called, just as long as your tie matches my dress.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Carol saw Minnerva take Attlass’s hand. She focused back on her lunch bag, pulling out a little container of baby carrots.

“Are you going to prom, Carol?” Attlass asked.

She looked at him, trying not to laugh. “I don’t think so.”

“You should, it’s senior year,” he pressed.

“I don’t know, it’s not like I… uh…” She focused down on her carrots, not sure what she should say, but now everyone was looking at her, so she had to think fast. “I don’t have a date.”

“You don’t need a date,” Attlass said, “you can go with us.”

“Dates are overrated anyway,” chimed in the other friend, another fellow senior, Mia. “I took a date last year, but then I found her making out with someone else in the bathroom and now they’re still together, so… yeah, dates suck.”

“See, Carol,” Attlass said, “you’re probably better off without a date. No one can ruin your night that way.”

Carol pressed her lips together. She obviously couldn’t just say that the only reason she didn’t have a prom date was because her boyfriend was a potential chaperon. She shouldn’t have even brought up dates to begin with. Suddenly her stomach felt heavy and she eyed the entrance to the student lounge, half expecting to see Yon giving her a stern look. She closed her eyes for a brief second, hearing his voice telling her not to say anything.

“Hey, you alright there?” Attlass said, nudging his knee against hers.

“Oh, yeah, I’m just, uh… my stomach just hurts a little,” she said.

“Are you getting sick?” he asked.

“No… I think maybe I’m just… hungry.” She picked up one of her baby carrots, forcing herself to take a bite.

“Oh yeah that happens to me too,” Mia said. “My stomach always hurts right before lunch. I’m, like, always starving.”

“Yeah, same,” Carol said, glad her excuse had been believable.

The topic quickly shifted to some movie that they had all seen recently, and she found herself zoning out. She really hadn’t thought about prom much until this conversation, but now she was wondering if she actually wanted to go or not.

She didn’t think she really cared about going, less because of her date situation and more because of her friend situation. If she still felt close to Attlass, then she would probably actually want to go. Going to prom was supposed to be this huge, monumental thing that all teenagers looked forward to, even though she doubted it would be anything other than a glorified dance. But with the right people, it might be fun.

But for now, she set the idea of a fun prom aside. She may be having lunch with Attlass right now, but that didn’t mean she was going to get to have some awesome prom night hanging out with him. He had a date that he could actually spend time with, and she would probably just end up being left to stand alone at the punch table while everyone slow-danced to some cheesy love song. That didn’t sound like fun.

Plus, her relationship with Yon meant she was practically an adult—prom seemed like a stupid thing to be debating with herself over when she had actual, real-life issues to worry about. She felt like she should be past wanting to go to school dances.

If things had been different this year, then sure, she could toss around the idea of going to prom all she wanted. But she currently had to worry about whether or not her boyfriend was going to get arrested simply for being with her, so shopping for mermaid gowns or whatever just felt childish.

Still, she couldn’t fight that twinge of jealousy she felt at how easy these other teenagers’ lives seemed. Whether or not she actually wanted to go to prom, it would be nice to just pretend that that was the biggest thing in her life right now.

 


 

The rest of lunch was, much to Carol’s surprise, not that bad. Minnerva hadn’t said anything insulting, and her friends were alright for the most part. Attlass asked her to sit with them again tomorrow too, and Carol was pretty sure she’d do it.

It would be kinda nice to be part of a lunch group, even if the jury was still pretty far out on the group, or at least certain members named Minnerva. Maybe Carol could tolerate her if every lunch hour went like it had today.

There was no way Yon hadn’t seen her walking through the cafeteria with Attlass, but even if he hadn’t, he definitely noticed that she wasn’t sitting alone in her usual spot. Obviously he hadn’t been able to say anything about it in French class, so Carol was waiting for the conversation all day. Her head felt a little tired from imagining all the scenarios of what he might possibly have to say about this.

It took everything in Carol not to bring it up on the way home from school, but just as she had predicted, he brought it up as soon as they were home.

“I saw you sitting with Attlass today,” Yon said, his tone making Carol feel a bit like he was accusing rather than observing, but she could have been imaging it. Then he added, almost hesitantly, “That’s… good.”

“Yeah…” Carol said, not sure if she should be feeling a little defensive right now or not. She tried to keep herself calm though—Yon hadn’t actually lectured her yet.

“Do you feel like things are getting better between you two?” he asked.

“I don’t know, I guess,” she said, shrugging, letting out a deep sigh that she felt like she had been holding in for hours.

“You guess?”

“I mean, it’s still weird.”

“Weird in what way?”

“Because we’ve barely talked this year and now he’s with Minnerva and then there’s…” She could feel her face heating up a little and she had to cast her eyes down as Yon looked at her.

“Then there’s what?” he gently urged.

“Everything with me…” She didn’t know how else to sum up the awkwardness and the paranoia and the heaviness in her gut that came with everything today. And she didn’t know why she wasn’t able to express this to Yon—she was supposed to be more comfortable with him than anyone else.

“Well…” Yon began, pausing long enough to make Carol feel like he was also uncomfortable, which just made her face grow even hotter. Finally, he said, “Just continue to not say anything about us and you’ll be fine.”

She could feel a dull throbbing creeping into her skull, echoing Yon’s repeated warning to not say anything. But then the feeling was joined by a sudden wave of even more feelings that she didn’t want or understand—it was like she was sad and angry and frustrated and lonely and annoyed all at once, and she couldn’t keep her head above any of it and it was utterly exhausting. There was an unmistakable prickling in her eyes and she turned away from Yon before he could see her jaw starting to quiver, holding her hands up to her eyes.

“Carol, what is it?” he said.

“Nothing,” she was embarrassed at how shaky her voice sounded. Why was she being so fucking emotional all of a sudden?

She took in a deep breath, hoping that would help her just keep it together, but on the exhale, the prickling in her eyes welled over and she was full-on crying. Then Yon’s hands were on her back, lightly turning her around so he could embrace her. She wasn’t sure if that was making her feel better or not—maybe she didn’t even want to be touched at all right now, but this had always made her feel good before. That just made her cry even more.

“Carol…” he said, voice soft, concerned. “Carol, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t—I don’t know.” She took a gulp of air. “I’m—I’m just—I’m just tired.”

“Well why don’t you go lie down for a bit, hmm? I’ll start dinner and maybe you’ll feel better after you eat.”

“M-maybe.”

He was stroking her hair, and it did start to soothe her a little, but she didn’t understand why him just reminding her not to say anything had broken her down like that. It wasn’t like that was anything new, and she had expected it. Maybe it was because she still had her period right now so everything was out of whack. But his words were still stuck deep in her brain and as the tears slowed, her head just hurt.

“I’m… sorry,” she muttered, lightly pushing herself away from him.

“Don’t apologize,” he said, keeping a hand on her arm. “Why don’t you go lie down now? I’ll come get you when dinner’s ready.”

She just nodded, willing the oncoming headache to stay at bay. He gave her arm a gentle squeeze, then let go.

Grabbing her backpack, she headed upstairs to her own room. She switched on the lamp, closed the door, dropped the backpack to the floor, and sat on her bed, staring blankly ahead as another stupid tear rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her sleeve and then lied back. The pain in her head was making it seem like the lamp in her room was burning brighter and brighter with each second and she had to close her eyes against it.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. Attlass was finally coming back into her life, she didn’t have to live with her awful parents, and Yon loved her more than anyone else had ever loved her. She wasn’t supposed to be breaking down for no reason.

But maybe she really was just tired. Maybe she’d take a quick nap, wake up with her headache gone, and realize how overdramatic and hormonal she was being right now. She’d see that everything was actually fine. Because it was. Everything was fine.

 


 

Yon leaned against the kitchen counter for a moment, a little bewildered by how upset Carol had become, and so suddenly. He’d seen her break down like that before, of course, but it was usually pretty clear where her emotions were coming from. He didn’t think that talking about sitting with Attlass at lunch, something that he thought she’d be happy about, would push her over the edge. Granted, seeing her take off with Attlass at lunch today had made him nervous, but that didn’t explain her nerves.

But perhaps if he was a bit more honest with himself, maybe he did understand what made her so emotional.

He knew how bothered she was at having to keep their relationship a secret. Of course it bothered him too, but he was beginning to see how hard this adjustment actually was on her. She had never even been in a romantic relationship before, so she was navigating that on top of the unique stress that came with this particular relationship. Perhaps it wasn’t fair of him to have put her in this situation to begin with.

Yon ran his hands over his face, letting out a deep breath. He could feel his entire body starting to heat up with the feeling of intense regret that came over him every so often. He closed his eyes, counted to ten, inhaling, exhaling, but it wasn’t working. That regret was insisting on being heard, telling him how much he was fucking up—how much he was fucking her up.

He understood why having a relationship with a seventeen-year-old was illegal, he had always understood that—there was no way that Carol was anywhere near ready to handle this, no matter how mature he believed her to be. He had no right to put her in this situation.

But it was far too late to take her out of the situation. Anytime his gut started to twist with the guilt and remorse, he circled back to that same reasoning; it was just too late to do anything but continue. They both had to see it through at this point.

And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t wanted to be with him; he had never forced her to do anything. She knew she could tell him if she was uncomfortable with anything. And, as far as he was concerned, he had done more to help her than any other adult in her life. She had already been through worse than this.

He kept telling himself that she could handle it; part of why she would be able to handle it was because he was here to help her. Maybe he needed to be more observant to her needs. But he was with her all the time, at school, at home—he was still even checking her phone regularly. He had never been more aware of everything his romantic partner was doing than he was with her. And he thought that they had been doing well lately. So what was he missing?

It could be possible that she was just too cooped up spending all of her free time at home; not a weekend went by that she didn’t comment on wanting to do something. He wished that he could appease her and take her out to do something fun every now and then, but that was too risky. Just dropping her off at school or in a public parking lot outside a store gave him enough anxiety as it was. And since he had run into her mother at the store, he wasn’t in a hurry to let Carol get too far away from him.

But she might very well be in need of a change of scenery and a break from their routine. School and track gave her plenty to keep her busy, and he believed that she enjoyed most of their quality time together, but she clearly needed more.

Her eighteenth birthday was next month… perhaps it would be possible to plan an outing if they were far enough away from home. He wasn’t sure exactly what they would be able to do, but he had time to figure it out.

For now, he focused on getting dinner ready. Once that was done, he went upstairs to get Carol. He knocked once on her door, heard her muffled voice say something indistinguishable, and opened her door. She was lying on her side, facing him with her eyes shut, one hand hugging the pillow underneath her head, her other palm pressed against her forehead.

“Dinner’s ready,” he said, staying in the doorway, keeping a hand on the doorknob. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” She sighed. “My head just kinda hurts.”

“You should eat, it might help.” He watched her for a moment, remembering how immobilizing her last headache had been for her. “Do you feel okay coming downstairs to eat or do you want to stay up here and keep resting?”

“No, I can come downstairs,” she said, opening her eyes. She removed her hand from her head as she slowly pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing a bit.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Mmhmm.” She rubbed the back of her neck and planted her feet on the ground. “I have to get my homework done after I eat, then I think I’ll just go to bed.”

“You can skip the French homework tonight,” he said, feeling bad that she had to try to focus on homework when she was having an off night like this.

Head tilted down, she cast her eyes up at him, a little smile tugging on her lips. “I love when you say that to me.”

“Don’t get used to it,” he teased; they both knew how easily he’d been letting her off the hook with her homework lately. It was hard to justify making her stay up late to get her homework done if he was one of the reasons she was distracted from her assignments. That wasn’t the case tonight, of course.

She languidly lifted her arms up, making grabby hands towards him. He stepped towards her, taking her hands to help her up and then she leaned into him, pressing her cheek against his chest and wrapping her arms around him.

“I’m sorry I’m such a hot mess,” she said, and, despite her use of slang, she sounded painfully sincere. “I don’t mean to always be so emotional.”

“You do let your emotions get the better of you sometimes,” he said, softly. “But you’ll learn to overcome them. Just remember that they don’t control you. You control them.”

“I know… I know that. But it’s hard sometimes…”

“I know it is.” He lightly ran his fingers through her hair and kissed the top of her head. “You’re just having an off day, that’s all.”

“I’m sick of having off days.”

“It happens to the best of us.” He kissed her again, held her a little tighter. “You’ll be better tomorrow. You’ll get through this.”

She sighed, her breath warm against his chest. “I hope so.”

“I promise,” he said, wishing that he could promise something like that to her and have it be true. He wished he could control her happiness like that. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

Chapter Text

Much to Carol’s delight, having lunch with Attlass and his new friends continued to go pretty well. She still may not have been Minnerva’s biggest fan, but her friends were mostly nice. It actually turned out that talking to Mia wasn’t that bad; they liked the same music and tv shows and Mia had started recommending a lot of cool new things for Carol to watch and listen to. Recently they even started texting, and it was nice to have someone to talk to about fun things for a change.

She felt like she had to be extra on guard anytime Attlass or Minnerva brought up French class or track, but she just tried to say as little as possible when that happened. And she still couldn’t stop being paranoid when Yon was on lunch duty, no matter what they were talking about. Even when he wasn’t on lunch duty, she somehow just felt like he was always there watching her. It was hard to be as chill as everyone else when she felt like that.

She was starting to get more headaches now, too. They weren’t always terrible—they’d usually go away if she took some aspirin and lied down for a little bit after school—but she got them a couple times a week. But Yon was always extra nice to her when she had a headache, like he became the softest version of himself when she didn’t feel good.

But now that she was kinda starting to have friends again, she was also getting a little annoyed at how much Yon was always around. Not that she wanted to stop being around him completely, she just wished she had one space he wasn’t part of so she didn’t have to constantly look over her shoulder.

The closest she got to having that space was on her phone. Of course Yon was physically around when she was on her phone, and sometimes he might ask what she was doing on it, but it was nice knowing that everything she did on her phone was ultimately private. Sure, she still heard his voice in her head telling her not to say anything wrong, but it wasn’t like he could overhear her conversations when she was texting. It was the one place where she could feel almost like herself.

What she was learning from her time with Attlass and his new friends was that she could still pretend to be a normal teenager because no one knew exactly how abnormal she was. No one assumed she was sleeping with a teacher, because what normal teenager was doing that? It was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

As far as Attlass knew, Carol’s home life had improved since the summer, so he didn’t ask her about it so much anymore. Now they mostly texted about homework or memes or whatever. Despite how much she didn’t like that she had to lie to him about the big things in her life, she liked having this normal, comfortable space back in their friendship.

 


 

Yon wasn’t exactly sure what to think about how much more time Carol had been spending on her phone lately. He knew she was rekindling her friendship with Attlass, but since they had started living together, he wasn’t used to her attention being consistently diverted to someone else. He told himself that he wanted to be happy for her, but he worried about the possible consequences of her friendships.

Before Carol had started joining Attlass and his friends during lunch, most conversations that Yon could observe on her phone were mundane and inconsequential. Granted, most of her conversations were still fairly inconsequential—she wasn’t revealing anything problematic—but the more regular her conversations became, the more likely it was that she might say the wrong thing.

And she wasn’t even just talking to Attlass; she had started talking to some other student named Mia, who Yon wasn’t familiar with. He had never seen Carol talk to her before nor had Carol ever even mentioned her to him, and now suddenly they were messaging regularly. He understood how quickly teenagers could form attachments, but he was simply annoyed at how much time Carol was spending talking to someone who had been essentially nonexistent a few weeks ago.

Maybe Yon would have been less annoyed by all of this if he thought that things between him and Carol were going just as well as they had been around Valentine’s Day, but she was starting to feel just a little distant from him. She now seemed to prefer staring at her phone over doing anything else with him, including sex. Not that he had expected to have sex as often as they had been for a while, but she seemed to be becoming less interested in it.

Of course there was nothing he could do besides be patient with her, but he couldn’t help but think that there was a correlation between how much time she spent focusing on her friends versus her apparent lack of interest in him.

With that in mind, he put extra focus into planning something for her birthday. Not only did he still think that getting away from her normal routine might do her some good, but he hoped that getting to do something different together might reignite her interest in him.

 


 

Yon still tried to go to the gym on a weekly basis when he could. He didn’t always have time, but he recently found it to be a good distraction from his subtle frustrations with Carol. When he went to the gym this evening, he left Carol watching tv in the living room, sitting on the couch with her phone in hand. He reminded her to get her homework done as he left, and was met with an unencouraging mumble.

After his workout, Yon came back home to see that Carol was still sitting in the same spot on the couch with the tv on, still focusing on her phone, her thumbs quickly typing away. She barely even acknowledged that he had returned.

“You’re still on that thing?” he asked.

She didn’t look up at him, just continued typing and muttered, “Mmhmm.”

“Did you get your homework done?”

With a huff, she rolled her eyes, and kept typing.

“Carol,” Yon said. “Did you hear me?”

“Yeah, I heard you.”

“Then can you answer me?”

“Why do you care if my homework is done?”

“Because it’s getting late.”

“Okay, but if I was in the middle of giving you a hand job right now, you wouldn’t care how late it was.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re excused.”

He didn’t want to react. He counted to ten in his head, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, then said, as calmly as he could, “Carol, is your homework done or not?”

She just shrugged.

He counted to ten in his head again. “I might have let you get off easy with a number of assignments, but if your French homework isn’t done tomorrow, I’m not going to be making an exception. And I think it goes without saying that your other teachers won’t be making any exceptions either.”

“If it goes without saying, then why did you say it?”

“Carol. Get your homework done.”

She shot him a look then stared back down at her phone. “Maybe I’ve already finished my homework.”

“Have you?”

“Maybe.”

This conversation clearly wasn’t going anywhere. He tried to remind himself to just be patient with her, but she was starting to make him feel a little exasperated. She was painfully reminding him how immature she still was, and he didn’t want to blame her friends, but they certainly weren’t bringing out the best in her.

He found himself wishing that he could simply ground her from her phone, but that thought had him instantly reeling.

Of course he couldn’t ground her. Even though he was still very much responsible for her, sleeping with her meant that he had essentially lost his ability to effectively, for lack of a better term, parent her.

Not wanting to linger on everything that came with that thought, he turned from the living room, heading upstairs to shower off from the gym. He hesitated at the landing of the stairs, wanting to call out to Carol to remind her once more to get her homework done. But he held himself back; he knew it was pointless. For now he would just have to let it go, hoping this strange tension between them would eventually dissipate.

 


 

Winter was slowly melting away into a wet, slightly warmer spring, and Carol’s eighteenth birthday was approaching. She didn’t have many expectations as far as a birthday celebration, but she was excited to finally be a legal adult. She had her fingers crossed that that would make her relationship with Yon less stressful. Yon didn’t really say much about it, but she figured he was excited about that, too.

Aside from what turning eighteen meant for her and Yon, she wasn’t really thinking about celebrating in any normal sense of the word. At least not until Attlass joined her in the library during their free period one day.

They were casually chatting while going over their French assignment together, and once that was completed, Attlass changed the subject.

“Hey so…” Attlass began, rubbing the back of his neck as he tried getting out whatever it was he wanted to say. “You can say no if you want, but if you’re not doing anything for your birthday, I thought maybe we could hang out? I know your dad usually finds a way to ruin it, so if you want, we could just hang out all day.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’s my parents’ anniversary that week and they decided to go out of town that weekend, so it’s kinda perfect. You can come over and we can just hang out, if you want you can even spend the night.”

“What about Minnerva?”

“She has a family thing.”

“Really?” she asked again.

“Yeah, so it’ll be just me and you hanging out like always.”

“That sounds like fun.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, totally.”

Although she was trying to fight it, she knew she must have been smiling a bit like an idiot. God, she had been wanting to hang out with someone for so long and she was so glad that Attlass was asking her to hang out on her birthday. She couldn’t think of anything better. This almost didn’t feel real, but it was. This was amazing.

 


 

Carol really hoped that Yon wouldn’t have any issues with her new plans to spend her birthday with Attlass, but she couldn’t stop thinking about how he hadn’t let her go to winter track meetups when she had thought that wouldn’t be a big deal. Or how he basically stopped letting her go anywhere that wasn’t school recently. But this was totally different, right? This was her birthday.

She knew that turning eighteen was super significant to them as a couple, since they wouldn’t be technically breaking the law anymore, but she doubted they were actually going to do anything exciting. They’d probably just order dinner and he’d let her break the track diet by eating cake. Then they’d probably watch some movie that Yon didn’t want to watch and they’d end up having sex half way through it or something.

A year ago she would’ve been going insane at the thought of having sex with Yon on her eighteenth birthday, but Carol from a year ago didn’t know shit about anything. She used to think that turning eighteen was going to somehow free her of her parents and then she’d go to college and that would solve all of her problems. Well, she was free of her parents earlier than anticipated, but it felt like she had a million more problems.

What she wanted right now, more than anything, was to feel like the semblance of a normal teenager one last time. She just wanted to chill with Attlass like they used to, watching stupid videos on the internet, shit talking their classmates’ various social media profiles, playing video games, and going to the store to spend way too much time picking out snacks. She wanted to have one more night when overcooking a cheap frozen pizza was going to be the worst thing that could happen.

Attlass didn’t know anything about her relationship with Yon, which sucked because she had to lie about everything, but it also meant that when she was with him, she was part of his simpler world. It was really hard for her to pretend to be a normal teenager most of the time now, but maybe it wouldn’t be so hard if it was just the two of them hanging out like they used to.

And if hanging out with Attlass was all she wanted for her birthday, then Yon couldn’t really say no. At least she hoped so. She was sure she could think of a way to work out the details of getting to Attlass’s place that Yon would be okay with. And if she really needed to, she could always try persuading him by sitting on his lap or taking off her clothes or something. But she hadn’t really been in the mood to do that lately, so maybe not.

Ultimately, Carol ended up waiting a few days to tell Yon. A huge part of her was scared he’d say no, no matter what she did. The longer she waited to tell him, the longer she got to be excited about her birthday hangout with Attlass. But her birthday was now less than a week away, and she had to talk to Yon about it.

So finally, after school one day, once they had finished dinner, Carol tried to think of a tactful way to bring up the subject. Yon had started grading at the kitchen table, and Carol brought her backpack over there too. She set it down on the chair across from him, but she kept standing there, lingering as she tried to decide on the best way to start this conversation. It shouldn’t be hard, it was just simple plans for her birthday, right?

“Everything okay?” Yon asked before she had made up her mind on what to say. His pen was in hand and he hadn’t really looked up from his grading.

“Yeah, why?” she asked.

“You’re just hovering over the table.”

“I’m not hovering.”

He gave her a look, then shook his head. “If you say so.”

Okay, so maybe she was just awkwardly hovering over the table. But she didn’t feel like she could sit down until she just got this conversation over with.

“So…” She began, gracelessly trying to dive into the subject. “My birthday is coming up.”

“Yes, it is.” He was still looking at the assignment he was grading, writing something in red pen.

“And I know you and me are probably going to do something together, and obviously I want to, but, uh… is it cool if I do something with Attlass too?”

Yon paused whatever he was writing, closing his eyes and letting out a sigh, instantly letting Carol know that she had said something wrong.

“When did you want to do something with him?” he asked, using the tone he always did when he was about to lecture her on her most recent fuck up.

“On my birthday…”

“On your actual birthday?”

She felt her shoulders stiffen and she gripped onto the top of the chair in front of her. “Yeah… is that bad or something?”

He set down his pen and crossed his arms over his chest, sighing again. “I thought it was just going to be me and you on your birthday.”

“Well, we can still do something another day. It’s not like I don’t see you every day anyway.”

“Can’t you do something with Attlass another day?”

“It’s the one day his parents and Minnerva aren’t going to be around, so it’s kinda the perfect time.”

“I just think you should find another day.”

Carol could feel a frustrated heat creeping up the back of her neck and she gripped onto the chair a little harder. “Why? I haven’t got to hang out with him all year.”

“Exactly, he hasn’t wanted to see you all year, and now you want to set everything aside for him?”

“I don’t—what am I even setting aside? We don’t have actual plans to do anything.”

Yon ran a hand over his face. “Can you just reschedule with him?”

Why?” Carol groaned, flinging her hands up over her head, then dragged her fingers down her face, rolling her eyes. “I don’t get why you’re making a big deal out of this!”

“I’m not making a big deal out of anything.”

“Yes, you are!”

“I think you need to take a deep breath right now, Carol.”

“Why don’t you take a deep breath?”

“Carol…”

“Yon.” She huffed and gripped back onto the chair, looking down at her knuckles and feeling like a fucking toddler.

“Can you just reschedule with him?” Yon repeated, calm as ever.

Carol stared down at her hands, burning to the tips of her ears as she muttered, “It’s not like me and you are even doing anything, though.”

“Well… we are doing something.”

That caught her off guard, and she looked up, squinting at him. “What are you talking about? Since when?”

“Since I… I made plans for us.”

“What?”

“It was supposed to be a surprise.”

“Well…” She groaned. “Can we do it another time?”

He raised his eyebrows at her, like he was shocked. “No—you don’t even know what it is. You might want to do it.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t really want to say yet. That’s rather the point of it being a surprise.”

“Well, why can’t we do it after I see Attlass?”

“It’s already scheduled.”

“What’s scheduled? Are we going somewhere or something?”

He sighed. “Yes.”

She wasn’t sure she heard him right. “What? We’re going somewhere? Where?”

“You’ll find out on your birthday.”

“It’s somewhere we can go together?”

“Yes.”

“But where can we even go together? The bottom of the ocean? Another planet?”

“Carol.”

“Ugh.”

“I promise you’ll like it. You’ve been asking for months for us to go somewhere together, so we finally are.”

“But…” She sighed. Yon definitely wasn’t wrong, she had been asking to do something for months. She tried to calm down and push away the twisted feeling in her stomach. “Can’t you just tell me what we’re doing?”

“All I’ll say right now is we’re going to spend the weekend away somewhere.”

“The whole weekend?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, but where?”

“We’ll be in a city.”

“What city? Doing what?”

He ran a hand over his face. “We’re just spending some time together away from everything. I’ve booked a hotel, and we won’t have to worry about anyone… seeing us.”

“But why couldn’t you tell me about this before? I wouldn’t have told Attlass I could hang out if I knew we were doing something, now I’m going to look like an idiot.”

“It was supposed to be a surprise, Carol. And you’re not going to look like an idiot.”

She didn’t want to be surprised and she didn’t want to “get away” from everything on her birthday—she was already away from everything! She wanted to spend her birthday weekend with Attlass. The disappointment was welling up inside of her, and all she could do was sigh again. She knew she was going to be disappointed, but that didn’t make this any better.

“I’m sure if you still want to see him, you can find another time to do something with Attlass,” Yon said, pretty much reading her mind.

Yon had planned a huge surprise for her birthday, and here she was being a baby, basically ruining the surprise and probably making him feel bad. She was just really looking forward to spending time with Attlass like she used to, and, at least right now, she still wanted to do that more than she wanted to do anything with Yon.

God, she felt bad for thinking that—she just really wanted to have her friend back.

Her shoulders slumping, she said, “What am I even supposed to tell Attlass?”

“Tell him… tell him your parents are making you spend the day with them. That seems believable.”

“Yeah, I guess.” She slouched over the back of the kitchen chair, hanging her head and letting out another long sigh. She hated having to use her parents as an excuse even when she had lived with them, and this didn’t feel much better.

“Carol…”

She looked at him, keeping her body slouched over the chair. “What?”

“Don’t act so depressed about it. I planned a surprise for your birthday—it’s supposed to be a good thing. It’s not like I forbid you from seeing Attlass ever again.”

“What if I die and this is the last birthday I ever have so I end up never seeing him again?”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

“I’m not.”

“If you say so.” He looked back down at his papers. “Besides, I can think of plenty worse ways to spend a birthday than with someone who loves you.”

“Attlass loves me too, in, like, a friend way. We’ve been friends forever.”

“He doesn’t love you like I do.”

She felt her stomach twist again, guilty. As always, Yon was right—no one had ever loved her the way he did. She knew he wanted her to be happy. And now here he was telling her that he was actually going to take her somewhere for her birthday—something that she knew she should be over the moon about—but she was ruining it. She couldn’t make sense of the utter disappointment that came with having to cancel her plans with Attlass, because it wasn’t like she was cancelling just so she could sit at home.

Suddenly, all the negative things her family had said about her flooded her brain. She could hear her dad yelling, spewing angry words about how ungrateful she was for everything they did for her. And then her mom would come to her room, softly telling Carol that maybe she should try to be more respectful, to be more grateful and maybe her dad wouldn’t get so upset. And there were conversations with Steve, him telling her that she was an instigator and needed to try harder not to cause so many problems at home.

Maybe her family had always been right about her. Maybe she was just ungrateful. Maybe she didn’t even deserve Yon and everything he had done for her this year. All she did was cause problems.

Her limbs felt a strange, heavy sort of numbness that came with the harshness of everything her family had said about her. Her head spun from the thought that maybe she was being exactly what they said about her right now. But could it really be so wrong to have wanted to spend her birthday the way she had planned to? Was it wrong to wish that she had known Yon was planning something?

There wasn’t an answer to any of that inside her crowded head. She just wanted the harsh voices to shut up and she wanted to be happy and grateful about everything with Yon. But everything inside of her was twisted and painful. The thought of having to cancel on Attlass was almost making her want to cry. But she had to suck it up and stop being so fucking immature all the time.

Being mature didn’t seem to be happening anytime soon, though, because she could barely look at Yon right now. Looking at him just made her feel guilty and mad and stuck.

“I should go do my homework,” she said. She grabbed her backpack, pulling one strap onto her shoulder, and muttered, “Sorry I ruined the surprise.”

“Carol… wait.” Yon said, and she turned back to face him as he stood from the table.

She watched his feet as he came towards her. He put his hands on her shoulders and ducked down to try and meet her downcast gaze. She obliged, meeting his gaze for a second, and he tucked his finger under her chin, as if he were somehow locking in the way she was looking at him right now.

“Don’t be upset about this,” he said.

She suppressed a sigh and cast her eyes away, but he kept his hand under her chin, keeping her face turned toward his.

“Carol…” he said her name like he was trying to console a silly child, and that feeling, whether or not it was real, made her wince. “I want you to be happy. This trip is for you, and it’s going to be good for you to get away.”

Maybe he was right, but she felt too heavy to be encouraged by that. He tilted her chin up a little more, but she kept looking down. He kissed her forehead.

“I love you,” he said. “I just want you to be happy.”

She nodded. “Mmhmm.”

“I love you,” he repeated, slower this time. He rested both his hands on her shoulders now, gripping her firmly.

“I have to do my homework,” she muttered, shrugging away from him.

“Okay.” He let go of her. “Let me know if you need help.”

“Mmhmm, okay.”

She went upstairs, telling herself to just keep it together. In the privacy of her room, she let her backpack fall to the floor and then held her hands over her face, clenching her jaw and holding back the urge to scream.

She knew she must have upset Yon, but she wasn’t even sure how to tackle her own disappointment, so how was she supposed to make him feel better too? And she was also going to be disappointing Attlass, so she just had a whole list stacking up of people to let down.

Hands still over her face, she pressed her fingertips hard against her forehead, as if she could press out all of the negative voices. But on top of the painful, incessant clamoring in her head, she also heard Yon’s voice telling her to control her emotions.

Just remember that they don’t control you. You control them.

She didn’t know how she was supposed to control anything, though. Almost her entire life things had felt out of her hands. She knew Yon kept telling her that she was in control of her emotions, but she didn’t know how to be in control of them.

Yon had told her a couple times that when upsetting things happened to him, he just tried to count to ten in his head and take a deep breath. She tried to do that now, but it didn’t help. Her stomach still felt twisted.

She was sick of always having so many chaotic fucking emotions. She just wanted to turn them off and forget that she ever felt anything.

She tried taking another deep breath, counting down from ten. Her head still felt like it was on fire, but she was determined to ignore it. She grabbed her backpack, forcing herself to focus on her homework. If she could do that, then maybe she could forget about everything else.

 


 

Well that certainly hadn’t been at all how that surprise was meant to play out. Yon hadn’t counted on Attlass offering to do anything with Carol on her birthday, but even if he had expected it, he wouldn’t have imagined that Carol would be upset at having to cancel once she learned they were going somewhere together.

He just hoped that she’d get over whatever kind of mood she was in right now. Maybe telling her about the weekend trip sooner could have prevented this reaction from her, but it was too late for that now. He was used to her not having anyone but him to spend time with, so theoretically this surprise should have been successful. Her “plans'' with Attlass shouldn’t have gotten in the way. And right now he wasn’t very thrilled at the idea of Attlass or anyone else taking priority to Carol. After all, Carol was his… his what? His girlfriend?

He wasn’t really sure that the term “girlfriend” applied to her. She was at once more and less than a girlfriend—too immature to really be an equal partner, and yet his entire life as he knew it depended on the success of their relationship. He didn’t really want to put a label on that. Perhaps that was because there was no kind label for what their relationship really was. So “girlfriend” was perhaps the best term to use for her.

But whatever she was, she was more important to him than she was to any of her friends. When Yon had told Carol that Attlass didn’t love her like he did, it had felt almost too obvious to say. He didn’t think that her other relationships really offered her anything worth keeping.

And, yes, he knew how important friendships were to teenagers. If Carol hadn’t become so important to him this year, he would’ve been happy to see her and Attlass’s friendship on the mend. But any other relationships she had were now no more than a liability. Anyone getting too close to her might discover the truth. Or, after seeing how affected Carol was by her rekindled friendship, she might simply lose interest in him entirely.

If that happened, then he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. If she was an adult, just another woman he was dating, then letting her go her own separate way might be best for both of them. But he couldn’t do that. Letting her go wasn’t an option, not for a while. When she was in college, then things would be different—he had no control over that.

But for now he had control, and he didn’t want to let her drift away from him while he held that power.

Their weekend away might even smooth out their recent issues. Carol may be upset right now, but he was sure that mood would fade. After all, he was giving her exactly what she wanted. There was no logical reason for her initial disappointment to linger for long. He just had to be patient while he waited for her mood to adjust.

 


 

As Yon got into bed that night, Carol was already lying down, still awake, her back to him. This certainly wasn’t the first time she had positioned herself away from him, and he told himself it didn’t mean anything, but there was something almost deliberate in her silence tonight. She felt too far away from him.

He moved closer to her, propping himself up on his elbow so he could see her face as he placed his other hand on her shoulder. He kissed her cheek and said close to her ear, “You’ve been very quiet.”

“Because it’s bedtime,” she said.

“I don’t think that’s all.” He traced his fingers down the length of her arm to where her hand was resting near her stomach. “Are you upset about earlier?”

“No…”

His hand over hers, he felt her fingers curling into her palm. She squirmed a little, almost away from him.

“I know you were looking forward to spending time with Attlass,” he said, gently turning her hand over, slipping his fingers into her fist, uncurling her fingers as he ran his hand against hers. “If I had known he was going to ask you to do something, I could have planned this for another time. Maybe I shouldn’t have surprised you, but I wanted you to have a special birthday.”

“I know…”

He brought his hand to her chin. “I just want to make you happy.”

“You do make me happy,” she sounded tired. He nudged her chin with his index finger and she turned her face towards his.

He touched his nose to hers and said, “Can I kiss you goodnight?”

She rolled her eyes, tilting her face slightly away from his. “Since when do you ask me that?”

“I don’t want to kiss you if you’re upset with me.” He traced his index finger along her jaw, tilting her face back towards his.

“I’m not upset with you,” she said.

“That’s good,” he said, then kissed her. “I love you.”

She didn’t say it back, so he kissed her again, a little harder, and kept kissing her until she opened her mouth against his. He pulled her towards him, running a hand down her body, gently urging her to turn towards him.

“I thought you just wanted to kiss me goodnight,” she interrupted, pulling her head away from his. “This feels like maybe more.”

“I didn’t mean to get carried away,” he said. “We can stop.”

“I’m just pretty tired…”

“That’s okay,” he said, his hand now at her throat, tracing the chain with the star pendant. “You know I love you more than anyone, Carol.”

“I know,” she said. “I love you, too.”

Hearing the words made him feel a relief he didn’t know he had been waiting for, as if he had been scared that she wouldn’t say it back. He kissed her once more, then pulled away to turn off his bedside lamp. In the dark, he reached for her again, wanting to feel that she was close as he fell asleep.

 


 

Carol was dreading having to tell Attlass about their cancelled plans at school the next day. The thought of telling him was a burning ember in her mind all morning, and by lunch time, it had been fanned into an unmistakable flame, scorching her with the unbearable heat of guilt and shame. She hated how upset this whole thing was making her.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to bring this up to Attlass, but when he joined her for their free period again, he made it easy for her.

“Are you excited for this weekend?” Attlass asked almost as soon as he sat next to her.

“Yeah… uh…” She could feel herself turning red. “So about that…”

“Uh oh, that doesn’t sound good.” Attlass laughed a bit, but his smile faltered.

“No… so, I kinda… I mean, I told my parents about my plans and, well…” Her conversation with Yon was buzzing through her brain, twisting her stomach, making it hard to get the words out. She took a deep breath. “I can’t go.”

Attlass hesitated. “What?”

“I really want to, but they said it’s my eighteenth birthday and I should be spending it with them and… stuff.”

“I mean, I get it’s a big birthday and they’re your parents, but…” He sighed. “They actually told you that you can’t go?”

“Yeah, you know how weird they are.”

“I know, I know…” Attlass pressed his lips together, nodding his head, suddenly avoiding eye contact by looking at the ground. Carol could practically feel his disappointment mixing in with hers in her gut. But she could also tell that he had more to say.

She hesitated, then asked, “What is it?”

“I know it’s been weird with us this year, so, I don’t know…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “You’d tell me if you didn’t want to go, right?”

“That’s not it at all—of course I want to hang out with you!” Fuck, fuck, she hated how her heart was jumping into her throat and how scrambled she felt trying to not sound like a complete asshole. “I don’t want to spend my birthday stuck with—with my parents. I really, really want to hang out with you. This year has been weird and I just… I wish I could have a normal birthday with you.”

“Well, maybe we can celebrate another time.” He offered her a half hearted smile and she returned it with one of her own.

“Yeah… maybe.”

“I’m sorry your parents are always like this.”

“I just thought that… I thought that since it’s my birthday that he—I mean, they would be more understanding.” Carol felt her cheeks burn with her slip-up, but Attlass hadn’t noticed.

“Look at it this way,” he said, “you’re turning eighteen and next year you’ll be in college. This is the last birthday that you have to do anything with them if you don’t want to. Soon you won’t have anyone telling you what you can or can’t do.”

Carol tried to smile again. She knew that she couldn’t, but she really wished she could just tell Attlass the truth. Not that it would make not being able to hang out any better. But at least then maybe he could understand her.

Of course there was nothing she could do about that right now, though. For now she had had to grin, lie, and bear it.

Chapter Text

This year Carol’s birthday fell on a weekend, the spring weather was on the nice side, she didn’t have any homework, she was finally an adult, and her boyfriend was taking her on a mini trip—it technically had all the makings to be the perfect birthday. As long as she could get herself to stop being bitter about her cancelled plans with Attlass.

She had felt really awkward around Attlass after having to blatantly lie to him once again, and she could tell he was still disappointed. He had sent her a couple texts saying that if her parents changed their minds, then he’d come pick her up so they could still hang out and save her birthday from them. Even though there was no way he was going to find out she was lying, she just felt really guilty. And she was still bummed that she couldn’t hang out with him.

But she had actually calmed down since Yon first told her she had to cancel her plans, and she was getting a little excited to see exactly what he had planned this weekend. He kept trying to be secretive about it, as if the surprise wasn’t already ruined, which did kinda annoy her, but whatever.

He had her pack an overnight bag on Friday night, and late in the morning on Saturday, they got into the car to head out. Not long into the drive, he stopped at a drive-thru for coffee, which was something they never did, so that was cool. Maybe this trip would be fun.

“Okay, but can you tell me where we’re going now?” she asked as they waited in the drive-thru.

“Well, seeing as I have to use my GPS from this point on…” He was plugging something into the car’s GPS, and her eyes widened as the directions came up.

“We’re going to be driving for three hours?” she asked.

“A little over three hours, actually.”

“That’s so long!”

“It’s a good distance from here.”

“I’d say. Are we making a pit stop in Mordor while we’re at it? Might as well.”

“Come on, Carol. It’s not as far as all that.”

“Say that to me again when we’re finally there and I’m your age. Unless of course you’ve died from old age by then.”

“Okay, I’m not dying of old age when I’m…” He paused, thinking it over for a moment, then said with a sigh, “I’ll be about fifty by then.”

“Ew, that’s so old.”

“It’s actually not.”

“You’re just saying that to make yourself feel better about it.”

“You’re going to be that age too someday, Carol.”

“Yeah, but you’re getting there faster. I’ve got tons more time than you.”

“Fair enough.”

They continued on their trip to whatever the fuck they were doing—Carol did find the hotel on Google from the address and she was actually pretty impressed with how fancy it looked. But otherwise, driving for three and a half hours or whatever on her birthday wasn’t exactly exciting.

Of course she was looking at her phone while they drove, responding to birthday messages people were leaving her. She thought it was funny that all these people she never talked to were wishing her a happy birthday, but it was nice to feel like not everyone had forgotten her. But, as the car ride went on and morning became afternoon, it seemed like certain people still hadn’t remembered her.

“You’re being very quiet,” Yon said. “And you’ve been staring at your phone for a while, maybe it’s time for a break?”

“What else am I supposed to do while we’re in the car? And it’s my birthday, so you can’t tell me what to do.”

“I wasn’t telling you what to do. I was just saying that maybe we could have a conversation instead.”

“We’re having a conversation right now. And also I’m replying to everyone wishing me a happy birthday. I’m being social.”

“If you say so.”

She sighed. She didn’t know why he always had to be so on her about her phone lately. But after staring at the screen for another moment and not seeing any new notifications, she locked her phone.

“Do you think my parents will try to message me today?” she asked.

“I… I guess it’s possible…” He seemed to be concentrating extra hard on the road, then said, “Do you know if they even have your number?”

“No, I don’t think so. Steve said that my dad didn’t want it, which probably means that my mom doesn’t have it either. And they don’t believe in social media. But, I don’t know… it just feels weird to not hear from them at all.”

“I know it’s still hard not hearing from them, but think about how far you’ve come without them. You got through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years already. I’ve been here for you the whole time and I’m still here for you right now. And I’m proud of how strong you’ve been this year, Carol.”

“Thanks…” She sighed. “I just never thought that they’d really ignore me for this long.”

“I know. What they did to you is very cruel. But I love you, Carol. I’m always here for you.” He reached over to squeeze her hand, then took the steering wheel again.

She watched him drive for a moment. She really didn’t know where she’d be without him right now. He was the only reason she had made it through this year at all—no one else had been there for her when she needed it. And, through all of that fucked up shit, he had somehow become her boyfriend.

Her head spun a little as she thought about how their relationship had begun, how unexpected it had been. So much had happened. It seemed at once like no time at all had passed and also a lifetime.

But, thinking about it now, she realized it had really only been about nine months since the first time she stayed with him. Three months after that first night at his place and he had kissed her. Two months later and she was sleeping with him. And now it was April and she was eighteen and it was finally not illegal for them to be together.

They had been waiting for this day since that first kiss in the hotel on her college visit. Turning eighteen was supposed to be that magical day when everything in their relationship started going uphill. But they were still driving over three hours just so they could maybe attempt to celebrate her birthday like a normal couple.

She knew that they weren’t really in the clear until she graduated, but part of her had expected turning eighteen to make her feel like a different person, like however adults were supposed to feel. But obviously she was still the same Carol, and even though she was now an adult, she wasn’t able to do anything like a normal person.

She looked at Yon’s hands on the steering wheel now, still feeling guilty about how disappointed she had been when he told her about this weekend. She just wanted to be happy about how much Yon loved her and how much he was doing for her. She wanted Yon to think that she was happy so that he wouldn’t regret helping her or falling in love with her. She didn’t know what she would do without him.

But she seemed to always be having trouble trying to balance all of the emotions that came with the intensity of these past months. Whether or not she really understood everything that was happening and what she was feeling, at this point, she was honestly pretty exhausted across the board.

Maybe this trip with Yon could reset all of her emotions and end up being really good. But it was hard to keep being positive when she kept getting texts from Attlass, talking to her like everything was normal. He reminded her again that he was still willing to come get her if her parents let her do anything.

She hated that she just had to keep lying to Attlass. And she hated how much it hurt to never be able to hang out with him or anyone else.

Jesus fucking Christ. Just stop being a whiny baby all the time.

She shook her head, trying to count to ten or count down from ten or whatever it was that Yon told her to try. She took a deep breath. She just wanted to have a good birthday.

 


 

Finally, they made it to the hotel in the city. It ended up taking longer than the GPS originally predicted because of traffic, so Carol felt like she was going a little crazy in the car, but once they were in the city, skyscrapers and busy noises and bustling crowds everywhere, she was feeling pretty excited. Yon was still being strangely secretive about what they were doing, but she was starting to think that maybe she should just trust him.

They pulled into the parking garage for the hotel and they brought their bags into the lobby to check in. Carol was a little in awe at how huge and fancy and modern this hotel was. There was even a real live piano player filling the lobby with pleasant music, which was something Carol had only seen in movies. It seemed over the top for just a lobby, but also kinda cool.

She felt especially like a child right now, in a good way, staring up at the high ceiling and the huge windows with a view of the city, and she almost ran into Yon. He had stopped by some chairs in the lobby next to a sleek looking metal fountain, which Carol noted had no coins in it like the fountains at the mall by them—this establishment was clearly too fancy and serious for childish wishing tactics.

“Why don’t you wait here?” Yon said.

“Why, where are you going?” she asked.

“I’m just going to check in at the front desk.”

“Can’t I come with you?” Carol asked, a little confused, noticing how Yon’s shoulders tensed as he stood up a little straighter.

“Why don’t you just hang back with the bags?”

He was acting weird, but not in a good way. It was like when he dropped her off somewhere and parked towards the back of the parking lot and kept looking over his shoulder the whole time. He was clearly uncomfortable and she felt her own shoulders tense too.

“I thought we came to the city because it’d be easier to be in public together,” she said. “Who’s going to know us at the front desk?”

“No one, it’s just…” He glanced towards the front desk, then back to her, trying to smile. “I’m just being cautious, Carol. Besides, it’ll only be a minute.”

She thought it was stupid that he wouldn’t let her walk up there with him, but she stood back anyway, watching him walk to the front desk by himself. She didn’t get what the point of being here was if he was just going to push her aside like this. How were they going to get through the rest of the day if they had to be cautious about the front desk?

She flexed her hand in and out of a fist, trying to count to ten and breathe. She didn’t want to feel so annoyed right now. She didn’t want to be thinking about what she’d be doing with Attlass right now. She just wanted to count to ten and have all her stupid problems go away.

Then Yon came back to retrieve her and they found the elevator together, riding up to the floor that this mysterious hotel room was on. They found the right room number, and Yon swiped the key, holding the door open for her.

Like the lobby, the hotel room was nice, a lot nicer than any hotel Carol had ever stepped foot in before and, honestly, a lot nicer than she had expected from this trip. The last hotel she had stayed in was on her college visit, and she remembered how adult she had felt in that room, but that hotel had provided just the basics. This one was about more than just needing a place to rest your head.

“How much did this cost?” she asked before the door was even shut behind them.

“Don’t worry about that,” Yon said.

Everything in this hotel room was so elegant and pristine, she almost felt like she was on another planet. There were high-end appliances, fancy furniture that seemed to belong in a bougie catalog, artwork that she didn’t understand, a fully stocked mini bar, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. Even the bathroom was ridiculously nice, with a huge tub pressed against a glass wall that exposed the bathroom to the rest of the room.

“Ew, are you going to be able to see me pee?” She was standing in the bathroom, wrinkling her nose and looking at Yon through the glass.

“Really? That’s all you have to say about this room?”

“Everything else is great, but what happens if I have to take a shit? There’s not even a curtain I can pull.”

“Carol…” He shook his head. “A curtain would have been nice, but I promise I won’t be watching you.”

She rolled her eyes and stepped out of the bathroom. “I’m gonna feel pretty vulnerable in there.”

“Well, lucky for you, you’re not going to be spending the whole time in the bathroom.”

“Unless I get food poisoning.”

“Carol.”

“What? I’m just saying.” She shrugged, walking past him to flop herself onto the bed. “Oh, this is a lot comfier than I expected. And look! It even comes with a card.”

There was a white envelope resting against the decorative pillows. She grabbed it, pulling out a card with gold embossed letters telling them to “enjoy their stay” among some other pleasantries.

“What does it say?” Yon asked.

She sat up, held the card to her face and said, “Congratulations on no longer breaking the law. You can now rest easy on our five star pillows knowing that you are no longer a sex offender. Thank you for choosing our hotel as the special place to consummate your relationship as consenting adults.”

When she glanced at him from behind the card, his hands were on his hips and he just stared at her. He was trying not to react, which annoyed her a little.

“Do you need me to read it to you again?” she asked, not sure if she was pushing him on purpose.

“That wasn’t funny, Carol.”

“Not even a little?”

“No.”

She groaned and muttered under her breath, “Well, it wasn’t inaccurate.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“You shouldn’t be making jokes like that.”

“Why, is this room bugged or something? I sure hope not, since I’m assuming we’re gonna do more than sleep in this bed, and if that joke didn’t already get us in trouble…”

He continued to stare at her until she wriggled her eyebrows at him, then he exhaled and shook his head.

“Why don’t you unpack and get changed?” he said. “I want to make sure we make it to our dinner reservations on time.”

“Well, it’s still pretty early for dinner, do I really need to get ready now?”

“Our reservations are in an hour.”

“What? Why are we eating so early?” She looked down at the clock on her phone. “It’s only, like, three thirty. Have you been lying about your age to me? Do you qualify for the early bird specials?”

“It just seemed like the best time.”

“Where are we even going?”

“Don’t sound so thrilled.”

“Sorry…” She rolled her eyes, then clasped her hands together, bringing them up to her cheek, smiling, doing her best to speak like a Disney princess, “Oh wherever are you taking me for my early bird special birthday dinner, good sir?”

He gave her a look. “Alright. The sarcasm’s getting old.”

“Not unlike you.”

He let out a huff. “I suppose I walked into that one.”

“Yep. Now where are we going?”

“Well, it’s a five star restaurant.”

“Oh, très chic.”

“And it’s right here in the hotel.”

“…What?”

“What do you mean, what?”

“I mean, what? We’re eating at the hotel?”

“It’s a five star restaurant, Carol. It’s one of the best in the city.”

“But we’re not… we’re not leaving the hotel?”

“There’s no reason to if one of the best restaurants is already where we’re staying.”

“But are we going somewhere afterwards?”

“I thought you’d like to relax here.”

“We drove three and a half hours on my birthday so we can sit in this room all night?”

“Come on, Carol. There’s plenty to do here.”

“Like what? Watch each other through the bathroom window?”

“I meant at the hotel in general. Like… there’s a pool. You love using the pool at the gym and you haven’t been there in a while.”

“Well, you didn’t tell me there was a pool. I didn’t bring my swimsuit.”

“I thought I mentioned it.”

“No, you barely mentioned anything.”

“Well… maybe after dinner we can go find you a swimsuit.”

“Outside of the hotel or are you going to make me get one from the gift shop?”

“Let’s just get to dinner and see if you even still want to go swimming.”

“So that’s a ‘no’ to getting a swimsuit at an actual store…”

“I’m sorry if I didn’t say anything about the pool. I thought telling you that we were going to a hotel implied there would be a pool.”

“Why would I have assumed anything about this surprise hotel?”

“Carol… just…” he sighed, running a hand over his face. “Just get ready for dinner. I don’t know why you’re being like this.”

“I’m not being like anything.”

“If you say so.”

She let out a sigh and looked at the gold embossed card on the bed, then picked it up and tossed it like a frisbee towards him. It lightly hit his thigh and fell to the ground.

“Try not to trash this room, hmm?” he said, picking up the card.

“Oh no, I threw a piece of stationary. You’ll never get your deposit back now.”

“I didn’t have to make a deposit.”

“I don’t know how fancy hotels work.”

“Well, you don’t throw things around in them.”

“Oh my god, calm down. It was a piece of paper.” She stood from the bed and went to grab her overnight bag. She tossed it onto the bed and unzippered it, maybe a little too aggressively.

“You know I was being sarcastic about the paper, right?” Yon said. “You’re not the only one who uses sarcasm.”

“Yeah, but I’m better at it.” She dug through her bag until she found the dressy black top she had packed and yanked it out.

“You certainly use it more often.”

“Which gives me more experience with it, so I’m better at it.”

“If you say so.”

She groaned and pulled the t-shirt she was wearing over her head.

“What is it?” Yon said, watching her.

“I hate when you say that.”

“Say what?”

If you say so.” She shoved her t-shirt into her bag. “It’s dismissive.”

“I didn’t mean for it to be dismissive.”

“If you say so.”

“Okay, Carol. Point proven.” He kept watching her as she put on her nicer top and she suddenly noticed just how low cut it was.

“I should’ve brought a different top,” she said.

“Why? That one looks nice.”

“My boobs are falling out of it.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Well, it’s more than I’m used to.”

“You don’t need to worry about it. You look fine.”

“You’re just saying that because you like looking at my boobs.”

“I like looking at all of you.”

“So should I just go naked to the restaurant then?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“So you don’t like seeing me naked?”

“Not in public.”

“Well, you don’t actually like seeing me in public at all, so…”

“That’s not true.”

“Okay, you don’t like other people seeing me in public.”

“Again, not true.”

“So what is the truth?”

“I think you know that, Carol.”

She sighed. Yes, she knew the truth. They couldn’t be seen in public together, but he still got to go out and do more things in public than she did. But now they were literally about to go have dinner together in public, which was obviously a huge deal. Even if she did feel like this was too early for dinner, she knew she should be feeling super grateful and happy right now, but she just couldn’t stop herself from being so annoyed at everything—they just kept arguing.

She kept trying to make herself feel grateful and happy, but, so far, all she could do was think about how much more fun she’d be having if she was just hanging out with Attlass. Maybe things would be fine after dinner.

 


 

As they got into the elevator to head down to the restaurant, Yon found himself looking at Carol. Her attention was focused on her chest, adjusting her top. Even if she was a little fidgety in it, he did think she looked nice. And she hadn’t been entirely wrong, he did like looking at her, even if she was being difficult today.

She was clearly in some kind of temperamental mood, but he was still trying to be patient with her, hoping she’d relax and have a good birthday. But he was honestly getting annoyed at her constant eye rolling and complaining.

Although he understood why spending all night at the hotel rather than going out into the city might be a disappointment to her, that didn’t change the fact that he had put a lot of time and money into this trip. That alone made it all the more difficult not to get frustrated that she wasn’t even pretending to be appreciative. He seemed to have to focus much harder than usual on his breathing, keeping himself calm, steady, and patient.

Riding in the elevator now, he had managed to calm himself enough to be hopeful about the rest of the evening. Carol seemed to be restraining any comments she might have brewing inside her, and right now the only indication that she wasn’t in a good mood was the way she kept adjusting her top.

“You look fine,” Yon said, reaching out to take her hand, stopping her from fidgeting anymore. “You look very grown up and sophisticated right now.”

She huffed, lifting her gaze up to him. “What if I drop all my food down there?”

“Why would you drop all your food down your shirt?”

“I don’t know, I’m kinda nervous.”

“You’re nervous? What for?”

“I don’t know… you and I haven’t ever actually been out like this together since we became a thing.”

“Ah, well, I can understand that. But we’re three hours from home in a very busy city. Everything’s fine.”

“I know, I know. I mean, this is also technically our first date, though, right?”

“I suppose it is.” They really hadn’t had a normal relationship progression at all.

“Well, I don’t sleep with my dates after just one dinner,” she said, giving him a playful grin, “so don’t expect anything from me tonight.”

“Noted.” He wasn’t sure if the sarcasm meant she was still annoyed or not, but he felt relief from the way she smiled at him.

“Okay, but actually, now that I’m thinking about it… this is also technically my first date, like, ever.”

“Ever?”

“Yeah.”

Perhaps that shouldn’t have shocked him, but it did. He pushed aside the instant shame that heated him, feeling like a criminal for taking her virginity before taking her out like this. But it wasn’t like this was a normal relationship—if they could’ve done this sooner or without so much planning, perhaps they would’ve. Maybe she deserved more than to be fucked in secret and kept away from everything else that a healthy romance needed, but, given the circumstances, he felt like he was trying his best to give her everything he could.

The elevator dinged and the doors opened as they reached their floor. Carol adjusted her top once more before they walked out. Part of him felt like he should hold her hand as they walked right now, to let her know that he was happy to be out with her like this, but now that they were actually heading to the restaurant together, he could feel how sharp his nerves were becoming. Out of habit, he felt like he was trying not to look at her.

Once again, he steeled himself, trying to take a deep breath. As he exhaled, he glanced at Carol, catching her glancing at him.

“You really do look very beautiful right now, Carol,” he said, to which she rolled her eyes and started blushing. Then, glancing around to make sure no one was within earshot, he leaned in closer to her and said a little lower, “I’m lucky I get to be with the most attractive girl in this hotel—in the entire city. I’m not going to be able to take my eyes off you.”

She looked at him, eyes wide, her skin turning red from her chest to the tips of her ears. She glanced around them and then gave him a playful punch on his arm.

“What was that for?” he asked, holding his arm in mock injury.

“What if someone heard you?” she whispered, fighting a smile.

“We’re fine, Carol,” he said, sounding calmer than he actually felt, not wanting her to catch on. If he could at least continue to keep his own emotions in check, that might help her nerves and her mood to even out. She might even start enjoying herself. There was plenty of time for this night to go as smoothly as he had hoped it would.

Chapter Text

Carol was really nervous about being out in public with Yon. All she had wanted for so long was to just do normal things with him, and now they were out at this super nice restaurant, so she felt like she should be happy. She was even trying really hard not to be annoyed that they were eating dinner so early or that they weren’t leaving the hotel, which was fucking stupid. She’d never even been to this city before and there were so many cool things they could do. She might’ve even felt better if they were staying at a cheaper hotel if it meant they could actually go out to a museum or something.

She felt bad that her attitude about this special trip was pretty sour, but she didn’t like the feeling that she was being confined somewhere that she hadn’t even really wanted to go to in the first place. Maybe she was being impossible to please on purpose—having to cancel with Attlass left a bitter taste in her mouth. But she wanted to be positive. They were still technically out together, so she needed to just calm the fuck down and stop being a brat.

So she was trying to forget about how bitter she was and just focus on being happy in the moment. She was at a restaurant with her boyfriend, which was a huge deal for them. But Yon had been telling her for literal months to keep everything secret and it was like all of his words had been drilled into her brain and her bones. Now that she was out in public with him, she felt almost grossly exposed, like she was doing something terribly wrong. They were beating the dinner rush, so the restaurant wasn’t very full right now, and all that empty space seemed to just put them on display. It made her feel almost shaky.

As they were seated at this restaurant that was definitely, without a doubt, the nicest restaurant she had ever been to—it was just as lavish and impressive as the rest of the hotel—Yon kept acting like it was the most normal thing for them to be out like this. It made Carol feel a little crazy for being so stressed about it.

For now, she just tried to mimic how calm he was being. Yon seemed so sure of himself as the waitress took their orders, and Carol hoped that she looked half as confident as he did right now. After a little while, once their food had arrived, she did start to feel a little better, like maybe she really didn’t need to be worried right now.

“The last time we went out to dinner together was on my college visit,” she said once she was feeling like her nerves had settled enough to let her talk like a normal person.

“I remember,” he said.

Regaining a bit of her usual boldness, she said, “It was also the first time you kissed me.”

Immediately, Yon shifted in his seat, glancing around them, as if somehow everyone they knew was going to materialize in this hotel restaurant.

“Do you not want me to talk about that?” she asked.

“No… no, you can talk about it, just…” He sighed. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to seem on edge right now. It’s your birthday and we can talk about whatever you want.”

“Anything?”

“Well…” He glanced around again, a little more purposefully this time. “Be considerate of the surroundings.”

“So considering the surroundings, is this a good time to critique your pussy eating technique?”

“Carol—I don’t think—no.”

“What? We’re in a restaurant and I’m talking about eating. It seems appropriate.”

“You’re incorrigible.”

“And you’re not as calm as you seem. Maybe order another glass of wine.”

“It’s expensive wine.”

“Well, it’s my birthday and I want you to get white girl wasted.”

“I think my days of getting any type of wasted are behind me.”

“Like how far behind?”

“Probably back in university.”

“Do you think it’s weird that you were out in your last days of drinking and meanwhile across the pond I was either wearing diapers or being potty trained? I mean, you were basically my age right now when I was born. That’s weird, right?”

“There’s plenty of couples with age differences bigger than ours.”

“Do you know any of them personally?”

He sighed and she laughed. He smiled at her and for a moment it was starting to feel actually alright to be out with him.

She looked down at her half eaten plate of food—some chicken dish that she couldn’t actually pronounce, but that still seemed like one of the most normal things on the menu—and started picking at it again. She liked the food, but her stomach had been too stirred up from her nerves to really enjoy it at first. Glancing up from her plate, she watched Yon taking a bite of his own food, and she wrinkled her nose.

“I can’t believe you ordered that,” she said.

“I don’t know why you’re giving me a hard time about it,” he said, his tone full of mock annoyance that made her fight a smile. “I just wanted to try something different.”

“But you’re eating a rabbit,” she said. “You’re like a wild animal.”

“Rabbit is widely considered a delicacy,” he said, cutting off another bite and holding it up on his fork, offering it to her. “Do you care to try it? It’s quite good, you might like it.”

“No, thanks, I’m not eating a poor, defenseless bunny rabbit.”

“As if the chicken you’re eating was any less defenseless.”

“Listen, I know it’s not logical, but I can’t eat anything that cute.”

He still held the fork out for her, as if she was going to change her mind. She wrinkled her nose again and shook her head. Then he took the bite himself. She watched him chew, shaking her head, then focused back on her own plate, still preoccupied with the mental image of innocent little bunnies hopping through the woods.

Carol took a small bite of her chicken, and absentmindedly looked up, watching a couple being seated across the restaurant. Suddenly, she was practically choking on her food as her heart jumped into her throat. Her hands flew up to shield her face.

“Fuck,” she cursed, peaking through her fingers, then ducking her face back down. “Oh my god, fuck.”

“What is it?” Yon asked.

“It’s Attlass’s parents.”

“What?” Yon’s tone was unmistakably alarmed. “Are you sure? Why would they be here?”

“I don’t know, Attlass said they were going out of town for their anniversary or something.” She was trying to turn her body away in the most normal way possible.

“He didn’t mention they were coming here at all?”

“I don’t know—you didn’t even mention we were coming here.”

“Are you sure it’s them?”

“I think I know what my best friend’s parents look like.”

“Okay, just… just calm down. Did they see you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay, then go upstairs and I’ll meet you there.”

“What?”

“Go upstairs now.”

“Alone?”

“Clearly, I can’t walk out of here with you right now. And I need to pay for the food.”

He definitely wasn’t wrong. If Attlass’s parents saw her walking out of this restaurant with their son’s French teacher, everything would be fucked. Of course the one time her and Yon went out to dinner, at a city three and a half hours away from home, Attlass’s fucking parents had to show up. Of course this would happen.

“Okay, I’m just gonna go then,” she said, starting to stand up.

“Wait,” Yon said, reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out their room key and handing it to her. “Just let me in when I knock.”

She took the key, took a deep breath, and stood up, trying to keep her face angled towards the ground as much as she could without stumbling into something. And of course by the time she realized there was a better path to take to avoid being in clear view of his parents, she was already walking in clear view of them. She just had to hope that—fuck! She had basically just made eye contact with Attlass’s fucking mom.

“Carol?” Attlass’s mom called, which also made his dad turn too, both smiling at her, giving Carol no choice but to smile and approach their table.

“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Perez,” Carol said, smiling out of sheer nervousness, but hopefully it didn’t look that way.

“What a nice surprise seeing you here, Carol,” Mrs. Perez said, certainly looking surprised and confused. “Who are you here with, dear?”

“Oh, uh, I’m here with—with my mom,” Carol said, telling herself to stop talking so fast, but she was talking too fast to listen to herself. “We came here for my birthday, so we’ve just been, like, around and stuff. Just doing birthday stuff.”

“Oh, today is your birthday, isn’t it?” Mr. Perez said.

“Yeah, yeah, the big eighteen.”

“Well happy birthday,” Mr. Perez said, smiling.

“I don’t see your mom, though,” Mrs. Perez said, looking beyond Carol at the restaurant. “Is she sitting down somewhere?”

“Oh, she’s, um…” Carol tried to casually step into Mrs. Perez’s view to stop her from being too observant and recognizing Yon. “She’s outside, she’s just waiting for me.”

“She’s outside?”

“Yeah, yeah, I forgot something in here—we ate here—and I came back in here to get it real quick, so she’s just waiting for me while I get it. And I got it now, so I was just going back to her right now.”

“Oh, well, I don’t want you to keep her waiting,” Mrs. Perez said. “It was good to see you, Carol. Come by for dinner sometime, I know Attlass would love it.”

“Oh, okay, yeah.”

“Enjoy your birthday. Tell your mom we said hi.”

“Okay, I will. See you later.”

Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.

Carol’s mind was suddenly a static blur. She felt like she was practically going blind as she walked to the elevator. She almost got off on the wrong floor, but caught herself before the elevator door closed, and once she had somehow managed to get off on the right floor, she also managed to find the right room number. She swiped the key a couple times before she actually got the door to open.

Fuck. Had that actually just happened?

Carol paced around the room, cursing and feeling like her entire body was on fire. What were the fucking odds that Attlass’s parents would be at that restaurant at the exact same time as her and Yon? And of course they had seen her and she had talked to them and now Attlass was going to know that she was a fucking liar.

She kicked the stupid fancy sitting chair and then stubbed her fucking toe.

“Fuck!” She hopped around until the pain in her foot went away. If she hadn’t already hurt herself, she would’ve kicked the chair again. She just felt so frustrated and overwhelmed and pissed off and she didn’t want to be stuck in this stupid hotel room.

Suddenly, she remembered she was still wearing this low cut top, which just annoyed her more than ever, and she was about to grab a t-shirt from her bag when there was a knock on the door. She huffed over to it, looking through the peephole to see Yon, and she opened the door for him. She turned her back on him so she didn’t have to see how pissed off he probably looked, and she went back to her bag to look for her t-shirt.

“Are you… okay?” Yon asked.

“What do you think?” For whatever fucking reason, the bag seemed to be endless and she couldn’t find her t-shirt and it was pissing her off, so she just turned to look at Yon. He looked surprisingly calm and for some reason that irked her.

“You need to take a deep breath,” he said. “We just need to talk about this.”

“What is there to talk about? I fucked up! Attlass’s parents saw me and I fucked up and I’m an idiot!”

“What do you mean you fucked up?”

She tried to take a breath then, maybe she was going too fast. “I didn’t fuck up fuck up—it’s just that they saw me so I had to talk to them.”

“What did you say to them?”

“I told them that I’m here fucking my track coach—what do you think I told them?”

“Carol, I know you’re agitated, but please try to calm down. What did you tell them?”

“I told them I was here with my mom and they believed me, but now they’re going to tell Attlass that they saw me and Attlass is going to think I’m a liar because I am a liar!”

“You said what you had to, Carol, you’re not a liar. You already told Attlass you were spending the weekend with your parents, right?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t say my mom was taking me to some fancy ass hotel!”

“Just tell him that it was a surprise if he asks. It’ll be fine.”

“Why are you being so calm right now? We almost just got completely fucked!”

“Well, we didn’t, though, did we? I’m trying to stay calm so I can think. I don’t want to overreact.”

“Oh, so I’m overreacting?”

“I didn’t say that. But you should try taking a deep breath.”

She huffed out and sucked in an exaggerated breath. Yon sighed and then took off his jacket, unbuttoning his shirt as he went to his own overnight bag resting atop the dresser across the room.

“They didn’t see us together—they didn’t see me at all, so I think we’re okay,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”

Everything’s fine? Are you serious right now?”

He had his back to her, changing into some more casual clothes. It felt almost like he was trying to ignore her right now, which she knew he wasn’t. It was impossible to ignore anyone in this room anyway.

“I don’t understand why you’re being like this!” She groaned, feeling the urge to kick that stupid chair again, but holding herself back.

He turned to her, hands on his hips. “What do you want me to be doing right now, Carol?”

“I don’t know, you’re so paranoid about everything all the time and now we get this close to being caught and you’re acting like everything’s peachy keen and you’re just in the best mood of your life.”

“I am certainly not in the ‘best mood of my life’ right now, Carol. But I’m trying to be rational and keep my head over this. This wasn’t good, but it could have been much worse.”

She just stared at him for a moment. She really couldn’t stand how he was trying to act all stoic when she felt like she was going to lose her mind. It made her feel like she was overreacting. But how was she supposed to be calm and rational about this? This was one step away from the worst case scenario for them!

She felt like she could explode, but she didn’t want to keep proving how immature she was all the time. She brought her hands up to her face, repressing another groan. Right now, she really wished that they hadn’t come on this stupid surprise birthday trip.

“Talk to me, Carol,” he said.

“Talk about what?” She kept her hands over her face. “I don’t want to talk anymore.”

“Then what do you want to do?”

She wanted to not be here anymore, but she couldn’t say that. Instead, she brought her hands down and said, “Can I just go to the pool now?”

The way he hesitated made her heart sink.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.

“Why not?”

“You don’t even have a swimsuit, Carol. And I don’t think now is the best time to go look for one. Let’s just wait it out.”

And there they were: his fucking nerves. He definitely wasn’t going to let her go anywhere now that they knew Attlass’s parents were around. But he hadn’t even really been planning on doing anything outside of the hotel before this had happened.

Pretty much every part of their relationship had to stay behind closed doors, and she was the one constantly being shut away—not him. She felt like she was always stuck at home. He could drive away to the gym or the store whenever he wanted, but if she wanted to go anywhere, he had to take her. She literally couldn’t do anything without him.

And today, on her birthday when she had hoped to have a little fun with her one friend, she was just going to be shut away with him in a hotel room. She didn’t know why he bothered planning this weekend trip if all he really wanted to do was just keep her locked away like every other day of her life.

She couldn’t stop thinking about how much she’d rather be hanging out with Attlass. She hadn’t been able to hang out with him in months, and she had to trade that opportunity for what? To be rushed away from dinner and then go to sleep in an overpriced room? Some birthday outing.

She clenched her jaw as the discontent shifted into clearer focus, feeling alarmingly like dread. She didn’t want to be locked away in this hotel room from everyone and everything except Yon, but she felt like she didn’t have a choice.

Unintentionally letting out a sigh, she now pushed past him to her bag. Finally, she dug out her stupid t-shirt, but then suddenly decided to shove that back in her bag and pull out her pajamas instead, since they clearly weren’t doing anything else tonight.

“You’re being very quiet right now,” Yon said. She could feel him watching her, but she wouldn’t look at him.

“I’m just a little tired from all this excitement,” she said, walking to the bathroom to change alone, but she was quickly reminded that she couldn’t do that and she groaned. “Why didn’t they put a curtain in this dumb bathroom?”

“All you have to do is tell me to look the other way until you’re out if you really want privacy.”

“I shouldn’t have to tell you to look away though. There should just be a normal wall. Who puts a glass wall like this in a bathroom?”

“Well… all the same, I’ll just keep looking the other way until you tell me otherwise.”

She rolled her eyes and closed the bathroom door, as if there was any point to that. Changing into her pajamas and glaring at the stupid glass wall, she felt increasingly frustrated about the lack of privacy in this hotel room. She stood in her anger, glaring at the wall but not really seeing it, just feeling like she was going to get a headache from how stupid this all was.

She exited the bathroom and she didn’t say anything to let Yon know that it was okay to look over there now, but he looked anyway.

“Is there anything else you want to do tonight?” he asked, his tone indecipherable to her annoyed ears.

“In the hotel room?” She shoved her worn clothes into her overnight bag.

“You haven’t had any birthday cake yet. We could order some room service if you want.”

“I don’t want birthday cake.” She took her phone and went over to one of the fancy chairs facing the tv and plopped down. Yon was quiet for a suspicious amount of time, and she assumed that meant he was probably staring at her.

Finally, he broke the silence and said, “Don’t do this right now, Carol.”

She felt her face burning. “Do what?”

This. Don’t sit there on your phone and ignore me.”

“I’m not ignoring you. I’m literally talking to you right now.” She was focusing on her phone, but she still saw him move to stand by the chair across from her.

There was another long, tense moment of silence, and then he said, “What are you upset about right now?”

She practically laughed. “Seriously? You’re seriously asking me that? Did you not see what just happened in the restaurant?”

“It’s not just that. You’ve been upset all day. I put a lot of effort into this trip and I would like to know why you’re upset with me about it.”

“Who said I was upset with you?” the words fell out harsh and jagged, but she didn’t care. She kept staring at her phone to avoid seeing him clenching his jaw.

“Will you put the phone away please? I’m trying to have a conversation with you.”

Rolling her eyes, she locked her phone and met his gaze, instantly wishing she hadn’t. He was bordering on pissed off, but in that subtle way of his—unblinking as he stared at her, lips pressed tightly together—silently communicating that she had fucked up once again.

“So did you want to have a conversation or are we just having a staring contest?” she asked, flatly.

He let another silent, tense moment linger between them before saying, “What did I do wrong today?”

She flexed her hands in and out of fists. “I didn’t say you did anything wrong.”

“You didn’t have to say it, Carol, but it’s obvious what you’re thinking.”

“How is it obvious? Are you a mind reader?” She really felt like he was sometimes, and she hated feeling like she didn’t even have any privacy in her own head, especially right now.

“I’m not a mind reader, but I know you. And I know you’re upset with me.”

“Well, maybe I’m just tired.”

“Maybe, but you also didn’t seem excited when I told you about this trip in the first place. And you’ve been sulky most of the day.”

“I’m not sulky.” She wanted to control herself, but she was getting too frustrated and the words just came out, “And I didn’t ask for this trip. I didn’t know you had planned this whole thing and I had to bail on Attlass and that sucked.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but you know I was trying to surprise you.” Yon seemed to be trying to control himself too, but he was starting to look uncharacteristically mad, his face turning a little red. He closed his eyes and sighed, then stood up, pacing to the window. “I thought you would appreciate a getaway like this, but you clearly don’t. All you can do is complain about the bathroom.”

“Because it’s a dumb bathroom—there’s no privacy!”

“I’m sorry that I didn’t look into the bathroom more—I thought booking a room in one of the best hotels in the city would be enough.”

“I get it, this is a super nice place, but I had to lie to Attlass so we could come here, and I’m always lying to him. Do you know how tired I am of having to lie to everyone about everything all the time?”

“You think I don’t understand that?” He let out a dry laugh and shook his head, walking back towards her, making her feel small as he towered over her where she sat. “I understand that more than anyone else, Carol. You should know that. And how do you think I like having to be constantly on guard about this too? I thought this trip would be a nice break from everything for both of us, but clearly I was wrong.”

“What gave that away? Was it when I had to literally run away from dinner?”

“I couldn’t have predicted that happening, that was beyond my control.”

“Well it never would’ve happened if you had just let me hang out with Attlass like I had originally planned.”

He rolled his eyes now. “Can you please stop bringing that up? I didn’t know you had plans with him. I’m sorry I tried to do something nice for you.”

“You didn’t ask me if I even wanted to do this, though! I wasn’t expecting anything like this!”

“Like I keep saying, I thought it would be a nice surprise. I just wanted to make your birthday something special because I’ve been…” He sighed, cutting himself off.

“You’ve been what?”

“I’m worried that I’m going to lose you.”

She felt almost like he had shoved her. “What? What are you talking about?”

“Ever since you’ve been reconnecting with Attlass, I’ve been worried that you’re going to say something, and when that happens, I’m going to lose you. I won’t get to have you with me like this anymore.”

She rolled her eyes. “But I’m not going to say anything. You’re always acting like I’m going to say something but I’m not.”

“But you’re always asking me how long we have to keep this a secret and I know how frustrated you are having to lie about this, so how long until it becomes too much and you tell someone?”

“I’m not going to.”

“Or what if you just decide to leave instead?”

Again, it felt like he might as well have just shoved her. “What? Why would I leave?”

“You’re finally eighteen—you’ve been waiting for the independence that would give you your whole life—and you’re going to be at college soon, and then you could just decide that… that you don’t need me anymore.”

“You’re being stupid.”

“Am I? I know everything started between us because you needed help until you graduated, and you’re almost there. I don’t want to lose you, though.”

Guilt at how ungrateful she had been acting all night sunk into her already frustrated gut. There were too many negative, heavy feelings inside of her right now. How was she supposed to look at Yon and handle his hurt on top of hers?

“You’re not going to lose me,” she said. “That’s stupid.”

“I don’t think it’s stupid, Carol. I love you, and with the way you’ve been acting… I’m worried that you don’t feel the same anymore.”

God, he was making her feel so bad right now. There were too many emotions pinballing through her and she wasn’t sure which one was the most important so she just felt bad. But as she sat in the chair, looking at Yon as he sighed and ran a hand over his hair, she felt guilt suddenly striking the hardest.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”

“I just want to know if you’re unhappy, Carol. Did I do something to make you unhappy?”

“No…” she said, not sure what else she was supposed to be saying to make him less upset. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“How am I supposed to believe that when you keep acting like you don’t want to be here?”

“I do want to be here,” she said, not really feeling like the words were coming from herself. She wasn’t sure who they were coming from.

For a moment, they just stared at each other, then she had to cast her eyes down. He sighed and suddenly began walking away. She watched him walk over to the door, starting to put his shoes on.

“What are you doing?” Her heart jumped, compelling her to stand.

“I’m going to take a walk,” he said. “You’re telling me you want to be here, but I don’t believe you. I’m giving you some space, since you don’t seem to want me here.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t want you here,” she said, moving towards him, her anxious heart beating faster with each second, telling her she was fucking everything up. “Just don’t go—I don’t want you to leave.”

He had his shoes on and he wasn’t completely facing her, like he wasn’t really sure if he was going to walk out the door or not.

She could feel his apparent indecision tugging at her, telling her that she was responsible for keeping this situation from getting worse. And she really didn’t want him to leave her. She didn’t think she could stand to watch him walk out on her right now, even if she knew he would come back. But what if when he came back he had decided that she wasn’t worth all this anymore? Fuck, she couldn’t lose another fucking person!

But right now he was still standing there, between her and the door. His hurt and indecision seemed to have a gravitational pull. She stepped closer to him, reaching out to grab his arm.

“I’m really sorry,” she said, moving her hand up to his shoulder, grabbing at the fabric of his shirt. “I didn’t mean to seem ungrateful. I know you put a lot of work into this today and I’m sorry, Yon. I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t want us to argue today,” he said, turning to face her. He looked so disappointed and it awakened that shame infused sludge in her brain, spilling over her whole body.

“I know,” she said, her hands now on his chest. “I know. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m so moody.”

“All I want is for you to be happy, Carol,” he said. “That’s all I was trying to do today—to just keep you happy.”

“I know,” she said, those heavy emotions in her stomach feeling heavier, making her hands drop to her sides. She stared ahead at his chest because she couldn’t bear to actually look him in the eye.

He brought up his hand to stroke her cheek with his knuckle, down to her chin. She resisted the urge to flinch, blinking instead. It felt like he had made up his mind to stay here with her right now, and even though she wasn’t really in the mood to be touched, she still felt a gravitational pull to him. She couldn’t turn away from him, not after she had practically pushed him out the door. So she stayed put, letting him touch her as if it wasn’t amplifying the guilt and shame and discontent and everything else brewing inside her.

“I don’t actually want to leave you here alone right now,” he said. “Not if you don’t want me to.”

She opened her mouth, and for a second the words refused to come out, but then, reaching out to grip the bottom hem of his shirt, like she was desperately trying to anchor him in place, she said, “Please don’t leave me.”

She looked up at him, her stomach twisting as his fingers tucked underneath her chin.

“You’re a real handful sometimes,” he said. “But I love you. You know I love you.”

She knew he was going to kiss her, but she didn’t know why she was counting the seconds until it was over. But he didn’t seem to be stopping.

“I’m sorry we argued,” he said, starting to kiss her neck as his hands gripped at her waist. “You know I love you more than anyone.”

“I know,” she said, letting him touch her, counting to ten in her head.

“I don’t want you to be upset,” he said. “Let me make you feel better.”

He kept kissing her, running his hands over her, and she was trying to get into it, but she was so tired from the argument. Nothing about what had just happened was a turn on to her at all. Instead of being pleasant or sexy, the feeling of his lips and his hands on her was making her want to scream. But the risk of him leaving felt worse.

And that was exactly why she couldn’t say no to him right now. She didn’t know if this was going to make her feel better, but it might make him feel better.

Yon really did so much to try to make her happy and she didn’t know exactly why she wasn’t actually happy with him right now. After how much he had put into this trip for her birthday and everything else he always did, she didn’t want to keep acting ungrateful and she didn’t want him to leave. So she kept kissing him and touching him back and saying yes to everything that he asked.

When the touching didn’t stop and they ended up in bed and her pants were off and his body was pressed against hers, she felt like her heart was racing for all the wrong reasons. Everything he was doing to her were things that she knew she would be into on any other day, and it still did technically feel good. She kept responding to everything he was doing to her, but it didn’t feel real. It was like her mind and her body weren’t connected and she wasn’t sure who was in control of anything. She didn’t want to be here and yet she couldn’t stop being here. She really wasn’t into this.

Yon didn’t even seem to notice that she wasn’t into it. When he went in to kiss her for what felt like the hundredth time, she leaned away, already tired of it. But he grabbed her head and pulled her back in, forcing their lips together as if she had leaned away on accident and he was getting them back on track. Maybe some other time she would’ve liked how determined he was, but right now it just made her feel smothered.

Maybe this was fine. Maybe it was okay that she was going along with this because then at least he wouldn’t be upset anymore, and it was her fault that he was upset in the first place. They had sex all the time, and this time wasn’t really that different. It wasn’t like doing it right now when she wasn’t into it was really going to matter in the long run, especially if it made this whole argument go away and meant that he wasn’t going to walk out… right?

But when it was over, when she felt like she was settling back into her body, she felt even worse than before. He seemed a little more relaxed, but having sex hadn’t resolved a single thing for her. On top of everything else, she was starting to feel like she had just been lying to him and now she had to just keep lying, because what was the point of having sex if she was just going to keep acting upset? She didn’t want to start another argument.

He was holding her close, stroking her hair. He pressed his lips to her forehead, inhaled deeply, and he said, “You know I love you.”

His breath on her felt humid, and her mouth tasted like his as she said, “I know. I love you, too.”

She let him hold her for a moment longer, then excused herself to the bathroom, keeping her mouth shut about how much she hated that stupid glass wall. All she wanted to do right now was to be alone, to just have a minute to herself to breathe and maybe try to understand everything that was clawing inside her head and ravaging her insides.

There were suddenly so many things that she felt like she didn’t have the answer to. Like how come her body had to keep responding to everything if she wasn’t into it? Did the fact that sex felt good mean that she actually did want to do it, deep down?

But she couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to have sex with him. Yes, she was mad at him, but she was supposed to be in love with him, so didn’t that mean she should be attracted to him all the time? If she was really in love with him, why did she feel so fucking empty inside right now?

She really wanted to stop overthinking this right now. If her brain could just shut up, then maybe she’d be fine. She took a deep breath, inhaling his scent clinging to her skin.

She usually loved that smell. Now, it prompted her to turn on the shower and quickly jump in, not waiting for it to warm up. The shower was at least tucked away in the bathroom so she wasn’t on full display with the glass wall, but she still hated feeling like she wasn’t completely alone. She washed her hair and scrubbed her body with the stuff from the hotel, and she wasn’t sure if she liked the fragrances, but it was better than smelling like him.

She kept scrubbing, but she just kept feeling the pressure of Yon’s body against hers, feeling the heat of his breath soaking into her skin, and she couldn’t scrub that feeling out. It made her feel like she was crumpling, like she was hollow, like nothing about her had actually mattered while they were having sex, just her body. But that couldn’t be true, because he loved her—he loved her more than anyone.

As she tried to finish up in the shower, she realized she was crying. She just stood there for a moment, letting the water wash over her, willing herself to stop. She didn’t want him to see her crying, not now that she had made him feel better after everything she put him through today. She didn’t want to hurt him anymore.

Suck it up, she told herself. She took a deep breath, turning off the water, watching it all run down the drain. Suddenly, she had a headache.

After drying off, putting her pajamas back on and adjusting the star pendant on her necklace, she left the bathroom. Her limbs were heavy and she got back into the bed, not facing Yon. But she felt him lightly stroke her back once, then he stood up and she heard him go into the bathroom. She closed her eyes and pulled the comforter over her increasingly achy head. She curled her knees up to her chest and held a hand against her constricted stomach. She couldn’t tell if she was just being a baby right now or not, but between her legs felt pretty sore too.

“Are you okay, Carol?”

She pulled the comforter down enough to peak at Yon standing over her.

“My head hurts,” she said, pulling the comforter back over her face.

“Did you drink enough water today?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you take anything for it?”

“I didn’t bring anything.”

“Okay, well… I think the hotel’s shop should have some aspirin. I’ll run down there right now.”

“Okay.”

With her eyes shut and her body hidden under the comforter, she listened to him moving around, getting dressed, putting shoes on. He told her he’d be right back, and the door opened and shut, the lock clicking. She pulled the comforter down, seeing that she really was alone right now. The quiet energy of the room shifted without him, and she felt like she could breathe easier.

The expansive windows let in the glow from the sunset reflected against the city and, despite her headache, she wanted to get up and admire the view. It would’ve been nice to just stare out the window, to look down from this high up, feeling safe and comfortable. But she didn’t want to be up when he came back. She didn’t want to invite any other interaction besides him handing her the aspirin.

Whenever he came back, she had to be wrapped up in the comforter, hiding herself like a child who holds their hands over their eyes and believes the world can’t see them. She wished it were that easy to be alone, because that was all she really wanted right now. She wasn’t even thinking anymore about how her night would have been different with Attlass. All she wanted was to be left alone, curled up under the comforter, alone and untouchable.

 


 

When Yon woke up the next morning, he was surprised to find that Carol was still curled up under the comforter, her head poking out. It was rare for him to get up before her, especially when she had turned in so early last night.

Right now he reached over to her, lightly pushing her hair away from her face. At that she twitched a little, opening her eyes.

“Good morning,” he said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

She mumbled something, pulling the comforter higher so her mouth was covered, closing her eyes again.

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Is it your head still?” he asked.

She nodded.

“I’m so sorry, Carol.” He stroked her hair once more and managed to kiss the top of her head before she ducked underneath the comforter completely.

His gut sunk at seeing her like this right now. There were a lot of things about this trip that had gone completely, utterly wrong, and her getting one of her bad headaches seemed to just be the icing on the cake. At least their argument last night had ended on relatively decent terms before her head had acted up.

Sitting on the edge of the bed for a moment, he looked at the clock on his phone. They had a few hours before they had to check out of the room. Deciding that it’d probably be best to get Carol home as soon as possible, he got up, got himself ready for the day, and started to quietly pack their things. He kept glancing at Carol, but she stayed silent and huddled under the comforter the entire time.

He really wished there was more he could do for her right now. It was odd that her headache was persisting this long. But at least he knew he could manage to care for her and provide her with a safe space to rest while she wasn’t feeling well. It made him feel a bit more responsible for her, a bit more like she was his.

After getting all of their things put together, he knelt down at her bedside, saying in hushed tones, “Carol, are you awake?”

A general mumbling from underneath the comforter.

“I think we should get going soon,” he said. “But there’s time to order breakfast if you’re hungry. Would you like to order something?”

Another mumble that didn’t sound like a yes or a no.

“I’ll order something for you if you want,” he said.

“No,” came her voice, still groggy but the clearest thing he had heard her say since last night.

“Okay,” he said. “Then I think it’s best if we head out soon. Take a few more minutes to lie down, but then we should get going.”

No sound from her. He stayed knelt down beside her for a moment, staring at the comforter, as if he could see her through it. Standing, his gaze shifted to the nightstand, where her phone was sitting. After a second of hesitation, he carefully picked up the phone, and walked across the room. Standing next to the window, he glanced over his shoulder, seeing that Carol hadn’t moved yet, then looked at her phone in his hand.

There were a number of unread messages waiting on her lock screen, so he unlocked the phone and as he opened her messages, his heart rate seemed to instantly double.

In her unopened Facebook messages, he was alarmed to see a message from her mother.

Almost without thinking, he opened the message, reading:

Happy birthday, Carol. I know you probably don’t want to hear from me, but I’ve been thinking about you so much, especially today. I can’t believe my little girl is an adult now. I’m sorry for how things have been, but I still love you very much and I just want to know that you are ok. I’m not sure what the best way to reach you is, but I finally made this account on this site if you want to talk here. I understand if you want to take your time. I’m still here for you. Love, Mom

Yon’s palms were sweating. He reread the message a few more times, then stared blankly out at the cityscape.

He couldn’t let Carol see this. He couldn’t let her reconcile with her mother. Not right now. Maybe if they hadn’t argued last night or if Carol hadn’t been so moody lately, maybe he could trust her to talk to her mother. But he had come too far with Carol to willingly risk everything because of a Facebook message.

If her mother even really cared, then she would’ve tried to reach out months ago—she wouldn’t have even let her daughter get away in the first place. And even if Carol did respond to her mother, this was probably just going to result in more disappointment for her. Her parents didn’t care about her. There was no point in Carol risking everything they had together just so she could be let down by her parents again.

It wasn’t fair of her mother to message her after so long. Carol was doing fine without them. She didn’t belong to them anymore. She belonged with him.

Without another thought, Yon deleted the message. Then he went to her mother’s profile and blocked her.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, counting to ten. This was for the best. He opened his eyes, catching a hint of his reflection in the window, then turned away.

He quietly replaced the cellphone on the nightstand. Carol was still buried under the covers. He’d give her another few minutes, then he’d have to get her up. He was getting anxious to have her back at home, safe and sound.

Chapter Text

Carol couldn’t really tell if her head actually hurt that bad while they were driving home from the hotel, but she used the headache as an excuse to lie down in the back seat anyway. More than anything, she just felt so fucking tired. And she still didn’t want to look at Yon.

Everything that happened last night continued to upset her, sitting unresolved in the pit of her stomach. Yon was acting like everything was fine, though, and she didn’t know how to play along. She felt really not okay at all.

She just wanted to get over this and act like a normal person, but, at least right now, everything about Yon made her feel gross. So for now, she gave in to the lingering ache in her head and closed her eyes and slept, because then at least she’d be left alone. She drifted in and out of an unsettled nap most of the car ride, turning the trip back into a lifeless blur. Once they were home, she went straight to her room.

Sunday dragged on, heavy and slow, and Carol stayed hidden in her own bedroom, lying on her bed. Late in the evening, her headache had gone away, and she felt pretty hungry—she hadn’t really eaten anything all day—but she didn’t want to leave her room and have to talk to Yon. She didn’t know why she had to be so stubborn about being alone to the point that she wouldn’t even leave her room to eat, but she wouldn’t do it. She just wanted to fall back asleep.

But then she heard Yon’s footsteps on the stairs, coming to her door. A light knock.

“Carol?” he asked, gently.

She didn’t want to talk to him, but still, she made a sound, “Mmhmm.”

“Can I come in?”

She couldn’t say no. “Mmhmm.”

The door opened, and she squinted against the hallway light spilling around Yon, making him no more than a shadowy silhouette as he stepped in.

“Does your head still hurt?” he asked, coming closer to her.

“Mmhmm.”

He set a couple things down on her nightstand, then knelt down next to her. “I brought you some more water and some aspirin.”

“Okay.”

He sighed. Then he reached out to touch her, his fingertips stroking her cheek, and she shrunk back from him.

He took his hand away. “Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled.

“You’ve barely eaten anything today. Can I bring you something?”

“I don’t know …”

He was silent for a moment, and it was too dark for her to be able to see his expression, his face still mostly in shadow. Then he said, gently, “Is anything else wrong?”

“No …”

“Are you sure? You can talk to me about anything, you know that.”

She did know that. She knew she was supposed to be able to tell him absolutely anything. But how was she supposed to tell him how she was feeling without sounding insane? How was she supposed to tell him that she hadn’t wanted to have sex but she did anyway and now she could barely look at him? She didn’t want to fucking tell him that, it’d sound like she was accusing him of being some terrible person, which he wasn’t at all. And what she really wanted was to just stop thinking about it. She didn’t want to think about her fucking birthday weekend ever again.

She felt like she had to say something right now, though. Pulling the words out slowly, almost as if they didn’t want to come out, as if they had spurs sticking into her when they climbed up her throat, she lied, “Everything’s fine.”

“Carol …” he said, gently, not convinced. He reached out to touch her again, stroking her hair, and she flinched a little but maybe he didn’t notice because he didn’t move his hand. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

She didn’t know what to say. There weren’t any words that she was willing to force up through her throat like that again. Her headache seemed to still be lurking somewhere in the shadows around her, and her stomach hurt from its emptiness, and even though Yon was right next to her, touching her, she felt so alone. She felt a prickling at her eyes, and brought a hand up to hide her face as she sniffled.

“Carol … Carol, it’s okay,” Yon said, bringing himself up to sit on the bed next to her, leaning over her to embrace her, and she just let him because this was what he always did when she was upset and she couldn’t push him away when he was trying to comfort her. He was being so nice and it made her feel so bad for just wishing that he would leave her alone right now.

“I know you haven’t really been feeling well enough to talk since last night,” he said, “and I know we had a rough go of it yesterday, but there’s nothing you could say or do to make me stop loving you. You mean everything to me, Carol.”

What he was saying should have made her feel comforted and happy, but it was just making her feel so much more guilty. The confusion she felt after having sex last night hadn’t left her; she still didn’t understand why she hadn’t wanted to have sex with him. And now she didn’t understand why this wasn’t making her feel better or why she was still feeling smothered. He was so good to her.

“I …” she began, wanting to say something that would make him feel good, so he wouldn’t think that she was upset with him. She just wanted to say that she loved him, but she felt so guilty about everything, and she said, “I don’t deserve you.”

“What do you mean?” He held her tighter. “You deserve so much, Carol. You deserve so much more than everything you’ve had to go through. I want to give you everything you didn’t get from your family. I love you so much, Carol, and I’d never hurt you like they did.”

Him bringing up her family re-opened a deeper expanse inside of her. No one from her family had said anything to her yesterday, and part of her realized that deep down she had been thinking that her parents would finally reach out to her on her birthday. But no one had, even Steve seemed to have forgotten. What time seemed to be teaching her was that the only person she really, truly had there for her was Yon. He was basically her family now.

She started crying even more. And he held her tighter and she kept crying, because even though she felt like she couldn’t breathe, she wasn’t going to push him away. That dark expanse inside of her felt like it was expanding even further, like it was reaching out of her, making the bedroom even darker. Even though she didn’t want to be touched, feeling him against her right now had to be better than feeling nothing.

“I love you,” she finally made herself say it, believing she meant it. After crying, she was even more tired than before.

“I love you, too.” He kissed her temple and she closed her eyes. He held her for another moment, then she heard her empty stomach rumble.

“You need to eat something,” he said, easing up his embrace. “I can bring something up to you if you think moving will hurt your head.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll be right back.”

He stood up, walking to the door. He closed it gently behind him, leaving it open just a crack, so the hallway light cut a stripe across her otherwise dark room. She stared at the line of light for a moment, then rolled over and shut her eyes, feeling her headache seeping back up over the edges of the growing darkness inside her.

 


 

When Yon got up for work on Monday, he was surprised to find that Carol was still shut away in her own room, presumably still sleeping. He didn’t bother knocking on her door at first, thinking maybe she was just taking her time this morning. Then he heard her phone’s alarm sound and shut off almost immediately, but he didn’t hear her moving. In the months they had lived together, he hadn’t known her to abuse her snooze button—if anything, she typically woke up before her alarm.

He waited for as long as he thought he reasonably could, starting to get himself ready for the day, and when she still wasn’t up, he went to her room. He knocked and slowly opened the door.

“Carol, are you up?” he asked, stepping into her room. She was under her covers, one leg sticking out from the comforter, half her face buried in her pillow. He just stared at her for a moment. “Carol, are you getting up? You’re not going to have time to get ready if you don’t get up soon.”

She groaned. “My head.”

“Your head still hurts?” He came closer to her, noticing her nightstand then; he had brought her a sandwich last night, setting the plate on her nightstand, and he saw now that she had only eaten about half of it, the other half now dry and inedible. At least she had taken the aspirin and drank most of the water.

“Does your stomach hurt, too?” he asked, sitting down next to her.

“I don’t know,” she mumbled. “Kinda.”

“Are you coming down with something?” He furrowed his brow, thinking that she really might be getting sick. Reaching to her, he lightly brushed aside her hair from her face and pressed his hand against her forehead, holding it there for a moment. No fever.

He stared at her, not sure what to do for her. She wasn’t one to feign illness to get out of school, and she had never seemed quite this out of sorts to him before. He knew that their weekend had taken a turn for the worse, perhaps it had stressed her out more than he initially realized. The run-in with Attlass’s parents had clearly shaken her. And of course they had argued on her birthday—possibly the most heated argument they’d had.

Briefly, he also wondered if believing that none of her family members reached out on her birthday had lowered her spirits more than he anticipated. Considering how upset she had been last night, perhaps her apparent affliction right now was just as much mental as it was physical.

A sudden, shameful heat crawled up his neck as the words of her mother’s message relayed themselves in his mind. The memory of her mother’s tired eyes swirled in with the desperate message, and seeing Carol like this now pummeled him with the feeling that he had stolen something.

He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. He hadn’t stolen anything. He had taken a helpless girl discarded by her parents when she had no one else to turn to. There was no one but him to look out for her, no one else whom she could trust.

And what did you do with that trust?

Again, he closed his eyes, taking another deeper, more intentional breath. He didn’t have time to sit here and fret about this and that and what had already been done. He had to tend to Carol in the here and now.

“Do you think you’re well enough to come to school?” he asked, refocusing on the current issue. “We have track tonight as well.”

“I don’t know …”

She sounded so tired, beyond just her usual morning grogginess. Going into school and doing something other than lying in her room might do her some good, but he didn’t want to push her too much, especially if it might actually bring on another debilitating headache.

“Why don’t you stay home today?” he said, not sure what else he should do. “I’ll call in for you and you can take the day to rest. Does that sound alright?”

She was silent, then, slowly, she nodded. He stroked her hair once, then leaned over and kissed her forehead. He stood up, taking the plate with the half eaten sandwich and the near empty water glass. He took those to the kitchen and, after he had made the brief call to school pretending to be Carol’s dad, he continued getting ready for his day.

While packing his own lunch, he threw one together for Carol too, putting it in the fridge with a note stuck to it. And before he left, he brought her up another glass of water and some more aspirin. She had fallen back asleep when he was setting those on her nightstand, but he leaned over her anyway, kissing the top of her head and whispering, “Feel better.”

 


 

Yon’s day at work was passing without much consequence. He endured some small talk with his coworkers, keeping everything as impersonal as he could—it was almost shocking how easy it was to keep his home life so private and above even a glimmer of suspicion. If this weekend’s run-in with Attlass’s parents had gone any differently, then perhaps he wouldn’t be living above that suspicion any longer. But he had gotten lucky. And that felt good.

He got through his morning classes the same way he did every other day, the same way he would’ve if he had never started this whole relationship with Carol. No one—not any of his coworkers, not any of his students, or their friends, or their families—absolutely no one knew anything. His life with Carol was grazing against everyone else’s normal, mundane lives, and they didn’t know anything. It was almost satisfying to get away with this kind of secret.

And things at home with Carol may not have been ideal recently, but at least he knew their life together was still safe from everyone else. As long as they could maintain that, he was sure they’d get through whatever slump Carol was in right now.

The day went on and it was finally time for what would normally be Carol’s French class period, an hour of his day that he had usually looked forward to. But today he watched the other students file in, Carol’s desk remaining empty. Other than the college visit when they were absent together, she hadn’t been absent since she started living with him. It was somewhat odd now to be looking at an empty space that he was so used to her filling. Rather unexpectedly, he felt that empty space as a pain in his chest, a chilling hollowness, as if he missed her.

Before he could stop himself, he was picturing what his days would look like without her once she graduated. She wouldn’t be sitting in the front row, absentmindedly toying with her necklace, giving him the occasional smirk that he tried to ignore. She wouldn’t be on his track team. He wouldn’t see her in the cafeteria. He’d have her at home still, but not for long. She’d be off to college, leaving him as alone as he had been before that fateful day he gave her a ride home from track.

He couldn’t stop thinking about what her turning eighteen really meant for them. It was supposed to have ushered in a sigh of relief, a sense of security. But he was a long way from having any real security with her.

All along he had known she would eventually leave, but he hadn’t considered her absence from his everyday life bringing a sense of emptiness. She was going to be gone soon, realizing her independence as a young adult, and he would be left to resume his life without her. He wanted to be happy for her as she came into her own, but he also didn’t want her to disappear from him.

The bell rang, jarring him from his thoughts and signalling the start of class. He brought his full attention to the lesson at hand, getting through it without dwelling on Carol’s absence. In the last ten minutes or so of the hour, he let the class get started on their homework. He tried to get a head start on grading, but couldn’t help but overhear Attlass and Minnerva’s conversation—students always felt strangely at ease talking about anything in class, as if he couldn’t hear them.

“Maybe I should just text her,” Attlass said. Yon glanced up in time to see Minnerva rolling her eyes, then he tried to refocus on his grading, writing a comment on the student’s paper.

“No, you need to wait until you see her in person,” Minnerva said. “If you text her, she’ll just have time to come up with another lie.”

Yon paused what he was writing, now suspecting they were talking about Carol.

“Maybe she just didn’t get around to saying anything …?”

“You were texting her basically all morning on Saturday, right?”

“Yeah …”

“And she didn’t think during any of that time that she should tell you the real reason why she ditched you? That’s bullshit, Attlass. I don’t trust her.”

“It’s not like her to lie to me about things, though.”

“Yeah, well, she did. Who knows what else she’s lying about, too. She’s not even here today because she’s probably still in the city or something and then lied to the school about being sick.”

“Maybe there’s something else going on. You really don’t think I should just text her?”

“No, you need to talk face to face about this.”

The bell rang, and the sounds of everyone shuffling around and starting up more conversations drowned out Attlass and Minnerva’s voices as they walked out of the class.

It seemed as if Minnerva was pushing Attlass for a confrontation just for petty drama, but that didn’t concern Yon. Carol already knew the alibi she was supposed to use when Attlass asked her about the weekend trip. This teenage drama over cancelled plans was ridiculous, and he wished Carol could see that too. At any rate, she was graduating soon, so it wouldn’t matter what any of her friends here thought—hopefully then she’d realize how unimportant their opinions were.

 


 

Carol slept for most of the morning. Her head had hurt a little when her alarm went off earlier, but more than that, the dark emptiness that she felt growing in her this weekend was still there. It was inside her and pressing down on her, holding her still, paralyzing her, telling her that she couldn’t do this, couldn’t do anything.

She didn’t know how she was supposed to face Attlass at school—he had stopped texting her, which she took to mean that he knew about her secret trip to the city. She didn’t know if she had it in her to just keep lying to him today. There was a moment between her morning alarms when she thought she could push herself up and face it all, but then Yon had come in to check on her, and she didn’t know how she was supposed to sit in French class or participate in track and pretend that everything was normal with him too. She was just so tired.

When she finally got up, it was practically lunch time. She sat on the edge of her bed and took her phone from her nightstand. She didn’t have any messages from anyone besides Yon; he was just telling her to feel better and to let him know if she needed anything. Not feeling like responding, she ignored the texts, locked her phone, and got out of bed.

Knowing that she was alone in the house made it easier to decide to leave her room. As she went downstairs, that darkness inside her began to lighten a little bit—not keeping herself stubbornly locked away felt good. It was nice knowing that she still had hours of alone time.

Once downstairs, she went straight to the fridge, practically ravenous since she had lost her appetite last night. Upon opening the fridge now, she saw a sandwich wrapped up, a sticky note on it. She pulled the note off the sandwich and read:

Vers—

In case you’re well enough to eat.

I love you so much more than you know.

Her heart sank into her feet as she read that brief note. Her mind went back to the first time she opened his fridge to secretly peak into his private life, trying to find something fun or incriminating. And now here she was finding a sandwich he made for her with what was basically a love note stuck to it, which wasn’t incriminating—well, as long it stayed in the house—but it should’ve felt fun. He’d never left her a cute note before, and she did think this note was pretty sweet, especially since he even used her special French name, so she should’ve been filled with butterflies. But as she stared blankly at the sandwich, her empty stomach was trying to fill up on guilt instead.

What had happened in the hotel room couldn’t have meant anything—it was just her being immature, like always. And she was still being immature about it and he still loved her anyway. He was the only person who really loved her and she had to stop acting so weird before he tried to walk away from her again.

Sucking in a deep breath, she stuck the note onto the counter, grabbed the sandwich from the fridge, took off the plastic wrap, put it on a plate and went over to the couch. She switched on the tv and, after picking out something to watch, forced herself to take a bite of the sandwich. She knew she was hungry enough to eat the whole thing, but that guilt in her stomach hadn’t gone away; it just kept filling more space inside her.

Yon was always so considerate of her, meanwhile, she barely wanted to look at him right now. Eating the sandwich that he had so thoughtfully made for her just made her feel like she was continuing to take from him when she hadn’t earned it. Should she be sitting in his house, eating his food, just all around mooching off of him when she had been avoiding him for two days?

But it might make him feel bad to not eat the sandwich either, so she ended up just slowly picking at it, trying not to overthink it. But the spiralling thoughts wouldn’t stop, making each bite taste worse than the one before, until she couldn’t stomach the last few bites. But at least she had eaten most of it.

When she had eaten as much of the sandwich as she could, she got up, threw the rest of it away and put her plate in the dishwasher. Her limbs were telling her to go back to the couch and lie down some more, but she wanted to get something productive done, so she made herself go upstairs and actually unpack from the weekend trip. Then she made herself take a shower and change into some clean clothes, since she had failed to do any of that since coming home yesterday.

Finally she went back to the couch, zoning out as she binged watched some show that she didn’t really care about. She wasn’t sure if any of this made her feel better about anything—she still just felt so tired, more tired than she remembered ever being. She hadn’t done anything for basically two days and all she could think about was going back to sleep, which she did. She didn’t even realize that she had fallen asleep until she woke up and the clock by the tv told her that track was probably over. Her stomach sunk, feeling like she had wasted her entire day.

With a sigh, she pushed herself off the couch, head a little foggy from her extensive nap. Her throat was dry, so she dragged her feet to the kitchen, grabbing a glass and taking it to the dispensary on the fridge.

As she stood there filling her glass, she heard the garage door opening. Her heart fluttered, nervous—why the fuck did she have to be nervous? That strange urge to keep herself hidden was rushing through her veins, clearing the sleep fog from her brain, telling her to go upstairs before Yon walked in the door. But she just wanted things to go back to normal, so she forced herself to stay put. Maybe a little too put. In her weird state of panic, she had zoned out, staring in the direction she knew Yon would soon be walking from, and her glass of water was now overflowing.

“Shit!” She pulled the glass away from the water dispenser and set it on the counter, water slopping over the sides, forming a puddle on the counter. She grabbed a kitchen towel and quickly wiped the drip running down the fridge before throwing the towel over the puddle on the floor and kneeling down.

Then she heard the door opening, Yon walking in, taking his shoes off. She focused extra hard on drying up the spill as she heard him walking towards the kitchen.

“You’re up,” Yon sounded surprised. “What are you doing on the floor?”

“I spilled some water,” she said, standing, moving to dry off the counter where her glass was sitting. She glanced at Yon, but mostly just focused on the counter.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, approaching her.

“Better,” she said. The counter was pretty much dry now but she kept wiping at it anyway.

“That’s good,” he said, next to her. He put his hand over hers. “Let me finish this for you.”

She stood still, looked at him finally. He smiled softly at her, squeezed her hand.

“I’m glad your day at home helped,” he said. He took his hand off of hers, then pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, sliding his hand to the back of her head, leaning towards her to kiss her forehead. “I missed you today.”

She was holding her breath, but she still found herself saying, “I was only out for a day …”

“I still missed you,” he said, moving his other hand to her waist, pulling her close so he was embracing her. “And I was worried about you. I hate seeing you unwell.”

“I’m fine now,” she said, making herself embrace him back. It was actually pretty nice to know that he missed her, and maybe there was a part of her that had missed him too. All she really wanted was to get back to being happy together.

He pulled away, loosening his hold, but then touched her necklace. “I love that you’re always wearing this.”

For some reason, that confused her. She had told him that she wouldn’t take it off the day he gave it to her. “Why would I take it off?”

“No particular reason—I just love seeing it on you.” He tucked his finger under her chin, kissing her lightly on the lips, then finally let go of her. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

He touched the pendant on her necklace again, then took the dish towel on the counter, picking up her glass to wipe away the water ring, and carefully drying the glass off too. She watched him, chewing on the inside of her cheek, suddenly unsure how to act around him.

She remembered the first couple times she had been here and how she was so self conscious of every movement she made around him—every blink, breath, and thought had felt exaggerated and embarrassing. And then the morning after their first kiss and after the first time they had sex, she hadn’t known how to just act normal. But after all that, she thought she wouldn’t ever feel awkward around him again.

Blinking away the uncomfortable feelings, she picked up her glass of water and finally took a drink. Then Yon picked up a sticky note off the counter, and Carol remembered that she had left his note to her there.

He held it up, offering her a soft smile, saying, “I take it this means you ate something today?”

“Mmhmm, yeah.” She smiled a little back. “Thanks for making me something.”

“I’m just glad you were feeling well enough to eat.”

He gave the note a quick look over, then put it unceremoniously in the trash. Carol wasn’t sure why that simple action also confused her. It wasn’t like she had been planning on saving it and putting it in a scrapbook of their relationship or something, but it had felt so significant to her and he was just throwing it away like it was nothing. Maybe it really was nothing; it was just a piece of paper, after all.

“I’m going to change and then we can get dinner started,” he said, leaning against the counter, pausing between tasks. “Do you feel up to helping me with dinner tonight?”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, actually feeling like she’d rather lie back down on the couch, but this would probably be fine.

“Alright.” He just stood there for a moment, looking her over thoughtfully. “You seem pretty tired still.”

She wasn’t sure what to say, so she shrugged.

“We can turn in early tonight,” he said. “I’m quite tired myself, actually.”

“Okay.” She kinda wanted to sleep alone again tonight, but she wasn’t going to say that. He knew that she hadn’t been feeling well, and if he was tired too, then they probably really were just going to sleep and that was all and she didn’t have to overthink anything.

He went upstairs to change, and she listened to his footsteps for a moment. A strange, impulsive feeling came over her and she went to the trash can, opening it up and pulling out the sticky note, which had managed to stay clean, minus a few bread crumbs that she wiped away.

She didn’t know why she wanted to keep it—she hadn’t even been able to enjoy the sandwich it was attached to because she had been so racked with guilt. But it was a sweet gesture that she wanted to be happy about, not discard and forget. So she tucked the note into her sweatshirt pocket, hoping that someday soon it’d make her feel as happy as she thought it should.

Chapter Text

Carol could practically feel the tension between her and Attlass even before she saw him at school on Tuesday. It was awkward. It was terrible. He still hadn’t texted her or anything at all since her birthday, and Carol knew his parents must have told him about running into her.

She didn’t see him until lunch, and when she was approaching him sitting with the rest of the group, she started to feel like this was a huge mistake, like she should just turn around and never sit with them again. They were all engaged in a conversation, but then they saw her. Silence. Attlass just gave her this forced closed mouth smile before looking away from her. And everyone else seemed to give her a silent one over, almost in unison, before proceeding to ignore her as well.

She felt herself heating up, but she sat down anyway, because what else was she supposed to do at this point? Maybe she was just imagining the looks they gave her. But no one was saying anything now, even though they had all been chatting away seconds ago.

The longer the silence went on, the more she heated up, feeling frustrated and ridiculous and then she was saying, “So has everyone just forgotten how to talk today or …?”

Another silence, and then of course Minnerva just had to be the one to break it, saying, “Maybe we just don’t want to talk to a liar.”

Even though Carol had anticipated Attlass being upset with her, she hadn’t really expected being called a liar right to her face. She was actually disoriented before frustration began heating up every inch of her body.

“Minnerva …” Attlass mumbled.

“What? It’s true,” Minnerva said. “We all know she lied to you about her plans this weekend, and that’s not really a good look for her.”

“I’m right here, you don’t have to talk about me in third person,” Carol said, clenching her hand into a fist, fighting back the urge to call Minnerva a few choice words.

“Well, I wasn’t actually talking to you, because you’re a liar,” Minnerva said.

“You’re talking to me now,” Carol retorted.

Minnerva groaned. “Whatever.”

“Okay, can you two just stop for a second?” Attlass said, putting his hands up, as if he was going to have to physically hold them apart from each other. “I just want to talk to Carol.”

“Oh, you’re talking about me in third person, too?” Carol didn’t know why she had to keep being smart-alecky, but her temper seemed to keep rising.

“Listen, I just want to know why you lied to me about your plans. Why didn’t you tell me you were going out of town?”

“Because it was—it was a surprise. My mom wanted to surprise me.”

He sighed. “I know you weren’t there with your mom, Carol, okay?”

“What? What do you mean that I—no, what do you mean? My mom took me.”

“Okay, then why did I see her working at Target on Saturday?”

“What?” Carol panic-laughed, her ears buzzing and her entire body prickling with what felt like thousands of emotions. Her headache from the weekend echoed inside her, that distant clamoring in her skull getting stronger now.

“Yeah, I saw her and I talked to her,” Attlass said, “and she said that you were just doing your own thing for your birthday.”

Carol’s head was spinning. She hadn’t expected Attlass to run into her mom like this—she had no idea that her mom even worked at Target now. Her brain wasn’t offering her any excuses and everyone was looking at her. “I didn’t—I don’t know what—”

“I asked you if you didn’t want to hang out and you could’ve just said no, or you could’ve said you had plans already and it would’ve been fine.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t—I didn’t mean to lie.”

“But why didn’t you just tell me the truth?”

“Because I—I don’t know. I was—I was nervous?”

“Nervous? What were you nervous about?”

“No, nothing, nevermind. I didn’t mean that.”

“So what did you mean?”

“I don’t know—I don’t know! I just couldn’t say anything or else …” Fuck, fuck, fuck! She couldn’t understand anything that was scrambling in her brain and everything that was coming out of her mouth was making everything so much worse.

“You’re being really weird, Carol. Why couldn’t you say anything? Who were you even in the city with?”

“I can’t—I don’t—” Carol couldn’t get her head to stop spinning and her chest was starting to feel tight and she was trying to count to ten in her head but it was barely helping. Attlass was looking at her like she was an idiot and like he was going to start hating her at any second and Carol felt like she was on the brink of losing it and she couldn’t think of anything else to say and then it was coming out of her, “I was with my boyfriend.”

“Your … boyfriend?” Attlass’s tone was laced with surprise and disbelief. The girls sitting across from them exchanged looks.

“Yeah, I have a boyfriend now,” Carol muttered, looking down at her lunch bag to avoid seeing anyone else and shoving her hands in her sweatshirt pocket, anxiously toying with some sticky note she found in there.

“Since when? Why haven’t you told me?”

“I, um … I haven’t been able to say anything because he’s …” Fuck fuck fuck! Think fast, Carol! “He’s … he’s older than me and I just turned … um …”

Fuck, that wasn’t great.

“You’re dating an older guy?” Attlass sounded like he didn’t even believe her. Minnerva laughed.

“Yeah, but he’s not … he’s not …” He’s not what? Not seventeen years older? Not Mr.-fucking-Rogg? “He’s not that much older than me, he’s in college. It’s not weird.”

“How did you even meet a college guy?”

“The internet.” Carol’s fingers were aggressively fidgeting with that small sticky note in her pocket, folding it, sticking it together, unsticking, unfolding, refolding.

“Just the internet? That’s pretty vague, Carol.”

“Well, like … a dating app.”

“Why are you looking for older guys on a dating app?” Attlass pressed.

“Because … because I was bored, I don’t know.” Her palms were sweating and she kept fidgeting in her pocket, trying not to notice the way everyone was staring at her.

“Why haven’t you said anything about him before? What’s his name even?”

“Um, Roger?” What the fuck?

“Roger?” Attlass squinted at her.

“That’s his last name—Rogers is his last name.”

“You call him by his last name?”

“Sometimes.” God, she sounded like such an idiot.

“What’s his first name?”

“Jon—Jonathan. Jon. Jon.”

“Jon Jon?”

“No, just Jon. He goes by Jon.”

“He sounds very real,” Minnerva chimed in.

“Well, obviously he’s real because I just spent my birthday with him, Minnerva.” Carol felt like she was going to explode if Minnerva felt the need to say one more fucking thing.

Then Minnerva laughed. “If you say so.”

Carol flinched and suddenly she was standing up, ripping her hands from her sweatshirt pocket and grabbing her things.

“Okay, well you don’t have to believe me, and I’m sorry that I lied about it, but I don’t have to sit here and get interrogated. I’m fucking sorry, okay?”

“You don’t have to leave, Carol,” Attlass said. “It’s just weird that you never said anything about … Jon Rogers. You didn’t have to lie to me—to any of us.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Carol couldn’t seem to stop herself from storming away. She knew she must look fucking chaotic and stupid right now, but she couldn’t sit there with them anymore after being called out and then digging herself into the stupidest fucking lie. She wished she could be calm about this but she couldn’t get herself to do that.

She was walking as fast as she could through the cafeteria, trying not to run so she wouldn’t get in trouble, but she still knew she was walking way too fast. And of course Yon was on lunch duty and she was speed walking right by him.

“Easy there, Danvers, slow down,” he said, stepping into her path, talking to her the same way he would’ve a year ago, as if he hadn’t seen her naked and fucked her a hundred times. “Where are you rushing off to?”

She clenched her jaw, feeling like she could yell at him if he didn’t move out of her way right now. Then something behind her caught his eye and he said, “Hello, Attlass.”

“Hi, Mr. Rogg,” came Attlass’s voice behind her.

She didn’t turn around, just shot Yon a look, then practically pushed past him. She kept walking, not sure where she was going.

“Carol!” Attlass’s voice called from behind her, catching up to her. “Carol, can you slow down?”

The front entrance was coming into sight and for a moment Carol thought that she could just keep walking and go outside and then maybe everyone in here would leave her the fuck alone. But then Attlass caught up, striding beside her, and the feeling that she didn’t actually have anywhere to go caught up to her as well. She stopped walking, staring at the door.

“What the hell, Carol?” Attlass said, catching his breath.

“What do you want?” her tone was harsh but she didn’t really care.

Attlass took half a step back from her, giving her an odd look. “Why did you just storm away like that?”

“I’m sorry if I didn’t feel like being put on trial in front of everyone.”

“Well, why weren’t you just honest with me about what was going on?”

“I already told you, I couldn’t say anything to anyone, because—because he’s older than me.”

Attlass sighed, staring beyond her for a second, shaking his head. “Carol, look, this is just really weird. Why didn’t you just tell me what was going on?”

“Why do you care?”

“Because I’m your friend, and even though you kinda upset me this weekend, I’m still your friend.”

She held her tongue, still fuming over everything, but Attlass did sound sincere, despite everything. She rolled her eyes and with a sigh said, “Okay, then why did you have to confront me in front of everyone like that? That’s a shitty thing to do to your friend.”

“Well, lying is also a shitty thing to do to your friend.”

“Jesus Christ, I said I’m sorry.”

“Okay, well, I’m sorry too. Can we just talk about this like normal people now?”

Unintentionally, Carol laughed. “I don’t think I’m a very normal person anymore, Attlass.”

He gave her an odd look. “What does that mean?”

She sighed. “Nevermind. I’m just having a bad start to my week—my head hurt all day yesterday and I still feel out of it.”

“I’m sorry … is that why you weren’t here yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh. I thought maybe you were still partying in the city.”

“I didn’t party in the city at all.”

“What were you doing there, then?”

“Well … uh … just stuff, I don’t know.” Her stomach felt funny, and she focused down on the floor tiles, shifting her weight from foot to foot. “I ate some fancy food.”

There was an uncomfortable moment of silence before Attlass said, “Do you actually have a boyfriend?”

Carol looked up at him, seeing the skepticism all over his face.

“Yeah, he’s real.” She paused, not sure what else to say—or what else she could say. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner … I just didn’t … I didn’t want you to judge me.”

“Why would I judge you?”

“Because he’s older than me."

Attlass shrugged. “I mean … as long as you’re being safe and he’s not, like … twice your age or something.”

Carol felt herself going beet red. “No, he’s in college. He’s, like … twenty.”

“Okay, so it could be worse.”

“Yeah …” Carol forced a smile as her stomach sank. So he would judge her if he knew the actual truth. How was he going to react if he ever found that out?

“We good for now?” Attlass asked.

“Yeah, we’re good.”

“Okay, cool. Wanna go sit back down?”

“Oh, uh …” She didn’t think she could face sitting with everyone right now after that whole scene. “I think I’m just going to sit outside today.”

“Oh, okay. Want me to come too?”

“No, that’s fine, you can go back.”

He gave her a somewhat awkward smile. “I’ll see you in class, then?”

“Yep, see you then.”

She watched him walk back to the cafeteria for a second, then turned to go find a place to sit alone outside. Being called out wasn’t great, but at least Attlass still wanted to be friends with her. She supposed things really could be worse.

 


 

Yon had watched Carol leaving the cafeteria, Attlass pursuing her. It frustrated him that he couldn’t follow her without an actual reason. He just had to let them both walk out and act like it didn’t affect him in the slightest.

He couldn’t stop wondering about her conversation with Attlass, that she had maybe got emotional and said too much. But not much longer later after they had run off, Attlass walked back into the cafeteria, alone. Attlass seemed like his normal, calm self, which made Yon feel like nothing concerning had actually been revealed.

All the same, he couldn’t spend the whole day wondering. He quickly took out his phone, sending Carol a brief text: Everything alright?

A few minutes later, he felt his phone vibrate, then checked to see Carol’s reply: Everything's fine. Don’t worry.

Her response did calm his nerves, but it still didn’t explain why she had run away from the cafeteria. As long as their secret was still safe, he supposed he could wait until they were at home tonight to find out the details of everything that had happened today.

After the bell rang and everyone started shuffling around to their classes, Yon went to his own classroom to see that Carol was one of the first students in her desk this class period. After not seeing her in school at all yesterday, it was reassuring to see her once again in her place.

But she didn’t seem to be feeling as good as he did about being here. She was focusing glumly on getting her notebook and folder out, then seemed to just stare blankly, almost dejectedly at her papers. The rest of the class was filing in, still rather talkative, waiting for the bell to ring, so he felt fairly safe casually approaching her.

“Everything alright, Vers?” he asked.

She looked up at him. “Oui, everything’s très bien.”

All the things he wanted to say were held back, unable to be spoken in a class full of students. There were days when interacting with her at school was easy, or when the secret between them felt almost tantalizing. But when she was looking so dejected like this, when she had just come from an exchange that could have jeopardized everything, he had no idea how he was supposed to interact with her.

He wanted to speak to her with all the intimacy of their private moments, and to also avoid being seen with her completely. Walking the middle ground between those felt futile—there was no way to be both distant and intimate in a way that didn’t make him feel like he was either going to hurt her or act noticeably out-of-line with her. It must all be in his head, though. No one else would think to look for the traces of intimacy hidden in the ways he acted with her now; to everyone else, she was just another student in his class.

“Keep hanging in there,” he said, trying to say the generic words as softly as possible, hoping that she could hear the way he wanted to comfort her right now, then tapped his fingers lightly on the top of her desk.

He tried to move his attention away, and noticed Minnerva looking at Carol, then she looked at him and quickly averted her gaze, shuffling the papers on her desk. No doubt Minnerva had been part of what had caused Carol to storm away from the cafeteria last period. He didn’t understand why they were always so hostile toward each other.

But for now he tried to clear that from his mind. There was nothing he could do about any of this. He knew that his secret was safe, and that had to be enough to get him through the next few hours of classes and then track.

 


 

When they got home after track, Carol felt pretty exhausted. Part of her was glad that the confrontation with Attlass was over and that things were mostly okay for now, but it was hard to go through the day pretending like everything was normal. She just wanted to go home and sleep.

But of course going home wasn’t exactly a stress-free situation either. She knew Yon was anxious to know more about her conversation with Attlass today; the fact that he texted her about it during school today was weird, and a little annoying. She got why he’d be concerned, but she was tired of him being on her case about everything. And she was nervous about telling him what she had said to everyone at lunch today.

Yon was being strangely calm though, and really nice. He tried to hold her hand for a little bit on the car ride home, but she still felt weird about being touched too much, so when he had pulled his hand away to make a turn, she shoved her hands into her sweatshirt pocket, clasping them together. When they were finally home behind closed doors, he stopped her on her way to the kitchen, hugging her and kissing the top of her head.

“How are you feeling?” he asked her.

“Fine.” She let him hug her for another second, then let him go. “Can we eat soon? I barely ate anything today and I’m starving.”

“You barely ate anything today?”

“Yeah, I wasn’t really hungry during lunch.” Inwardly, she groaned, realizing she had basically just given him the perfect excuse to ask her about Attlass.

“Did that have anything to do with whatever happened with you and Attlass in the cafeteria today?” Yon asked.

“Maybe.”

“What happened?”

Carol rolled her eyes and moved to the fridge. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.”

She opened the fridge, staring blankly at its contents. “His parents told him that they saw me this weekend, so then everyone at lunch was calling me a liar.”

“I’m sure they weren’t all—”

Yes, they were.” She closed the fridge, a little too hard, making the stuff in the door rattle. “They stopped talking when I came over and then I got put on the spot about why I lied to Attlass.”

“So what did you say?” Yon asked, calmly crossing his arms and leaning against the counter, eyes fixed on her.

Carol paused, ducking her head, cautiously meeting his gaze, and said, “Don’t get mad.”

He just stared at her, expression mostly blank, probably hiding that she was starting to freak him out right now, and repeated, slower this time, “What did you say?”

“I told them that I had an older boyfriend who took me to the city—but college age, not like … not old like you.”

Yon looked weirdly pale. “What happened to saying you went with your mom?”

“Okay, well, I did say that at first, but Attlass called me out again because apparently my mom works at Target now and he saw her this weekend.”

He was definitely pale now. “What?”

“Yeah, he saw my mom.”

He took in a deep breath. “What did your mom say to him?”

“I don’t know, something about how they weren’t doing anything with me for my birthday, like, they were letting me do my own thing or something.”

Yon was silent for a moment, uncrossing and recrossing his arms. Then he said, “Does this also mean that your parents know that you’re not staying with Attlass?”

“Oh …” Fuck, she hadn’t thought about that. She leaned against the fridge with a huff. “Well, it’s not like they even care where I’m staying. No one’s tried talking to me about where I am.”

“Well, we’ll have to come up with a plan in case they actually do try reaching out to you,” he said, pausing before adding, “but I doubt they will.”

Yon had spoken so matter of factly, like saying that her family didn’t care about her was the most basic, boring piece of information that made him feel nothing. The effect of the words and the way he said them felt like a physical blow, and she winced. She had of course said that exact thing many times out loud herself, but it somehow hurt more when it came from Yon like that. He must have noticed how it hit her because his expression instantly softened.

“I mean, given how long it’s been since you spoke to them, I wouldn’t expect them to change their ways anytime soon,” he said, his tone shifting into something gentler, uncrossing his arms and stepping towards her. “But if they do reach out, I think we should know what you’re going to say.”

“I don’t think I’d want to say anything to them,” she said, surprising herself at how quickly those words came out.

Yon seemed a little surprised too, given the way he wrinkled his forehead. “You wouldn’t want to say anything?”

“No, they didn’t want to talk to me for months, so fuck them.”

“So if your mom tried to call right now, you wouldn’t answer?”

Carol squinted as she tried to imagine how she would feel upon seeing a call from her mom lighting up her phone. Honestly, she probably would answer it. But the call would most likely just go downhill and she’d end up even more upset than she had before, which just seemed to be the case anytime she talked to a family member. Ignoring any hypothetical phone calls or messages would probably be the best way to keep herself safe from being hurt by them again.

But, like Yon had so simply stated, they probably weren’t going to reach out anyway.

“I don’t know what I’d say to her if she called,” she said, because that felt like the truest thing.

“You don’t owe them an explanation of anything,” Yon said, reaching out to put his hands on her arms, and she couldn’t move because she was backed against the fridge. “They chose to cut you from their lives, and if they were to try speaking to you now, you can simply refuse to tell them anything. They don't have a right to you.”

Carol bit the inside of her cheek as Yon spoke, feeling a strange sadness swirling inside her. It was reassuring to hear him tell her that she didn’t owe anything to her parents, but with the way all her relationships seemed to be going right now, it also made her feel alone.

“If you never want to speak to them again, you don’t have to,” he continued, his hands moving up her arms. “After what they did to you, they don’t deserve you. And you don’t need them—you’re so much better off without them always hurting you. And you have me. You’ll always have me.”

His strong hands gripped her shoulders. He was just looking at her, his expression somehow both gentle and scrutinizing. It felt like he was trying to see into her head, to split open her skull with his stare and rearrange all of her thoughts until she saw things the way he was telling her to. If he stared at her like this long enough, kept holding her in place with his hands on her like this, maybe he could.

She looked away from him, casting her gaze down at the floor. His grip on her shoulders tightened, then he moved his hands, cupping her face, making her look at him.

“I love you so much, Carol,” he said, emphasizing his words by pressing his palms against her cheek just a little harder. “I hate to see you hurt. If I could get into your skin and take this all from you, I would.”

She didn’t know what to say, it felt like he had just read her thoughts. The instinct to be sarcastic stirred somewhere in her, but the weight of everything else kept her lips pressed together. Yon wanted to get into her skin, but she felt like he had already done that—how was she supposed to joke about the way he had hollowed out her body on her birthday? All she had felt was him, and as they stood here together right now, all she felt were his hands on her, and he wanted more. If he got his wish and was able to be inside of her to take her hurt away, would he take away all the confusion from that night?

Then he kissed her forehead and let her go. When he took his hands away from her, she felt even emptier than before, like maybe he really had been underneath her skin in that moment and she could feel his absence now. He hadn’t taken any pain with him, though.

“You need to eat something,” he said. “I don’t know how you went through the day on an empty stomach. Is there anything in particular you want right now?”

She shrugged her shoulders, dragging her feet across the kitchen. “I don’t care.”

Yon was at the fridge now, pulling out some containers. “We’ve got some leftovers from last night. I can heat these up real quick.”

“Okay,” she said, moving to help get some plates from the cabinet, but Yon put himself in her way.

“Why don’t you go change while I do this?” he said, lightly touching her waist. “Throw your clothes in the laundry room and I’ll wash them tonight if you’d like.”

She gave him a look and took a step back, so he removed his hand from her. “Why do I need to change right now?”

“You’ve been wearing that outfit for two days straight. Putting on some clean clothes might help you feel better.”

She let out a long sigh. “I guess.”

“Just do it,” he said, his tone more softly urging than commanding. “When you’re changed, then the food will be ready, and once you eat, I’ll help you with your homework so you can get to bed at a decent hour.”

She stared at his feet. He was being so nice to her right now, continuing to make her feel like she didn’t deserve him. She made herself look at him, then nodded. He smiled at her, warmly.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too.”

It hurt her a little to say it back, like whatever kind of love she was giving him right now wasn’t enough, not compared to everything he did for her. She hoped she started feeling normal again soon, because she didn’t know how long just saying those words would be enough for him.

Chapter Text

Carol really wanted things to go back to normal with Yon, but she was having a hard time feeling attracted to him like she used to be. He didn’t try to get her to do anything the first few days after her birthday, since she hadn’t been feeling well. But over the following couple of weeks, she found herself shrugging off his various attempts to do something more with her. She thought she wanted to have sex with him again eventually, but she didn’t know when that perfect moment would happen.

Of course she didn’t say any of this to Yon; she’d just pull herself away from his embrace, or move her legs away before he could touch her on the couch, or keep her mouth closed and passive when he kissed her. She’d say that she had homework or she was tired or her head hurt, and sometimes those were all true. But she’d never tell him that the memory of her birthday still lingered in the ways he tried to touch her, and she was having a hard time not feeling overwhelmed by it. If she waited long enough, then it might just go away and she could go back to enjoying the things he did to her instead of dreading it.

Lately she’d forced herself to think about the first time he had kissed her and how elated that had made her feel. Happiness had never electrified her the way it had when he kissed her that first time in the hotel. And she had found that feeling again on Valentine’s Day, so why couldn’t she just find it again now? She just wanted that feeling back.

 


 

Carol had finished her only homework assignment during her free period one day, so after her and Yon were home from track and dinner was finished, she settled on the couch to watch tv while he graded at the kitchen table. She was finding it hard to feel too invested in any shows or movies lately, so it didn’t take long for her to lose interest in what she was watching.

With a sigh, she switched off the tv, staring at the black empty screen for a moment, then stood up, announcing, “I think I’m going to go get ready for bed.”

Yon glanced up at her from his grading. “Already?”

“Yeah.”

She straightened up the pillows on the couch, then dragged her feet over to Yon. She lingered near the table for a moment, looking at his stack of papers, his red pen in hand, marking up one of her classmate’s poor grammar.

“Looks like you still have a lot to do,” she said.

“It’s not quite as bad as it looks,” he said, finishing up whatever he was writing, then flipping the paper over onto the completed stack. He looked at her and set his pen down, taking her hand and gently pulling her towards him. He rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb, then brought her hand up to his lips for an innocent enough kiss.

“I can come up with you now if you’d like,” he said.

She shrugged, watching the way his thumb moved slowly back and forth against her hand.

“You can finish grading if you want,” she said.

He pushed his eyebrows together ever so slightly, then kissed her hand again. “I’ll be done soon, then.”

“Okay.”

He let go of her and she went upstairs. She got ready for bed slowly, distracting herself with apps on her phone while she put on her pajamas, tossing her clothes on the floor, then stepped across the hall to her bathroom. When her face was washed and her teeth brushed, she switched off the bathroom light and went back to her own room, picking up her dirty clothes off the floor and throwing them into the hamper.

She stared at the twin sized bed for a moment, thinking that she could just lie down there right now and fall asleep and no one would bother her. But the part of her that wanted things to go back to normal didn’t want to do that. And another part of her genuinely just didn’t want to be alone.

So she turned off the bedroom light, and found herself in Yon’s room—she wasn’t sure why she always thought of it as Yon’s room and not their room. She remembered the first few times she had come into his room and how off limits it had felt. It didn’t really feel that way anymore, but it hadn’t changed to become hers in any visible way either. Even though they slept together most of the time, this space still looked and felt incredibly his.

She didn’t really keep any of her things in this room, minus a phone charger or earphones or sometimes a book she’d read right before bed. All of her things always found their way back to her room down the hall. She didn’t come in here to do homework or to be alone or anything like that. This space was just where she slept and had sex. Everything that felt hers was down the hall.

The realization that she didn’t have anything significant in this room made her start feeling a little weird. She knew that this had been Yon’s bedroom far before she had ever stepped foot here, so maybe it didn’t make sense to feel weird about it. But if they were a real, in-love couple, shouldn’t the room that they slept in together feel like they both belonged in it? She didn’t think most normal couples had separate bedrooms like they did.

An itching sort of thought made her wonder exactly what her place was in this room if nothing in it was hers. If everything in this room was Yon’s, what did that make her when she was in it?

That question in her mind was going unanswered as she heard Yon’s footsteps coming up the stairs. With a sigh, she sat on the edge of the bed, and he came into the room.

“You’re still up,” he said. “I thought you’d be half asleep by now.”

“Maybe I’m sleepwalking.”

“You seem rather alert for a sleepwalker.”

“I’m just good at it.”

He shook his head at her, giving her that amused smile that used to always make her blush. It didn’t make her blush now, but she still liked the way he looked when he smiled at her like that.

She looked away from him as he started to undress and put on his pajamas. She moved to her side of the bed, still lying above the covers, holding her phone up to her face to look at the same apps she always looked at. Nothing new on the apps since she had looked at them five minutes ago. She set her phone on the nightstand, and then felt Yon get in the bed next to her. He moved close to her and she looked at him as he traced his finger tips up her arm.

“You look very beautiful tonight,” he said, leaning in even closer to her, nuzzling up against her, his breath on her neck. He held her closely, just running his hands lightly over her in a way that Carol didn’t exactly mind. She turned towards him, holding him too. He kissed her very lightly, almost hesitantly, and she actually kissed him back. She wasn’t sure how much more she wanted to do than this, but this was okay for now.

“Carol,” he said, softly, “I want you right now, but I want it to be on your terms.”

She pulled away a little. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t want to initiate something if you don’t want me to—I want you to do it.”

“You’re saying you want me to initiate something right now?”

“I’d like that.”

She squinted her eyes shut, then sat up. “I don’t understand. What exactly are you asking me to do? Stick my hand down your pants?”

“No, that’s not—”

“You want me to go put on my mall underwear and strip for you?”

He sat up next to her. “I’m just saying that I want to have sex with you but I want you to start it—I want it to be what you want.”

“So now you’re telling that I should want to have sex right now just because you want me to? Why do you get to decide that?” She could see him from the corner of her eye, but she focused straight ahead, she couldn’t look at him right now.

“I’m not deciding anything,” he sounded so calm, “I’m just suggesting something.”

“Well, what if I just want to go to sleep right now?” She took a deep breath—she didn’t want to argue.

“I feel like there’s something else going on, though, Carol. We haven’t had sex since your birthday.”

She felt her entire body growing warm and she flexed one of her hands in and out of a fist to try and ease the sudden frustration away. “That was only, like, a couple weeks ago. It hasn’t been that long.”

“No, I suppose it hasn’t been that long, but I feel like I’m not doing the right things for you anymore … or you’re not interested in having sex with me anymore.”

Carol continued to feel herself heating up. She was having flashbacks to their argument at the hotel about his concern that she didn’t love him anymore and how much guilt that had given her. Was she supposed to be having sex with him all the time to make sure he knew that she loved him?

“I don’t know,” was all she could say, as useless as it was.

“You can be honest with me if you’re not interested in sex anymore,” he said.

“I’m not,” she mumbled, then quickly corrected herself, “I mean, I’m not not interested.”

“Then what do you want me to do?” he spoke softly, encouragingly, and touched her back, lightly rubbing his hand up and down. “What can I do to help turn you on?”

Her head was spinning a little. She wasn’t sure if there was anything he could do to take away the sensation of being smothered—any sexy scenario she thought about now just made her cringe. But she wanted to feel as happy as she did before. She just didn’t understand why she couldn’t get herself to feel the same anymore.

Then he started kissing her neck, slow deliberate kisses. Apparently, he wanted her to get in the mood right now, even though she didn’t know how to get herself there.

He kept planting slow kisses on her neck, saying, “Tell me what you want.”

“I … I don’t know …” She tried to relax her hand out of a fist, counting to ten in her head. He moved to kiss her mouth and without even thinking she pulled back. “I’m sorry—I’m sorry, I just … I don’t know what I want.”

He gave her a thoughtful look, making her feel like they were in class and she simply wasn’t understanding whatever the lesson was today.

Then he said, “Let’s try something different tonight.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Something different?”

“If you’d like to.”

She didn’t know if she was going to like something different, but she didn’t want to hurt him by saying no and looking like she didn’t care about him. Maybe she would end up liking whatever they did and it would make everything go back to normal. She nodded.

“Lie back,” he said, placing his hand on her leg.

She gave him a weird look. “Are you trying to get me in missionary? Because that seems like the opposite of different.”

“That’s not quite what I have in mind,” he said, his hand travelling up to the waistband of her pajama pants, tugging at them. She lied back then, raising her hips up to help him pull her pants off, so she was down to her underwear. He lied on his side next to her, taking her hand in his.

“Okay, but what are we doing?” she asked, laughing a little nervously—she didn’t think she should be feeling fucking nervous, it wasn’t like this was her first time doing anything with Yon.

He kissed her shoulder, then moved her hand to her stomach, saying close to her ear, “I want to see you touch yourself.”

“What?” She laughed again, and fought the urge to sit back up. “Why?”

“Because I want to see you enjoying yourself,” he said, still holding her hand over her stomach, hesitating before making her go any further. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, but it might be worth trying, just for tonight. Unless there’s something else you want us to do right now.”

She really couldn’t think of anything sexual that she wanted to do, but she wanted to feel good being close to him again. Touching herself in front of him didn’t seem like it was going to be something that she’d be into, but maybe it’d be fine. Maybe it’d feel good to be doing this with him since he wouldn’t be on top of her and all over her.

“We can try this,” she said, but then another thought struck her. “Are you just going to watch me though? Are we not, like … we’re not both doing this?”

“No, I’d like to just watch you,” he said, kissing her cheek and gently starting to move her hand lower. “I just want to see you feel good.”

She still wasn’t sure about this, but she tried to tell herself to relax, letting him guide her hand between her legs. He pressed his hand firmly over hers, making her rub herself over her underwear. Then he traced his hand back up her body, touching her necklace before brushing her hair away from her face.

“Just keep doing that right now,” he whispered into her ear. “You’re so beautiful.”

He kept whispering things into her ear, telling her what to do, and she kept doing everything he told her to. Eventually he helped her pull off her underwear and he made her start touching her breasts with her other hand. She was trying really hard to be completely into this, and she felt like he was kinda into it, so she exaggerated the sounds she was making, trying to be convincing.

“Fuck, you’re so hot, Carol,” he said, seemingly more convinced than she was about this. Whether or not he genuinely thought this was hot, she definitely didn’t feel hot. She felt oddly obscene, like she was just performing in one of the most humiliating ways possible.

“Does this feel good for you?” he asked.

“Mmm.” She did a little moan for him, hoping it sounded real, but it felt empty.

Physically, what she was doing felt okay at best, but she didn’t think she could finish and she kinda just wanted to stop. But he kept telling her what to do and she just kept going along with it. Even though he wasn’t actually touching her, she still felt like he was all over her—he was basically in control of every movement she was making, like he was actually in her body, under her skin.

“Do you think you’re going to come or do you want my help now?” He started running his hands over her.

She didn’t want to keep touching herself anymore, and maybe if he got to touch her then this would be done soon, so she nodded. “Mmhmm, you can help me.”

Then he was touching her and it was strange how he knew exactly what to do to get her body to respond, like he knew her body better than she did. She felt like she should’ve found that hot that he knew her so well, but as she finished, it just seemed to be creating this deep, dark divide between her mind and her body. Just like at the hotel, she didn’t get why her body was responding if she wasn’t really into this. She didn’t have any control. It was all him.

So she lied there catching her breath and then he kissed her and said something like, “You did so good, you’re so amazing” and it just made her feel even more like she was some kind of private, on-demand porn star, like she had been performing some empty act, and he was thanking her for it.

This wasn’t what she wanted, and she didn’t know how to tell him, even though she had gone along with it, it wasn’t right. If he ever asked her to do this again, she didn’t want to say yes.

But for now, she let him hold her close, kissing her, saying things to her that she should’ve found sexy or romantic or something. She said some things back, kissed him a few times. Eventually she sat up, saying, “I need to shower now.”

“Okay,” he said, letting her go. “I love you, Carol.”

She picked up her pajama pants. “I love you, too.”

She went down the hall to her bathroom, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as she shut the door. She stood still, waiting for she didn’t know what. Then she locked the door and took off her shirt, dropping it on the floor with the pajama pants she had carried with her.

Toying with the star pendant on her necklace, she considered taking it off too. Somehow, that small pendant felt suddenly heavy. If she took off the necklace, maybe the ever tightening constriction in her chest would be alleviated, maybe she would be able to take a breath and feel it filling every crevice in her body. She imagined taking a breath like that, imagined that when she let it out, she wouldn’t feel its absence, only its renewal in her. Her fingers found the necklace clasp behind her neck and she breathed in. But she couldn’t take it off.

The air escaped her lungs and her hands fell to her sides and she sunk over the chilly bathroom counter.

“You’re fine,” she whispered into the sink, the half-hearted words falling down the drain. “You’re fine. Nothing’s wrong.”

And she didn’t think anything really was wrong, or at least that it shouldn’t be wrong. She didn’t think she should be feeling like something was wrong. She was exactly where she had wanted to be: in a relationship with Yon. Maybe she had been naive to think that getting what she wanted would somehow eradicate all the pain she had ever felt and that her life would just fall perfectly into place. At this point in her life, she was well aware that she was going to feel pain and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She should have guessed that being with Yon would eventually hurt too.

But Yon loved her. He loved her more than her parents or her friends or anyone else possibly could. If she was feeling hurt, it couldn’t be his fault. He wouldn’t hurt her on purpose, not when he told her he loved her and gave her everything. Everything.

She should be so happy. It wasn’t like he had even done anything to her just now, she had been touching herself—she could’ve just stopped, right? She could’ve said that she wanted to do something different, because he had asked. He hadn’t physically forced himself on her or anything like that, so why did she feel so bad? All of these negative things had to be just in her head. There was no reason why anything that happened tonight should feel bad to her. He loved her.

She straightened herself up, turning from the mirror before she could fully register her reflection, and made herself jump in the shower. When she was clean, she dried off, her limbs feeling heavy, as if her body had soaked up all the water from the shower and she was now forced to carry around the extra weight.

She picked up her pajamas off the floor and put them back on, then quietly unlocked and opened her bathroom door, turning off the light as she cautiously stepped into the hallway. She stared down at Yon’s room for a second, feeling the heaviness within pinching at her nerves, leaving her numb. She took the few steps to her own room across the hall, not turning on the light, just staring at the shadowy shape of her own empty bed.

The cold, dark divide she had felt earlier between her body and her mind was back, and it seemed to be reflected in every shadow around her. The feeling was strong enough to make her shiver. Her damp hair was soaking into her pajama top, making her feel even colder, and she wanted to crawl into her bed and bury herself under the covers. But instead she just stood there, caught between her desire to be alone in her own space, and the pull she felt towards Yon.

Despite how the weight of her aching, conflicted mind bore down on her, how it seemed to scream at the idea of anymore physical interactions, she knew she wasn’t going to be able to stay alone in this room tonight. An ever-lonely piece of her, the wound in her that could never forget how her family and friends abandoned her, continuously pulled her towards the sweet, charming side of Yon that she had so willingly fallen in love with. Buried beneath all her pain, she still ached to be wanted by him.

And Yon needed to know that she still loved him. She couldn’t convince him of that if she stayed in here. She couldn’t stay in this small space of hers and not feel like she was being compelled to go back to him.

Nonetheless, she fought the feeling. Standing there in the dark, hair dripping, she kept staring at her bed, wishing that the pull towards Yon and the pull towards solitude didn’t have to be at such nauseating odds with each other. She hated being left in the desolate middle of those competing forces, waiting for the inevitable drift away from herself, towards Yon.

 


 

When Carol had gone to shower, Yon watched her walking away, clutching onto her pajama pants in one hand, tugging at her shirt with the other, as if she were trying to make it long enough to cover herself. She didn’t close the bedroom door behind her, so he watched her walking down the hall until she turned into the bathroom. For a second, the bathroom light illuminated the hallway, then became a streak across the floor as the bathroom door shut, the light peeking out from underneath.

Then Yon stood, and noticed Carol’s crumpled pair of underwear sitting on the corner of the bed. He picked it up, moving to put it in his hamper without much thought. But something made him pause, and he looked a little more closely at the pair of underwear in his hand, now seeing that it was a familiar shade of light blue. Suddenly, it struck him that this was the same pair of light blue underwear she had accidentally left at his house the first time she spent the night.

He remembered how shocked he had been to discover it mixed in with his own laundry, how it had been a burning presence sitting on his bed as he had put away his own clothes. He had been practically afraid to touch it then, as if that simple action would incriminate him. And now it had once again found itself sitting on the corner of his bed, albeit through a different journey. There was nothing accidental about it’s presence in his room tonight.

It was strange now to think how the mere thought of Carol wearing the underwear had sent him into a tizzy all those months ago. But tonight he himself had removed the underwear from Carol. And it hadn’t given him the least amount of anxiety. He was more concerned now about whether or not Carol was still interested in having sex with him—he didn’t know how he would be able to explain that to his past self.

If that version of himself he had been months ago could walk into this room right now, completely ignorant of how his relationship with Carol had progressed, would he want to stop it? Would he be disgusted? Enraged? Or would he step into this room and see how giving into those unseemly thoughts about Carol had no surface level consequences for him? Would he let it all happen again? Would he give in sooner?

Yon shook his head, tossed the underwear into his hamper. He didn’t want to think about this. He couldn’t bear to think that he had become someone that he was ashamed of, that he was no better than a criminal. Or, worse yet, the thought that he shunned the second it zapped across his mind, that he had been that person all along.

He took a deep breath to steady himself, to attempt to clear his mind. Then he went into his bathroom, turning on the light, washing his hands and brushing his teeth. For a moment, he stared at his reflection. His thoughts circling around the unassuming pair of light blue underwear weren’t going anywhere, just taunting him, uneasy in his gut.

“You’re not a bad person,” he said to his reflection, as if he had to defend himself from the unsettled face staring back at him. “Sleeping with her hasn’t changed who you are. You’ve done everything in your power to help her. She’s the safest she’s ever been in her life, because of you. You’ve followed the rules your whole life—not following the rules this one time hasn’t really hurt anyone. You’re a good person.”

He kept staring at himself, feeling a bit like he was losing it for talking to himself like this. But who else could he talk to? Even if he wanted to talk to someone, he simply couldn’t. And anyway, he kept most people at a distance, far enough away to eliminate the temptation to overshare. The person he had become closest to was Carol. And he certainly couldn’t talk to Carol about all of his concerns, not when she needed to feel safe with him. Plus, he had secrets to keep from her as well.

“You had to delete the message from her mum,” he heard himself saying, watching his lips saying the words he wanted to hear to ease his anxieties. “You had to do it to protect yourself, and to protect her. They don’t care about her. You care about her. And she doesn’t love them, she loves you. She belongs to you.”

His own words made him pause. For a second, he seemed to not recognize the person staring back at him, and he turned around, leaning against the counter, running his hands over his face.

She belongs to you.

She belongs with you, is what he should have said. But that wasn’t what he said. And as he stood with the fresh taste of those words in his mouth, he knew it wasn’t what he had meant.

He had never seen her as his equal in anything. He had known her since she was a freshman, since she was fourteen years old, and the terms of their relationship had always been that he was in charge. For their student/teacher relationship to work, she had to look up to him, learn from him. When sex was introduced in that established dynamic, nothing had really changed. He still felt that he had to be in charge, and she continued to look up to him.

But it wasn’t just sex that had been brought into their relationship, it was so many other things. He gave her a place to live, he fed her, he bought her new clothes, he paid for her phone and he had trained more closely with her than he had with any other student. He had been fixated on everything he could do for her this past year. She had become, essentially, his pet project. The fact that he was sleeping with her made his fixation on her feel so much more satisfying. In so many ways, she really had become his.

So, yes, he did feel that she belonged to him. And as strange as it was to hear himself say the words, he couldn’t deny how good it felt to say it. But that realization unnerved him. How many transgressions had he let himself become comfortable with that he found himself saying those possessive words and feeling good?

He shook his head and turned on the shower, stripped down, and jumped in to rinse off before bed, hoping the running water would somehow clear his mind. He avoided looking in the mirror as he dried off after his shower and put his pajamas back on. He couldn’t keep doing this, couldn’t keep letting his thoughts spiral out of control. He just had to stop overthinking everything.

He went to his closet, picked out his clothes for tomorrow, then went to the bed, pulling back the covers. But before getting in bed, he stepped to the bedroom door, looking down the hallway. The streak of light from underneath the bathroom door was gone, but there was no light coming from Carol’s room either. Reflexively, he looked over his shoulder, as if he had somehow missed Carol lying there in the bed, which of course he hadn’t. He looked back down the dark, empty hallway, wondering if Carol had, for some reason, gone to bed in her own room tonight.

He was overthinking again. Maybe all this overthinking just meant he needed to sleep. With one more glance down the hallway, he lightly pushed the door, and it slowly swung half way shut.

He got into bed, lying on his side, positioning himself as comfortably as he could, focusing on his breathing instead of his circling thoughts. He kept his bedside lamp on, thinking Carol could walk in at any moment.

He was starting to drift off, and since there was no sign that Carol was going to sleep in here tonight, he was about to switch off the light. But before he could, the door creaked softly and gentle footsteps found their way to the other side of the bed. The blanket lifted and pulled slightly away from him, and he felt her weight next to him. A comforting relief settled over him with her presence.

“I thought you had gone to sleep in your room,” he said.

“No,” she mumbled. “It’s too cold in there.”

He switched off the light, then rolled over to face her, breathing her in as he pulled her to him. He loved the way she smelled. After a moment, she held him back. In the dark, he touched her cheek, and was vaguely disturbed to feel how damp it was.

“Are you crying?” he whispered.

He felt her head move back and forth, denying. Gently, he kissed the top of her head. Her hair was still wet from her shower, maybe that explained the dampness on her cheek. But then he heard her sniffle and he held her a little tighter. He was too tired to make any sense of it, but it was probably nothing, she was probably just cold. So he kept holding her close, and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Carol woke up with her back pressed against Yon. She had woken up early, which wasn’t a surprise, but she was surprised to find that Yon seemed to be awake too. She felt his fingertips tracing her arm idly yet deliberately, giving her goosebumps.

“Are you awake?” he whispered.

“Mmhmm.”

“Do you feel better this morning?” he asked. “You seemed off when you came to bed.”

“Mmhmm, I’m fine.” She swallowed, fighting off the myriad of feelings that had stirred in her last night and were trying to reawaken with her now. “I was just tired.”

He kissed her shoulder blade and she closed her eyes. He kept touching her, gently. It should’ve felt nice, but it just brought back the unpleasant memory of touching herself for him last night. But she didn’t want to think about that, even though it was hard not to think of it when he was touching her like this.

At his urging, she turned towards him, letting him kiss her. She felt strange as things escalated, and then he was on her, pushing her shirt up, telling her how beautiful she was as he touched and kissed her. She fought the impulse to pull her shirt back down, but instead she just helped him take it off and then he was asking her if she wanted to do this and she didn’t know how to say no because they were already doing this and then he was taking a condom from the nightstand and it all seemed to be happening so fast.

She just kept helping him do everything, as if she were just as eager as he was, but she couldn’t get herself to fully be there with him. It was impossible to ignore that what they were doing kinda really hurt right now. She found herself gripping onto him harder each time he pushed into her because it hurt so much and the only genuine sounds coming from her were the stifled gasps and winces. But he must’ve thought that all meant she was into it because it just seemed to encourage him.

A part of her was recoiling away from everything, pretending that this wasn’t happening. That part of her wanted to pull all of her away, to drag her to safety, wherever that was. But she was stuck in her body and Yon was all over her and she couldn’t go anywhere else until he was done.

Right now, Carol felt like there were three parts to her: The part inside of her trying to recoil, the physical part of her that was going along with Yon, and another part of her trying to mediate between those two. That mediator in her kept one palm pressed against her want to recoil, and one palm against everything happening to her body, desperately trying to keep them from overlapping so she wouldn’t break down and look like an immature psycho. But what was left in that middle ground was just emptiness, that empty space that kept expanding between her body and her mind.

She hated feeling that emptiness. She tried to think about anything besides that, but all her head gave her were anxieties. Like she kept worrying that having sex right now wasn’t going to leave her with enough time to get ready for school, even though it was still early and things were happening pretty fast. She still didn’t know what she was going to wear today or what she wanted to pack in her lunch.

To just try to get this over with, she pretended to come when he did and he seemed to believe her, which seemed pretty stupid to her. When had they ever come at the same time?

Afterwards, she pulled her shirt back on and grabbed her pajama pants as she climbed out of his bed, heading to her bathroom to take another shower. Since moving in with Yon, she didn’t think she had ever showered so much in her life.

Once she was clean again and dressed for school, she went reluctantly downstairs. Part of her wished that she had another bad headache so she could stay home again, but that seemed maybe too dramatic. She felt like she might actually get one, though. So when she got to the kitchen where Yon was putting his lunch together, she went straight for the bottle of aspirin, taking two pills out, popping them into her mouth and filling a glass of water.

“You don’t feel good?” Yon asked.

She shrugged, swallowing the pills with a gulp of water. “It’s preemptive.”

“Don’t get in the habit of taking pills without a reason.”

She rolled her eyes. “You think I’m just popping aspirin for fun? Who even does that?”

“That’s not what I said. Just be careful not to abuse them.”

“Jesus Christ,” she muttered, then leaned against the counter, watching as he finished packing his lunch.

“Don’t you need to put your lunch together too?” he asked.

She stared at the unappealing, boring lunch options in front of her. She was tired of all the foods Yon kept in rotation for them.

“Can I have money for school lunch instead?” she asked.

“What’s on the lunch menu at school today?”

“I don’t know, I think it’s pizza day.”

He sighed. “I don’t know, Carol. I just bought all these groceries. And if you’re getting a headache, I don’t think you should be eating the garbage they serve at school, that’s not going to help.”

“It’s not all garbage,” she muttered, feeling herself getting a little warm with frustration.

“Well, it could be better.”

“But it’s just one day.”

“I don’t think so.”

She didn’t get why he had to be so weird about what she ate—just because he was always on some dumb track diet and didn’t keep junk food in the house didn’t mean that she didn’t want to have a stupid school lunch every once in a while. She just let him fuck her because he wanted to and he didn’t even notice that she wasn’t into it or that it hurt her, and now he wouldn’t let her have one fucking school lunch?

Her frustration was rapidly escalating, unbearably heating to anger, and then her vision suddenly darkened, and she heard herself blurting, “You’re worse than my fucking parents sometimes.”

Through her heated anger, she met Yon’s stunned gaze. Almost instantly, her anger wrung out into overwhelming shame.

“What did you say?” he asked, staring at her.

“I was being sarcastic,” she muttered, casting her eyes down, not sure if that was a lie or not.

“That was some very harsh sarcasm.”

“I didn’t mean it.” She felt like her face was practically on fire and her stomach started to knot.

He was quiet, which seemed like the worst thing for him to be right now because that meant that she had probably hurt him and she had been trying so hard to keep him happy with her. Why couldn’t she ever control her stupid fucking emotions?

After what felt like forever but was probably more like ten seconds, he said, “Are you upset about something else right now?”

“No,” she said, quickly.

“You’d tell me if you were, right?” he pressed.

“Yeah, but I’m not.” Quickly, she added, “I’m probably just hormonal or something right now, I don’t know. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.”

He sighed, tapping his fingers against his thigh, maybe counting to ten in his head the way he had told her to when something upsetting happened. “I’ll put your lunch together and you just … finish getting ready or whatever you need to do.”

She stood staring blankly ahead for a moment, feeling like shit about pretty much everything. She wished she could control her emotions, and she wished she wasn’t always upsetting the one person who loved her, and she wished she hadn’t stopped liking sex, and she also just wanted to eat a fucking school lunch.

But she obviously wasn’t going to ask Yon about lunch again after telling him he was worse than her parents—that was probably the worst thing she could’ve said. But even so, it still didn’t seem fair that he always got to tell her what to do. She didn’t have control over anything.

Slowly, she was feeling that mediator inside her again, pushing away all the thoughts and physical sensations that came with feeling so out of control of everything, taking her into that empty space where nothing mattered. She let herself slip into that space, the oncoming numbness feeling better than how overwhelmed she was.

 


 

Yon had been too stunned to fully react to Carol. Even in their most heated argument, she had never once compared him to her parents. And today they had barely been arguing—he thought it was a slight disagreement at worst. But she had snapped at him so suddenly over lunch, something that seemed so trivial.

Almost as quickly as she had snapped, though, she had apologized, so he tried to let that be enough for now. But what was beginning to trouble him as much as her snap, she seemed to be withdrawing inwards, noticeably slowing down and becoming expressionless. Ever since her birthday, she’d been slipping into these morose states, and he didn’t know what he was supposed to do about it.

She was starting to become so unlike the Carol he knew. She seemed to be lacking interest in anything, from hardly raising her hand in class anymore, to hesitations about intimacy. But last night and this morning felt like it had been a step in the right direction. Or so he thought—barely half an hour after having sex and she was, seemingly out of nowhere, telling him that he was worse than her parents.

And now she seemed suddenly more withdrawn than she had before. Had he been thinking about his own frustrations too much when he had talked to her last night? Had he been too focused on how badly he wanted her? Was he too wrapped up in feeling like she belonged to him to see anything else? Had he pushed her too far?

No, he had to be overthinking. She would’ve told him if she hadn’t wanted to have sex. Maybe she really was just hormonal like she had claimed. Even so, if they didn’t have to leave for school soon, he might have wanted to get her to talk about this. But he didn’t want to start a potentially stressful conversation right now, especially since they probably wouldn’t even have time for it.

So he did his best to stay calm, trying not to push her any further away from him than she felt right now. But as they drove to school, her silence seemed to have a physical presence, like it was some great, monstrous mass sitting between them. He started to worry that if he didn’t say something, anything, that mass would unhinge its jaws and swallow her up, taking her from him.

Rather abruptly, he asked, “How’s your head feeling?”

From the corner of his eye, he saw her shoulders move slowly up then down in what looked like the most painful shrug. He imagined that invisible beast between them clawing into her arms, dragging her down.

“You have some aspirin in your backpack still, right?” he asked, knowing full well that the brand new bottle of aspirin he had put in her bag some weeks ago was nowhere near running low.

“Mmhmm.”

“That’s good,” he said, feeling like that response from her might be the best indication he’d get that she hadn’t been completely devoured by silence yet.

As they reached school, he decided he wouldn’t make her get out of the car at their usual drop off point. Part of him was scared that letting her out of the car without him would somehow result in him never seeing her again. Which was completely irrational. The risk of them being seen together should have scared him more, and it wasn’t until they were entering the parking lot that he began to worry.

But even though they weren’t particularly early this morning, their timing was somehow just right, and there was no one close enough to see them together in the staff parking lot.

Right before Carol could open her car door, he reached over to lightly touch her thigh, saying in a whisper, “I love you, Carol. I hope your day gets better.”

She didn’t look at him, but, in a monotone that felt somehow worse than silence, she said, “I love you too.”

And then she was opening the car door and he pulled his hand away from her. He watched her for a moment before getting out of the car himself. He walked slightly behind her, perhaps too close if anyone already suspected anything, but otherwise it would look meaningless to everyone else. He tried not to look at her too much, trying to act like she was any other student and the state of her feelings for him were of no consequence.

 


 

The emptiness that had sunk into Carol began to lift once her morning classes started, distracting her from what a mess her personal life felt like. Her classes seemed to be the most normal thing about her life right now, so she was almost eager to focus on them. Even though she was kinda sore from having sex this morning, which was still embarrassing to feel sore like this at school, but that wasn’t anything new. She could try to ignore that.

Right before lunch, though, she went to the bathroom and was surprised to see a little bit of blood in her underwear. She wasn’t supposed to have her period so, keeping herself locked in the bathroom stall, she did a quick Google search on her phone, ignoring everything that told her she had cancer, coming to the conclusion that it was because of having sex this morning. She hadn’t been into it, so it had hurt and now she was bleeding.

First she had been upset that her body had been reacting to sex when she wasn’t into it, and now her body seemed to be upset at her for having sex when she wasn’t into it. But what was she supposed to do?

Yon thought that she was losing interest in him, and he wanted to have sex, so how else was she supposed to convince him that she still cared about him? She couldn’t buy him anything, she couldn’t take him out anywhere—she relied on him for basically everything. Maybe she could start cleaning the house more or making dinner or something. But doing more chores probably wasn’t going to convince Yon that she loved him if she kept turning down sex. He was specifically upset about her not wanting to have sex.

Just like she had concluded when trying to plan a Valentine’s Day gift for him, she realized now that the only thing she really had to offer him was herself.

But how was she supposed to keep offering herself to him if it was hurting her? She felt like it would be embarrassing to tell him that she was bleeding because of him. And what if she told him that she wanted to stop having sex for an indefinate length of time and he thought that meant she didn’t love him and then wanted her to leave? She couldn’t risk being homeless.

And also maybe today was just a bad day and the next time they had sex, it wouldn’t feel like this and she’d be fine. Sex had never hurt her like this before. She didn’t want to upset him about this if she didn’t have to.

So she told herself to suck it up and get on with the rest of her day, but as she left the bathroom and headed towards the cafeteria, she started feeling weird. There suddenly seemed to be too many people in the hallways and everything was so loud, but it all seemed to be blending together, like she was moving through some horrendous watercolor. And somehow she just kept walking through it all, being overwhelmed by it but also feeling like it wasn’t real.

She just kept thinking about this morning and how rushed it had all felt, how she had just been trying to get through it and not actually be a part of it. But now it was like all that stuff she was trying to get through was coming back to her, making her feel like she was still there, still feeling like Yon’s weight was on top of her, pressing her into the bed, hurting her. She could almost smell him right now, feel how hot his skin was against her, and how she felt like she couldn’t move, didn’t have anywhere to go. It made her feel gross that Yon had been on top of her like that, actually having an orgasm when she hadn’t even wanted to be in her own body, like she once again just didn’t matter to him, like he didn’t care how she felt as long as long as her body belonged to him.

Suddenly, she found herself taking in a gasp of air, pushing herself to the wall to be out of everyone’s way. Closing her eyes, she felt a little dizzy and her stomach hurt and she just wanted to be alone. She took some deep breaths, trying to make all of the sensations from this morning go away. She didn’t understand why she felt so trapped in a moment that had already passed and she just wanted to calm down before she sat down to eat lunch.

Then the thought of eating the lunch Yon had packed for her made any appetite she may have had go away. She didn’t want to eat another packed lunch, not today, not after the way she had snapped at him about the lunch or after how gross she was starting to feel about everything.

Leaning against the wall, she pulled out the change purse she kept in her backpack, trying to determine if she had enough in there to buy anything for lunch. There wasn’t much, and she took what she had to the vending machine, selecting a bag of Cheetos.

As she walked through the cafeteria to get to the student lounge, Carol kept glancing around, practically looking over her shoulder. Yon was supposed to be on lunch duty today, but she didn’t see him anywhere. Maybe his schedule got changed and he didn’t tell her. She didn’t like not knowing whether she should expect him to be watching over her or not. But by the time she was in the student lounge, she hadn’t seen him, so maybe she had felt paranoid for nothing.

Carol sat with her lunch group, her strange mood today making her almost instantly regret not deciding to just slink off and eat alone somewhere. Everyone had pretty much gotten over the whole issue of her lying about her birthday, but she still felt like it had somehow pushed her further away from really fitting in. Whether or not that feeling was all in her head, she sometimes had a hard time telling where she stood with them.

Everyone was involved in a conversation by the time she sat down today, and they didn’t really seem to be making an effort to include her, but she also didn’t really feel like talking. She felt a little zoned out as she slowly ate her bag of Cheetos.

But then the chattering of her group died down and an all too familiar voice spoke up.

“I think you dropped something, Attlass,” came Yon’s voice, practically making Carol jump. Apparently it was noticeable, because he said, “Did I startle you, Carol?”

“You snuck up,” she said, glancing at him as he stepped into her field of vision.

“I don’t think I was really sneaking,” Yon said. “I’m sorry I startled you, though.”

She felt her leg starting to bounce, anxious out of nowhere, and she tried to push her feet hard into the ground to get herself under control.

“Anyway, I think you may have dropped your planner, Attlass,” Yon said, holding it out to him. “Seems like it might be important.”

“Oh, thanks,” Attlass said, reaching over Carol to take the planner from Yon. “I didn’t realize I dropped it.”

“It was just on the floor a ways back,” Yon said. “I don’t need you losing that and forgetting about all the homework I’m assigning next period.”

“Ah, really?” Attlass said, awkwardly laughing at Yon’s lame attempt to joke.

“I suppose you’ll find out soon,” Yon said. And then, almost as if he couldn’t help himself, he said, “Are you just eating a bag of Cheetos for lunch, Carol?”

He had sounded playful, but she knew he hated it when she ate junk food, and he definitely hadn’t forgotten about their weird argument this morning. He was just trying to sound like a fun, relatable teacher for the sake of everyone else around them.

“Are you the lunch police?” she retorted.

“Well, in a way, yes.” He must have been doing his best not to full-on lecture her right now.

“I don’t think watching a bunch of teenagers eat really qualifies you to start judging what I’m eating for lunch.”

She could practically hear Yon grinding his teeth at her attitude, but maybe he shouldn’t have snuck up and asked her about her lunch right now in the first place.

“Maybe you’re right about that,” he said, as if he were just lightly teasing her. “But you kids still need to eat healthy to keep your brains sharp. At least it looks like Attlass and Minnerva are getting some proper nutrition.”

Kids.

Carol clenched her fists. Why the fuck did he have to walk over here right now to chit chat and call her a fucking kid? Did he get off on acting all superior at school and bossing her around and then fucking her at home?

She didn’t know how to handle being frustrated with him when they were at school and everyone was right there watching them. She felt nauseous.

“Excuse me.” She stood, and, not caring about the rest of her childish lunch or that she was in the middle of a conversation, she walked away. She rushed to the girl’s bathroom and locked herself in a stall. For a moment, she really thought she might throw up, but she swallowed back the feeling.

Her stomach kept twisting as she thought about having to go through the rest of her school day—how the hell was she going to sit through French with him? And then track? She was tempted to come up with some physical ailment and go to the nurse’s office to try and get sent home for the day. But even if that worked, she’d be going back to his house. She’d have a few hours alone and then it’d be back to normal. And she didn’t even have anyone that could take her there in the first place.

She just had to get through the rest of the day. And then the next. And the next. But everyday couldn’t be like this. This was just a bad day. A bad day in an increasing list of bad days.

 


 

Carol went through the rest of the day in a fog. It was like everything happening around her wasn’t real—she was barely even real. The fog wouldn’t go away, making everything she did difficult, especially sitting through French class. All she wanted was to be left alone and to sleep. But she couldn’t do either of those. Yon was always there.

After the last bell rang and Carol got all her things together at her locker, dreading the idea of having to go to track, a strange thought became clear in her foggy head and it was all she could see. Her peers were rushing around her, trying to catch their buses, and suddenly Carol found herself rushing out with them. Without any hesitation, she stepped onto her old bus and took a seat.

Before she knew it, the bus was en route, making all the stops Carol remembered. As it got closer to her house, she felt her palms sweating. The fog in her head was lifting as unmistakable anxiety and adrenaline pumped into her veins. What the actual hell was she doing?

The bus reached her old stop and, out of habit, she got off. As the bus drove away, she didn’t know exactly what had been her motivation for doing this, other than she couldn’t bear to go to track and she had nowhere else to go. She wished that she had thought this through instead of being impulsive.

She looked at her phone to see a text from Yon: Where are you?

Leave me alone! She almost yelled at the phone. Instead she shoved her phone into her back jean pocket.

For a moment, she just stood on the street corner, staring down her old street. An incredible sense of sadness and nostalgia swept over her, and, slowly, she began walking towards her parents’ house. Each step she took became more difficult, like she was trudging through thick mud, but she just kept moving, until she could see her house.

She stayed a safe enough distance from the house, just a few doors down. She was slightly hidden by some of their neighbor’s bushes, but she could see her parents’ cars in the open garage. They must have just gotten back from somewhere, or maybe they were getting ready to go out, otherwise the garage door would be closed. That meant they could just walk out at any second.

Her hands started shaking. She had no idea what she was doing and she had no idea what to expect if her parents saw her. Would they argue with her? Or would they be relieved to see her and let her come back?

But she didn’t really want to go back. Being this close to that house stirred up so many unhappy memories and the physical feelings that came with them. Coming home was supposed to make people feel safe and warm, not like they wanted to puke. Had part of her maybe thought she would find relief in coming back here? Did she really think that this place would make whatever she was feeling with Yon go away?

Although, for a brief second, Carol imagined that she was a little kid again. She imagined that she still didn’t understand how much her parents sucked and she imagined her mom hugging her tightly and telling her that she loved her. She imagined that she could still believe it when people told her they loved her. She wanted that back.

Carol’s phone was vibrating. She didn’t have to look at it to know that it was Yon, because who else would it be? For a second, she pictured not answering the phone ever again. He didn’t know where she was and she could do anything she wanted right now. If she could actually figure out what she wanted.

But then she saw her mom walk out of the garage and Carol’s heart jumped into her throat. Her mom wasn’t even looking in her direction, though, she was focused on something on her car. Then her dad came out too. He knelt down to look at the bumper on her mom’s car—her mom was always having car troubles. When her dad stood back up, they seemed to have a brief discussion with lots of hand motions towards the car. Then her dad kissed her mom on the cheek and went back inside. Carol wanted to hurl.

It was so fucked up to see them interacting so casually, as if everything was just the same as it had always been and they hadn’t thrown out their teenage daughter. They were just living their lives like nothing had happened, like maybe she hadn’t even existed to them in the first place. In that moment, she resented her parents more than she ever had before.

But in her resentment, she just felt small. She didn’t know what to do with her anger and it just seemed to crumple her insides, making her feel useless.

She looked at her phone to see three missed calls from Yon and a series of increasingly concerned texts. He didn’t know where she was for twenty minutes and he was probably ready to start a search party, meanwhile her parents hadn’t seen her in months and she hadn’t received a single word from them. At least Yon cared about where she was, she’d give him that.

When her phone lit up with his name as he called again, she turned her back on the house and answered.

“Hey.”

“Carol, where are you? Why weren’t you picking up your phone?”

“I took the bus.”

“You took the bus? Where?”

“To my parents’ house …”

There was a weighted pause and Carol could practically see Yon’s face turning red. “Are you with them right now?”

“No.”

“Then what are you doing there?”

“I just wanted to see the house again.”

“Are you in their house right now?”

“No, I’m … I’m outside, like, across the street kinda.”

“I’m coming to get you right now. Don’t go anywhere else and don’t let them see you.”

She clenched her jaw, feeling her eyes suddenly sting.

“Carol, are you there?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“I said I’m coming to get you. Don’t go anywhere.”

“Okay.”

She hung up, then turned back around to see that her mom had gone inside and the garage door was slowly closing. Her throat tightened and she clenched her jaw against the stinging in her eyes as the fog from earlier started rolling back in.

Chapter Text

Yon kept glancing at Carol as they drove back to his house. Driving to her parents’ neighborhood filled him with an almost unbearable anxiety that kept telling him he was walking into some kind of trap. But of course there had been no trap. There had only been Carol, walking down the street with her backpack and gym bag, much like she would at the beginning of the school year before she lived with him. It was off-putting how much she still looked like that despondent girl, as if no one had been there for her all these months.

When she was finally back in his car, Yon was practically shaking with the reprimand he wanted her to hear—she had been acting off all day and he didn’t understand what was going on with her or why she wasn’t communicating with him.

But upon seeing her as that half-alive, sleepwalking version of herself, all he could say to her was, “Are you alright?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she mumbled, shifting in her seat, leaning as close to the door as she could, hugging her backpack in her lap.

“We’re going to have to talk about this, Carol.”

She didn’t say anything, just stared out her window.

“Did you see your parents?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He thought he might have blacked out for at least a solid second. “What?”

“From a distance. They didn’t see me.”

“You could’ve led with that.”

“Sorry.”

He kept his eyes on the road ahead, trying not to grip the steering wheel too tight, mentally counting to ten to regain his composure. He had barely finished counting when he asked, impressively calm, “What were you thinking?

“I don’t know.”

“Why did you go there? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“You need to help me understand what just happened, Carol.”

“I just wanted to see the house, I don’t know. I don’t know what else to say.”

His resolve to keep pushing her for an explanation was weakening the more he heard her speak. She sounded as tired and despondent as she looked. Seeing her walking in her parents’ neighborhood again made him feel for her the same way he had when he first started helping her, before she had become the object of his convoluted desires.

He could see now that she was still the same girl who had needed shelter, that girl hadn’t gone anywhere. But he had somehow stopped seeing that girl, she had become invisible to him against everything else he wanted from her. He had been telling himself that she could handle their relationship because he hadn’t been seeing her—he had been refusing to see her. And now he was playing some fucked up game of house with this lost, tossed aside girl.

If he hadn’t been gripping the steering wheel, his hands might have been shaking. He knew that he had given Carol so much when he had opened his home to her, but what had he taken from her?

Everything she owned had fit into his car when he took her in, mostly clothes and books. The most valuable thing she had brought with was herself, her mind and her body. But had he misused her body for himself? Had he just been taking advantage of a vulnerable girl—a girl who had never really known real love from anyone? Was he just enticed by how easy it was to convince her to do anything, to convince her that he loved her because she didn’t know any better? Did he only find himself sleeping with her because she had been discarded, leaving no one to care whether or not she was being taken advantage of? Was he fucking her just because he knew he could?

He shook his head. He couldn’t stand to think about this rejected, lonely version of Carol. He couldn’t stand the realization that he had been sleeping with this version of her the whole time. Because the girl he knew hadn’t just disappeared, not in the amount of time that they had been together. It wasn’t possible.

But he couldn’t face this right now. He couldn’t. He couldn’t get stuck in this. He had to keep moving forward. He just had to figure out how.

He couldn’t figure out anything now, though. All he could do was feel the burning presence of Carol next to him. He had to quell that, if only temporarily.

“Are you hungry?” he asked, because he at least knew what to do about that.

She shrugged.

“We can go through a drive-thru if you want. How does a burger and fries sound?”

She was silent, fidgeting with the zippers on her backpack.

“I’ll spring for a milkshake too,” he offered.

She shifted a little in her seat, then mumbled, just audible, “It has to be an Oreo shake.”

He almost reached out to give her a reaffirming touch, but he kept his hands on the steering wheel, and said, “I can work with that.”

 


 

Carol had fully expected to get chewed out by Yon once he picked her up from her parents’ neighborhood, and she was caught off guard when he offered to get her fast food and ice cream instead. It was strange that he was being so calm and nice about this. But at least he seemed genuine right now, reminding her of that sense of comfort that she had felt with him before they started having so many issues.

They were pretty quiet while they went through the drive-thru—Carol was actually paranoid that one of her classmates would be working at the restaurant, since being caught by someone felt like exactly the kind of thing that would happen right now, but nothing like that happened. They just got their food and drove home with the radio on to fill the silence.

Being home somehow felt worse. Yon let her eat in front of the tv, which he never did because he thought they should just enjoy their meals without a screen. So she sat on the couch, eating her fast food burger and fries, pretending like her stomach wasn’t in knots, and he didn’t join her, he just ate his food at the table. It wasn’t until they were both done eating, when she was just slowly sipping on her milkshake, that he finally walked into the living room.

He stood next to the couch as if he needed an invitation to sit, focusing on the tv screen with a quizzical stare that the comedy she had put on didn’t really deserve.

“Can we pause this?” he asked.

She side-eyed him, then quietly picked up the remote and paused the show. He sat next to her.

“What happened today, Carol?” he asked, softly.

She couldn’t look at him, just said, “I don’t know…”

He was quiet, then asked, “Do you miss your parents?”

She hadn’t expected him to ask that right now. And there was something strange about the way he asked it, like he might be able to do something about it if she said that yes, she did miss them. But of course there was nothing he could do.

“I don’t miss my dad,” she said.

“But you miss your mom?”

She shrugged, trying to fight off the trembling little girl inside of her that did miss her mom, despite everything.

“I’m still mad at her,” she said.

“You can be mad at her and miss her at the same time.”

“Why does it even matter if I miss her? She doesn’t want to see me, she doesn’t care about me at all. She was just standing there talking to my dad like nothing had changed for them—they’re both probably happy that I’m gone and they don’t have to think about me ever again.”

“I’m … I’m sure she thinks about you, Carol.”

“Then why hasn’t she tried to talk to me? Why haven’t I heard anything from her for eight months?” She closed her eyes. “No one in my family stood up for me when I got kicked out—my own mom doesn’t care that I’m gone. But sometimes I just …”

“You just what?”

She could feel herself wanting to say that she just needed her mom, that she felt so confused and lost about everything and she just needed an actual parent. But she knew she couldn’t get that from her mom, it was too late for that. And she definitely couldn’t get that from Yon either. Everyone she looked up to wasn’t able to give her anything without hurting her somehow. Even having friends eventually hurt.

Maybe this meant that there was no such thing as unconditional love, or that happiness within love—any type of love—couldn’t last. Loving someone meant being hurt by them, ceaselessly and inescapably. There was no safety in love, and no such thing as a safe person to love.

It felt like her only option was to accept whatever kind of love Yon was giving her, because unlike her mom, he hadn’t given up on her. She had already told herself that he was her family now, but had she really accepted that? Had she been clinging to the childish notion that if only her mom would reach out to her, if only she was still able to turn to the first person who had ever loved her, then everything would get easier?

Maybe it was time to really accept that the hurt that came with loving Yon was better than holding onto the delusion that she could still find comfort in a mother that didn’t want her. But she didn’t know how to really do that, she didn’t know how to let go of something like that—all she knew how to do was to be angry about it.

“I just wish I had a different family,” she said.

He brought his hand to her knee, giving her a soft squeeze.

“I can’t imagine what their rejection has been like for you,” he said. “But you’ve been very brave.”

She didn’t think she had been brave about any of this—none of what had happened with her family had been her choice. Realizing that love wasn’t what she had always thought it was didn’t make anything she had done this year feel brave. She just felt naive. And tired.

“I think I’m gonna go to bed soon,” she said.

“Already?” His hand was still on her leg, his fingertips rubbing lightly back and forth.

“Mmhmm.” She was staring at his hand, wishing he’d stop.

“Okay.” He took his hand away, but only to touch her back and lean towards her, kissing the side of her head. When he pulled away, she laid onto her side, so his hand wasn’t on her anymore. She took the remote and pressed play, intending to finish the episode she was watching and then go to bed.

“Why don’t we do something this weekend?” he spoke over the low volume of the show.

“Like what?” she asked, not feeling hopeful about any weekend plans since their last excursion to the city.

“I don’t know, it’s supposed to be nice out. Maybe we could go get some fresh air somewhere.”

She didn’t want to say that she wasn’t interested. “Maybe.”

“We have a couple days to think about it.” He stood from the couch, walking away, probably to get started on grading.

She sighed and curled her legs up closer to her stomach, turning the volume on the tv up a little bit. She just wanted to focus on the show, to forget about her life before going to bed, waking up, and facing it all again.

 


 

A walk would do her good, Yon was sure of it. Some fresh air and getting out of the house would be just the thing to help shake her out of her strange mood. True, he had thought almost the exact same thing when taking her to the city for her birthday, and that had backfired. But this would be different. For one, he wasn’t surprising her with the walk, so there was no way any “plans'' with Attlass or anyone else could interfere.

Incidentally, over-hearing Attlass and Minnerva talking in class about the local forest preserve had given him the idea for the walk in the first place. He remembered taking Carol there for a walk back when she had first moved in with him, and that had been a pretty safe outing. Now that the weather was nice again, it seemed like a good idea to try going back.

But when he told Carol about it, she didn’t seem as excited about it as he had maybe hoped she’d be. She just didn’t seem to care.

“It sounds fine,” she said, monotonously, when he relayed his plans to her on Friday night. She had just showered and was sitting on the corner of the bed, scrolling through her phone, her wet hair forming a damp spot on the back of her t-shirt.

“I think it’ll be nice,” he said, gently, reaching to stroke her cheek with the back of his knuckles. She recoiled, blinking, as though he were an irritating gnat. Her thumb was scrolling through Instagram, not stopping on any posts, just scrolling, scrolling.

“If we go in the morning, we can get breakfast at a drive-thru,” he said. They had already had fast food once this week, but maybe offering it again now would coax something positive out of her.

“Sure,” she said, still staring at her phone, scrolling.

“Okay.” He kept standing over her, to the point where he felt like he was hovering, so he stepped away, going to his side of the bed. “Do you think you’ll be up much longer?”

She shook her head, then crawled up to her side of the bed. He watched her put her phone on the nightstand and slip underneath the covers, all without looking at him. He got under the covers himself and, after a moment, shut off his light.

“I love you, Carol.” He reached to touch her back and kissed her shoulder blade. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she mumbled, shifting a little as she got herself comfortable, keeping her back to him.

He wasn’t going to overthink any of her actions right now. She had been in a difficult mood all week and it might not have anything to do with him. Once they got out tomorrow, that would help her. She’d be back to her old self soon.

 


 

When Saturday morning came, Carol wasn’t as excited for their nature walk as she’d hoped she’d be. She honestly just wanted to sleep the whole morning, but Yon was up and getting ready and he seemed into this idea of a walk, so she just made herself go along with it.

They got breakfast at a drive-thru like he had said they would, even though the idea had for some reason not been appealing to her, but she got some greasy food anyway. It made her stomach hurt a little, though, so she didn’t finish her food and threw it away in a trash can at the state park.

She remembered going for a walk with him here in the fall and how excited she had been then and how good it had felt to be walking around in nature with him. But today didn’t feel like that. Today just didn’t feel like anything.

It was, objectively, the perfect weather for a nature walk, and all the trees and plants were so green and picturesque, and the bird sounds were probably enjoyable to most people, but she just wanted to be asleep. She felt like her body was on autopilot, only moving because Yon was walking next to her. And they were mostly silent, which was likely frustrating to Yon because he kept trying to start conversations, but she had only short responses ready in her arsenal and she didn’t care if he wanted more from her.

At one point, Yon paused to read some informational plaque about the habitat they were walking through, and Carol didn’t have the mental energy to pretend to be interested in reading it too, so she absentmindedly walked towards some of the trees just off the path. She watched her feet stepping on dead leaves and fallen twigs, the crunching sounds not as satisfying as it used to be. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her eyes up as she neared a tree. She put her hand out to it, tracing her fingers over the bark as she walked around the tree, but stopped after a couple steps, her eye caught by “A + M” carved into the tree.

Carol pressed her index finger over the letters, and glanced over at Yon. For a second she wondered if he’d let her carve “Y + C” into a tree, but he’d probably make her feel like a dumb kid for even thinking about it. Carving their initials together onto something would be physical proof that they were together and they couldn’t let anyone have that, even on some random tree. That fell under forbidden activities for them. But sex was fine. No one could prove that she was being fucked by her teacher if they didn’t do irresponsible things like carve their initials together.

“What are you doing?” Yon was walking towards her now.

“Nothing,” she said, removing her hand from the tree. “Just waiting for you.”

He squinted his eyes at her, then looked at the tree as he approached her.

“A and M,” he said upon seeing the carving. He touched the initials too, pulling a splinter off the M and letting it fall to the ground. “A and M were just here, by the looks of this.”

“Fantastic work, detective,” she said, turning back to the path, moving forward.

Yon quickly caught up and met her gait—she heard his footsteps and felt his hand touch her back before she saw him.

“You seem to be in a hurry,” he said, his hand still on her back.

“I just walk fast.”

Then he moved himself in front of her, putting his hands on her waist. She felt suddenly frozen.

“This isn’t a timed run, Carol, we can take our time.”

He brought his hands to her shoulders now, squeezing her softly. She wasn’t making eye contact with him but he kinda ducked his head a bit, trying to meet her gaze, so she looked at him.

“Everything okay?” he asked, expression soft, hands gripping her tighter.

“I’m just trying to walk,” she said.

“Okay.” He rubbed her shoulders a little, then wrinkled his forehead, contemplative, and pressed her shoulders with more purpose. “You feel tense. Have you been stretching enough?”

“Ugh, you literally see me stretch all the time at track.” She shrugged his hands off of her and side stepped around him so she could keep walking. Almost at once he was at her side again.

“I could give you a massage when we get home if you’d like,” he said.

She scrunched her face and kept looking at the ground. “Uh, no thanks.”

“No?”

“No, I don’t want a massage,” she said, imitating his accent.

“You shouldn’t carry so much tension, it might actually help.”

“Or it could make things worse.”

“What?”

She bit her tongue before she could say anything else. She imagined him telling her to take her clothes off so he could massage her, and then his hands would be all over her, and then the rest of him. She couldn’t do any of that right now.

“I just don’t want a massage,” she said.

“Okay, I won’t force you. I just want to help you relax.”

“I’m super relaxed right now, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

They were looping back to the parking lot, and another couple also appeared to be walking back from another path. Carol was trying not to look at them; she just wanted to get in the car and go home and shut herself in her room. But then she did a double take.

“Fuck,” she muttered, heart skipping a beat.

“What?” Yon asked, then, “Shit.”

They were now being approached by none other than Attlass and Minnerva.

“Carol?” Attlass was smiling and creasing his forehead, clearly confused because of course he’d be confused about what he was seeing. “Uh, Mr. Rogg? Hi?”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me there was a field trip today?” Yon said in his teacher voice, fake laughing. “I wasn’t expecting to run into so many of you here.”

Minnerva was looking Carol up and down, expressionless, and when their eyes met, Minnerva just held her gaze, until Carol felt herself flushing and looked down. She felt like she was going to burst out of her skin.

“You guys ran into each other?” Attlass asked, mostly looking at Carol.

“Yeah,” Carol said. “I was, uh, walking around and then I got lost and ran into Y—uh, Mr. Rogg.” God fucking damn it.

“You came here alone?” Attlass pressed, apparently not catching her almost slip up.

“Yeah, I … I wanted to find a … a rock for my boyfriend?” She couldn’t tell if she heard Yon sigh next to her or not, but she just kept going. “He really likes rocks, which I know is weird, but he just really likes them, so I’m just … you know, out here being supportive.”

“I see,” Attlass said, suppressing a laugh. “Is he a geology major or something?”

“Yeah, actually he is,” Carol said.

Attlass tried not to laugh again. “So the mysterious Jon Rogers is a true rock man.”

“Who?” Yon asked, rather abruptly, which he tried to cover with another fake laugh.

“Jon Rogers is Carol’s college boyfriend,” Attlass said.

“Ah, I see.” Yon must have been trying his best not to sound too invested in this, but she could hear the millions of things he wanted to say vibrating in the air around her.

“So you came out here alone to find a rock for your boyfriend?” Minnerva spoke up, deciding she’d grace the conversation. “Can we see the rock you found?”

Carol grinded her teeth together, realizing she wasn’t carrying a bag and she had nothing but her phone in her pocket. “I couldn’t find one good enough yet. But I’m not done looking.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll find one. Can’t be that hard, right?” Attlass shifted his feet and looked at Minnerva, raising his eyebrows and giving her a dumb, awkward grin. “We should probably go if we don’t want to miss the movie.”

Carol felt a sudden, painful stab of jealousy in her chest and she held her breath. She missed going to the movies with Attlass, or anyone.

“Well, it was nice to run into you all,” Yon said, starting to walk towards his car. Carol didn’t know why he decided to do that right now, or what he expected her to do, so she just stood there.

“Yeah, have a nice weekend, Mr. Rogg,” Attlass said, then gave Carol a smile. “See you later, Carol.”

“See you,” she said, doing a quick awkward wave as they turned around. She let out a small sigh, eyeing Yon as he ambled towards his car.

“Oh, wait, Carol,” Attlass called, turning back around. Minnerva was giving him an impatient look as he asked, “Do you need a ride?”

“Uh, no, I don’t, I’m fine.”

“You sure?” Attlass squinted at her, taking half a step back, ready to go. “How’d you even get here, anyway?”

“I… I used Uber.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, see you later.” He turned on his heel towards Minnerva, who gave Carol another once-over before turning around too.

She watched them walk to their car, and saw Yon over by his car too. Even though she knew he was probably trying to make it seem like they weren’t actually there together, she hated that he just walked away from her.

She shifted her weight from foot to foot, seeing that Attlass’s car was still parked, then groaned and turned back to the woods, trying to look like she hadn’t been lying about still searching for a rock. She tucked herself out of sight behind some trees and pulled out her phone, mindlessly checking some apps.

When she heard the sound of tires, she peeked from behind the trees to see Attlass’s car backing out of the parking spot and then driving away. Once out of sight, she walked out of the woods, going to Yon’s car, where he was now sitting in the driver’s seat. She climbed in. Silence. He started the car and they were on the road back home. His silence irked her into her own fuming silence.

Finally, he spoke, “You told them your boyfriend’s name was Jon Rogers?”

She stared ahead, trying to process why that was what he was asking. “So?”

“You don’t think Jon sounds anything like Yon? Or Rogers might have any similarities to Rogg?”

Carol could feel Yon stealing glances at her but she kept focusing ahead, her stomach twisting while he sat there scolding her for the made-up name of her made-up boyfriend.

“It’s not that similar,” she said.

“It’s suspiciously similar,” he said. “What were you thinking?”

His accusatory tone was grating against her, the friction heating up her skin. Her hands curled into fists as she kept staring ahead, not really seeing anything. She felt her eye twitch a little and brought her hand up to her face, as if she could stop her face spasming by holding it.

“Are you listening to me, Carol?”

“Yes, I’m listening to you,” she snapped, slamming her fists onto her thighs and seeing red. “What the fuck do you want me to say? I made up a name on the spot, because I’m the one that had to deal with everyone after things went to shit on my fucking birthday! I had to talk to Attlass’s parents, I had to talk to Attlass and Minnerva and everyone and look like an idiot in front of them, and now no one trusts me! And you just get to stand around and do your job and no one is looking at you any differently. You got to walk away when we ran into Attlass today and I had to just stand there alone, because you have it so fucking easy!”

Her ears were buzzing and her head was spinning and she wasn’t even entirely sure of everything she just said or if he was even saying anything back to her right now. She wished she could just jump out of this dumb car and run away.

“Okay, I can tell you’re tired and frustrated right now,” he said, his tone smooth, bordering on patronizing, like he was placating a toddler. “Why don’t we go pick up some snacks? Anything you’d like.”

“I don’t want snacks! I want you to stop talking to me like that!” It felt like her head was going to burst. “You can’t keep talking to me like—like you’re my dad. You’re fucking me! You’re fucking me and you’re talking to me like you’re my dad!”

“What are you talking about? I am not comparable to your dad! How can you—what are you talking about?”

Carol focused her eyes enough to see that they were getting closer to home, just a couple turns away. She was burning to get out of this car. Her hands were shaking.

“I don’t understand you right now,” Yon said, his tone now quieter, but sharp. “I don’t understand why you’re suddenly so upset. Why haven’t you been talking to me about how you’re feeling about any of this?”

“I’m talking to you right now,” she retorted.

“But you’re being very immature.”

“Says the man fucking a teenager.”

They were turning into the driveway and he hit the breaks too hard, so the car jerked to a stop. Carol unbuckled her seatbelt, practically throwing it off her body, and she tried to open the car door, but he locked it right before she could. She tried to pull the lock up but he locked it again. He grabbed her arm before she could pull it a third time, and for a moment the shock of his grip on her made her freeze.

“What is happening with you right now?” he said.

“Let go of me!” She jerked but he held on tighter. He kept one hand gripped on her, the other on the steering wheel, and his eyes focused ahead as he pulled the car into the garage.

“You’re not getting out in the driveway and causing a scene in front of the whole neighborhood.”

She yanked herself away from him as they entered the garage, unlocked the car door, and made for the house. The car shut off and the garage door groaned as it closed, and she heard his car door open and shut. She dodged into the house and heard his footsteps right behind her.

“Carol, slow down,” he said, hand suddenly on her shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!” She whipped around so he pulled his hand away and she stared at him for a second. She couldn’t tell if he was more shocked or pissed.

“What’s wrong, Carol?” he asked, exasperated.

She didn’t know why she couldn’t calm down, but she couldn’t and she just wanted to be alone. She tried to shove past him to get upstairs, but he blocked her, not letting her get down the hall to the stairs.

“I need you to talk to me right now,” he said.

“Just move and let me go upstairs.”

“No, you have to talk to me right now. Tell me what’s happening!”

“I already told you—”

“Oh, that speech you gave in the car? About how easy I have it?”

She tried to shove past him. “Just let me go up—”

“You’re talking to me right now, Carol.” He kept himself firmly in her way. “I have done so much for you. Do you understand the sacrifices I’ve made for you? To get you out of your parents’ house? To give you a chance at a normal life?”

“You think this is normal?”

“It’s better than where you came from, isn’t it? Your family kicked you out, but I was there. I took you in. I’m still supporting you. Do you think everything I’ve given you just comes out of thin air? You think I haven’t made sacrifices to let you live here?”

“I’m sorry I’m so ungrateful! That’s just me though—Carol, the ungrateful asshole. I’m so sorry you got stuck with someone as ungrateful as me. Do you want me to suck your dick right now to prove how grateful I am? Is that what you want?”

What?”

“Go on, take off your pants right now and I’ll do it! Because that’s all you’re really worried about, right?” She was practically chest to chest with him, up in his face, but he wouldn’t move. “You only want to talk right now so that you’ll know I’ll still fuck you later, but I’ll do it right now if that’s what it takes for you to move the fuck out of my way.”

It felt like there was someone else in charge of her mouth and her body and she was just watching herself spiral. She went for the waist of his pants, hands fumbling chaotically, and he quickly swatted her hands away. She reached for him again but he grabbed her wrists.

“What the hell is happening with you right now?” He gripped her wrists harder, shaking her.

“What, you don’t want to fuck me right now?” She started laughing like she was some kind of insane person. “You’re not into this? You’re not into someone trying to fuck you when you don’t want to?”

“What are you talking about?” He shook her wrists again and she yanked her arms out of his grip. “You need to calm down—just take a deep breath and calm down!”

“Fuck you!” she screamed the words and her body shook with it, the whole house seemed to echo with it. She had said fuck you, but the words had felt more like I hate you, and she saw the affect of it in the way he stared at her.

Still seething, she attempted to push past him again, and this time he let her. But she had barely made it up the first few steps when he grabbed her wrist again.

“Give me your phone,” he said, holding out the hand he wasn’t gripping her with.

“What? No!” She shook her arm, but he held her tighter, fingers digging into her, and she winced.

“Just give me the phone.”

“No, I’m not giving you my phone.”

“I’m the one paying for it—it’s my phone. Now give it to me and I’ll let you go.”

She tried jerking her arm away and backing up the stairs, but he yanked her towards him at the same time, making her lose her footing. The right side of her body crashed into the stairs, and she slid to his feet.

There was a roaring second of silence before he said, “Fuck, I didn’t—I’m sorry, Carol. I’m so sorry—I didn’t mean—I’m so sorry. Are you hurt? Carol, I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

She pushed herself to her feet, unable to look at him, and turned to go straight up the stairs. This time, he didn’t follow her. But she stopped at the top of the stairs, hands shaking, and took her phone from her pocket. She squeezed it as hard as she could, as if she could shatter it in her fist, then chucked it down the stairs, hearing it bump loudly and clatter on the hardwood where Yon was standing. Then she went to her room and slammed the door, locking it behind her.

She paced around in circles, running her hands into her hair and pressing her nails into her scalp. She pressed her hands harder and harder against her head, wishing it had a shell like an egg so she could crack it open. She wanted to take everything that was in her head and throw it away. Then she wanted a new head, a new brain, a new body—one that had nothing to do with him or anyone else.

This wasn’t supposed to be the house she lived in, this wasn’t supposed to happen in this house. Yon wasn’t supposed to do this and she wasn’t supposed to do this. This wasn’t her parents’ house. This wasn’t happening.

She was getting dizzy and her legs were getting weak. She found herself on the floor leaning against her bed. Reaching behind her, she yanked the comforter down from her bed, pulled it over her head, and shoved a handful of it into her mouth, letting herself scream into it. Body shaking, she started crying and couldn’t stop, as if she were just a stupid child with no control over herself. She wrapped the comforter around her body and curled up in it on the floor.

Chapter Text

Yon stood for a moment at the bottom on the stairs, trying to calm himself. He had heard Carol’s bedroom door slam, and he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened his eyes on the exhale. Breathing didn’t relieve anything.

For a moment he stared at Carol’s phone lying on the ground, hoping it hadn’t cracked beyond repair. He picked it up and found it had somehow, surprisingly, survived its fall down the stairs.

He ran a hand over his face. He hadn’t meant to pull Carol down the stairs like that. He hadn’t really meant to grab her at all, but as soon as she had started yelling and hurtling accusations at him, it was as if she was justifying every ounce of guilt he had ever felt about this relationship, and something in him snapped. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, but he couldn’t bear to hear the way she was raging at him. And the angrier she got, the more heightened his own sense of anger and panic became.

And he really couldn’t stand the idea of her using her phone to reach out to someone in her rage. Especially after her stunt at her parents’ house this week, he couldn’t risk her having access to anyone else, not right now, not when she was this upset. At least that was what his agitated mindset had been telling him.

He walked into the kitchen, setting Carol’s phone on the counter, his fingers lingering over it. The phone suddenly bore a heavy weight in his mind. He knew he had taken it from her in a moment of fear and anger, but that didn’t change the fact that this was the second time someone had cut her off from her phone. He couldn’t ignore the parallel to her parents that would no doubt come into her mind too. He couldn’t bear to think that he was anything like the people he had tried to save her from.

But he yelled at Carol, grabbed her, told her to give him her phone, and when she told him no, he pulled her down the stairs. He pulled her down the stairs. He kept seeing her thumping hard onto the stairs, her body sliding down. And then she had scrambled away from him, not even looking at him, and he hadn’t been able to move. She could have broken something, she’d more than likely be bruised, and it was his fault.

He had heard plenty of stories of the ways Carol’s parents had treated her, and what he had done today… This wasn’t who he was. This wasn’t who he was, this wasn’t who he was, this wasn’t who he was—

He realized he was pacing the kitchen, and he stopped himself, trying to count to ten, to get his breathing back to normal. But his heart was beating so fast and he kept seeing Carol hit the stairs. He kept hearing her yell at him. The way she said fuck you had struck him in the gut and there was something manic and desperate in her eyes that terrified him. He didn’t know who she was then.

He pressed his palms into the counter, counting to ten again. It wasn’t working. Without really meaning to, he slapped the granite with all his strength.

“Damn it—fuck,” he muttered between his teeth, hands stinging.

He had to accept that breathing exercises weren’t going to take away the immediate shock of what had just happened. There was no easy way to coax himself out of this. All the same, he tried to tell himself he was calm.

What he had to do was try talking to Carol again. She had to know that he wasn’t angry with her, even if he wasn’t certain that was true. But she had seemed more like an animal backed into a corner than a girl, and the Carol he had seen today was almost certainly a result of her family life. It didn’t seem fair of him to be mad at her for acting out when she hadn’t learned any other way to handle her stress yet.

But how was he the cause of her stress? What had he been doing to push her to this point? The image of her walking down her parents’ street a few days ago flashed into his mind. He kept seeing that despondent girl walking alone, angling herself away from him as they drove home. That girl had snuck off to her parents’ house without telling him. Was she running away from him?

He couldn’t help but think about a few days ago when they had sex for the first time in a couple weeks, how she had been so hesitant to be intimate before that. And now she had just been yelling at him about how he apparently only cared about fucking her—which wasn’t true. No, that wasn’t all he cared about and she knew that.

Whatever the cause, how long had she been bottling up this resentment towards him, and how long would it take for her to let it go?

He didn’t know why he was pretending like he didn’t know why she was stressed. Thanks to her family, she clearly didn’t know how to handle her basic emotions. He thought he had given her a safe space to live and thrive, but he hadn’t given her any room to process anything that had happened to her before adding another layer of complications onto her life.

Yon ran his hands over his head. He shouldn’t have started sleeping with her, not while she was still his student. He knew she was too young. She had needed him to be a parent-figure, not her boyfriend. He should have known something like this would happen.

Maybe it was time to take a step back in their relationship, as best as they could. He wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like with their living situation, but it might be for the best to somehow just give her space, at least until graduation in a few weeks.

Right now, though, he felt like he had to check on her. He didn’t want her to stew for too long; he had to talk to her.

He went upstairs and stood outside her door. As he brought his hand up to knock, he hesitated, leaning closer to the door, holding his breath, listening. It sounded like she was crying—sobbing. The sound was muffled, but it was unmistakable. He didn’t know what he had expected her to be doing when she ran upstairs, but he hadn’t been prepared to hear her like that, knowing full well that it was his fault.

Shaking his head, he stepped back from the door. He didn’t have the courage to see her like that right now, and he didn’t even think that she’d want to see him—he might make it worse. He had comforted her so many times when things with her family became too much, but how was he supposed to comfort her when he had hurt her this time?

He didn’t know what he was supposed to do, so he walked to his own room and sat on the edge of the bed—Carol’s side of the bed. She was down the hall, miserable and hurting, and he didn’t know what he could do to make it stop. He let out a deep breath, feeling his body shake and he bounced his leg up and down. He felt himself pulling her down the stairs again, saw her falling, hitting the steps, heard her sobbing in her room.

Resting his elbows on his knees, he buried his face in his hands, feeling his breathing quicken, out of control, and he wasn’t doing anything to fix it. And then, suddenly, he was crying. He didn’t know the last time he had cried, but he couldn’t stop. Right now, there was nothing he could do other than just let it happen.

 


 

Carol didn’t know how long she had been lying on the floor. She cried so much that she fell asleep. She woke up after who-knew how long, exhausted and disoriented. Out of habit, she reached for her pocket so she could check the time on her phone, but quickly remembered chucking it down the stairs. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to push away the incident.

Groaning, she pulled the comforter away from her body and pushed herself off the floor with a grimace. The right side of her body was sore, some areas with sharper pain than others—her ribs and hip were killing her. She practically hobbled to her closet, pulling out some sweatpants and a t-shirt, then changed out of her hiking clothes, since she hadn’t even taken her shoes off since coming home. Once changed, she laid down on her bed, instantly wincing and switching positions onto the non-sore side of her body.

She kept thinking that she should do her homework or go eat something or do anything other than just lying here, but part of her felt frozen. She didn’t want to think about anything that happened today, or earlier this week, or on her birthday. She wanted to pretend that nothing like this was happening. If she just stayed in her room and didn’t look at Yon or his bedroom or anywhere else in the house long enough, then maybe it would start to feel like nothing had happened and she could act normal. It didn’t feel like she had a choice to do anything else.

She felt like she was going to fall back asleep, but then she heard a knock on her door. Her eyes opened wide, and she was frozen.

“Carol?” Yon’s voice.

She clenched her jaw, her stomach filling with dread.

“Carol, can I come in?” he asked, sounding calm. She didn’t want to see him right now, but she’d have to see him and talk to him eventually. Being alone just wasn’t a fucking option.

Another small knock. “Carol?”

“Hold on,” she muttered, gingerly getting herself off of the bed. She unlocked her door without opening it and walked back to her bed. As she sat down, slowly, trying not to grimace too much, he let himself in.

“Carol, I’m… I’m so sorry,” he said, standing in the doorway. “Are you… are you okay?”

She didn’t know what he wanted her to say. Was she supposed to say that she had screamed at him and fell down the stairs, but actually she was doing great? She kept her mouth shut.

Unintentionally, she was rubbing her sore arm, but she stopped herself when she realized what she was doing. He took a step towards her and she saw her phone in his hands. He held it out to her, and she could tell he wanted her to reach and take it back from him. But she didn’t move. After a moment, he sighed and just set the phone on her nightstand.

“I shouldn’t have said some of the things I did and … I shouldn’t have … I didn’t … I’m so … I’m so sorry.” He paused, the moment of silence heavy. “I never meant to hurt you. You know I’d never deliberately hurt you.”

She still wouldn’t say anything back to him. Everything that she wanted to say was jagged and harsh and she didn’t have the energy for it. But she could sense the way he was trying to ease her into opening up, to try and take back everything that had happened. A part of her just wanted to give in so this could be done and she could sleep without being too upset. But she was upset, more upset with him than she had ever been, and him being in her room now just made her more frustrated, like she was trapped.

He had been standing over her, but then he moved closer and sat down next to her on her bed. She could feel the way he was looking at her, could sense how gently he was trying to handle this. Her stubbornness began to feel out of place.

“Carol,” he said, “I’m sorry. Can you talk to me?”

She wouldn’t let herself look at him or nod or move or even blink. She wasn’t going to tell him everything was fine. Everything that had happened today felt like too much for her to forget, whether she forgave him or not. It hurt so much, physically and every other way. As soon as she looked at him, she would have to forgive him, but she would still hurt. So she just clenched her fists and fixed her burning stare ahead, shielding herself against his apology.

“Carol…” he spoke so softly, shaking his head.

She gritted her teeth. She was so drained and her eyes were still tired from crying and her stomach was now starting to hurt. But she still wanted everything to be okay.

“You shouldn’t have grabbed me.” She didn’t sound as angry as she felt, she just sounded tired and small.

He was quiet, and she heard him taking a deep breath. “I don’t know why I did that. I’m so … You have no idea how sorry I am.”

She flexed her hand slowly in and out of a fist. He sounded sincere and like maybe he was tired too, and it almost made her feel bad that she was so angry with him. He had never acted this way with her before, so maybe he really was sorry and she should just forgive him and move on. But she was still so upset.

“You know how much I care for you. How important you are to me,” he said.

“I know…” the words coming out of her didn’t feel like her, they felt like something being pulled out of her, as if there were a string lodged down her esophagus to her vocal chords and Yon had tugged as he apologized. She still didn’t look at him, but she could feel another tug coming from him.

“You know I love you so much.”

She didn’t want to look at him yet. She eyed the phone on her nightstand, trying to find another reason to keep being angry. “I don’t know why you wanted to take my phone away.”

“I… I don’t know, I was upset. We do stupid things when we’re upset, but I love you. I love you more than anyone.”

She kept staring ahead.

“I’m sorry, Carol.” And then he touched her cheek, stroking it with his thumb, and she knew he was pulling the final strings. “I’m really not trying to upset or hurt you, it’s just … when you started getting emotional, then I did too, and I overreacted. But I shouldn’t have.”

His apology wasn’t entirely settling her. It was like he got to pull out of her what he wanted, but she was still stuck with everything else he wouldn’t want to hear, everything that was being pushed back to rot inside her. She was too tired right now to fight it, though.

She lowered her eyes and said, “It’s okay.”

Somehow it felt like he had won—she wasn’t sure what exactly he had won, though. Finally relenting, giving in to the ways he pulled at her, she looked at him.

“I don’t want to fight,” she said. “I didn’t mean to get so emotional.”

“We both could have done things differently, but I don’t want us to fight either.” He stroked her cheek again, then pulled her closer and kissed her forehead. “I love you so much, Carol.”

“I love you, too.”

For a moment he looked at her, his hand lingering on her cheek. She wished she could tell what he was thinking, because even when he spoke, she couldn’t tell what he meant. When he just looked at her the way he was looking at her now, she felt wholly lost.

“Why don’t you come downstairs?” he said. “It’s been a while since you’ve eaten anything. And we can watch a movie together, hmm?”

She sighed, feeling most of her remaining energy escaping.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay,” he repeated, as if that settled it.

He stood, slowly, and she got the feeling that he wanted her to go with him right now, so she stood too, trying not to wince and give away how much pain she was in. She went ahead of him downstairs, instantly regretting that she didn’t just keep lying in her bed or that she hadn’t walked behind him, because moving hurt and it was kinda hard to hide it. When they were in the kitchen, he was giving her a concerned, almost despondent look that she couldn’t bear.

“Are…” It sounded like his voice had cracked and he cleared his throat. “How bad are you hurt?”

They just had this whole apology conversation and she didn’t want to do it again.

“It’s not that bad,” she said.

“Let me take a look.”

“No,” she was surprised at how calm and firm she sounded. “It’s fine.”

For a second it looked like he might cry.

“Alright,” he said, meeting her gaze for a second before looking down. “Well, at least put some ice on it.”

“Okay.”

The rest of the evening was super weird and uncomfortable. They ate an early, awkward dinner together, neither of them really saying much. When they moved to the living room to watch a movie, he brought her an ice pack, wordlessly handing it to her. She kept catching him averting his eyes from her as she settled herself on the couch, and any time she moved the ice pack from her hip to her ribs and back again. She made him pick the movie out because she didn’t care what they watched, and it wasn’t long before she dozed off.

When she woke up, she found herself alone, tucked under a blanket with the lights dimmed, the tv screen gone black, and the clock telling her it was incredibly early in the morning—too early even for her. She wanted to go back to sleep, but not down here on the couch. With a groan, she got up, moving slowly, wincing a little as she climbed the stairs, and went to sleep alone in her own bed.

 


 

When Carol woke up on Sunday, she was filled with a familiar sense of dread. For a moment, she just laid there, not wanting to get up and have another bad day. But she couldn’t stay in bed forever, so she sat up, taking in a deep breath, and quickly realized her hip and ribs still hurt. She pulled down her pants a little to see a pretty big bruise on her hip and part of her thigh. That part didn’t feel as bad as yesterday, but she was still moving just a bit slower.

But the pain in the side of her ribs hadn’t changed, so she went into her bathroom, pulling off her pajamas to look in the mirror. Yep, her ribs were visibly bruised, too. She groaned, annoyed. She’d bruised her ribs once before in junior high when she fell off her bike at a weird angle, and she remembered it taking a few weeks to heal, with nothing to do but just wait until it got better. And now she only had a few weeks left of track, so she was basically fucked—she didn’t know how she was supposed to run if the wrong movement or just taking a deep breath hurt.

Maybe it’d be fine, though. Maybe her memory was off. She pulled out her phone, searching Google for anything about bruised ribs, but the internet pretty much confirmed what she had already learned from experience.

Great.

So the ending of senior year was just going to be as shitty as the rest of the year because Yon had pulled her down the fucking stairs.

No, no, no, he had apologized! She couldn’t keep being mad at him. Even though it wasn’t like he had ever apologized for hurting her while they had sex, or just for making her have sex when she didn’t want to. But it wasn’t like he knew that. And she was never going to tell him about it. She barely had the energy to accept his apology for pulling her down the stairs; she didn’t want to have another weird conversation about how sorry he was for everything else.

She just had to grow up and get over it.

Chapter Text

As school started on Monday, Carol got a text from Attlass, reading: hey lunch outside today.

It was the first she had heard from him since the whole run-in at the park, which was probably for the best—she didn’t think she would’ve had the energy to keep up her whole double-life thing with him if he had been chatty this weekend. But now she was back at school, back to being the Carol that lived with her parents and didn’t have a massive bruise under her shirt. And Yon was back to being the perfect teacher, the irreproachable man, whom any parent could trust to impart wisdom to their children.

Carol was having an especially hard time focusing on her morning classes, and everything dragged. She just wanted to stop thinking about this weekend, but that was impossible. She seemed to be constantly agitating her hip bruise as she sat in the hard seats in each classroom, or feeling a sharp pain at her ribs as she yawned.

And it all brought a similar sense of shame that being sore from sex made her feel; it would be humiliating if anyone knew what was actually going on.

Finally, lunch time came and Carol went outside with her food. She spotted Attlass at a table and, to her surprise, he was alone.

“Hey, where’s everyone else?” she asked as she carefully sat down.

“Oh, well… uh, we won’t be having lunch with them anymore,” Attlass said, not making eye contact with her, just staring at his lunch, shoulders slumped.

“What?”

“Um… Minnerva and I… we broke up.”

“Oh…” It took everything in Carol not to smile at this news. Attlass was obviously upset over it, and she didn’t want to look like an asshole, but hearing that Minnerva was out of the picture was momentarily amazing. “I’m sorry, Attlass.”

“Yeah…”

“So… what happened? You guys seemed okay on Saturday.”

“Yeah, well… we had an argument and…” Attlass groaned, like he was annoyed. “We just had an argument and we broke up.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again, because she didn’t know what else to say. He seemed like he didn’t really want to talk about this.

They were both awkwardly silent for a moment, which kinda sucked. But then Attlass asked, “How was the rest of your weekend?”

“Oh…” She took a deep breath, which hurt her bruised ribs and she squeezed her eyes shut for a brief second. “The rest of my weekend was fine.”

“Did you find a rock?”

Fuck, she had almost forgotten about the dumb rock situation.

“Uh, yeah, I did,” she said.

“That’s good.” Attlass’s tone didn’t really sound like he thought anything was good—he still seemed oddly annoyed. “Your boyfriend like it?”

“Mmhmm, yeah.”

Another strange silence.

Rather abruptly, Attlass asked, “Do you think I could meet him sometime?”

“What? My boyfriend?” Carol laughed in an attempt to cover how shocked she had sounded, but that hurt her ribs, and she gritted her teeth to hide the wince.

“Yeah, the mysterious Jon Rogers.”

“You want to—you want to meet him?” She probably sounded like such an idiot right now.

“Well, it seems like you guys have been dating for a while, so it might be nice to meet him.”

“Oh, well, I’ll… I’ll talk to him about it. He’s just pretty busy with school.”

“What school does he go to, again?”

She blinked a few times. “What?”

“What college does he go to?” Attlass was staring expectantly at her.

“Oh, uh…” She laughed again, as if this was somehow funny to her. “I thought I told you?”

“I don’t think you did.”

“Oh, well…” Carol was vaguely aware that her palms were sweating as she tried to remember the name of literally any college ever. “He’s going to Stark, which is where I’m going to go, too.”

“So you decided to go to Stark because of him?”

“No… but it’s a bonus, I guess.”

Attlass was nodding, looking down solemnly at his lunch. The air was starting to feel heavy around them, and Carol wondered if that heaviness was all because of Minnerva, or if he was upset about something else.

“You know,” Attlass began, still staring at his lunch, “I can’t find Jon on Facebook or anything.”

“Oh… well, he doesn’t really… he doesn’t like social media.”

“So he’s not on anything? I thought you guys met online…”

“Well, yeah, we met on a dating app, but… but he still doesn’t like social media.” Carol was starting to feel like she was a criminal being interrogated on a cop show.

“Do you have a picture of him?”

“Why—why do you want to know all of this right now?”

“I was just thinking about it, I don’t know.”

“Well, can we talk about something else?”

“Why don’t you want to talk about your boyfriend?”

A hundred excuses flashed through Carol’s mind, but she still didn’t know what to say. Attlass was staring at her again, waiting for a response, and she opened her mouth, but nothing was coming out. Before she could force out another lie, though, they were both startled by a loud shout from nearby.

“You’re a stupid, back-stabbing slut!”

They turned to see some girl standing and yelling at another seated girl, a couple tables over.

Carol exchanged a funny look with Attlass, and they both craned their necks to try getting a better view of what was happening, and so did everyone else having lunch outside. The seated girl was defending herself, but not loudly enough for Carol to hear her clearly—something about a boyfriend or a girlfriend and maybe a party or something.

“Oh, so that’s why you made out with him?” the standing girl shouted and suddenly flipped the sitting girl’s lunch tray onto the ground, causing a slight excited clamoring amongst all the onlookers. “You’re just a fucking whore!”

And then a couple teachers were speed-walking over and the scene was quickly deescalating. The two girls were being talked to and ushered away, with no lack of protesting, and everyone else was going back to their own conversations.

“Well, that was exciting,” Carol said, giving Attlass another funny look.

All Attlass did was shrug. Carol looked down at her lunch, not sure how she was supposed to be consoling him about his break-up. But then he was suddenly standing up, gathering his things.

“Wh—what are you doing?” she asked.

“I forgot something in the computer lab,” he said.

“I can go with you… if you want?”

He answered fast, “No, that’s fine.”

“Oh… okay.” She wasn’t sure why his quick response hit her in the chest so hard. This probably wasn’t even personal, he was probably just upset over Minnerva.

“See you in French,” he said, not looking at her. And then he walked away, leaving her to finish the lunch hour alone.

 


 

Carol’s class began filtering in after lunch, and Yon watched Carol walk to her desk, gingerly sitting down and scrunching her face as she positioned herself in her seat. He took a deep breath and had to look away from her before he got caught staring. He hated seeing how much he had hurt her—hated that anyone could potentially see how much she was hurt.

He couldn’t let that distract him right now, though. He had an entire class to focus on. As he shifted his attention from Carol, taking in the rest of his students, he noticed something a little off: Instead of his usual spot, Attlass was sitting at one of the typically empty desks on the other side of the classroom, shoulders slumped, tiredly looking at his notebook. Meanwhile, Minnerva didn’t look even slightly surprised that the seat beside her was suddenly empty. Had they broken up?

If he hadn’t been so involved with Carol, this development in his students’ dating lives wouldn’t have been more than a passing observation. But he had to wonder how much this was going to affect Carol. If Attlass wasn’t going to be focused on Minnerva, did that mean he’d be seeking out Carol more often? With summer just around the corner, there’d be a lot more time for Carol and Attlass to attempt making plans together. That didn’t sit very well with Yon.

He was probably overthinking, being paranoid for no reason. But after this weekend, he was especially concerned about her losing interest in him, and of her inevitable departure for college. If things didn’t start getting better between them soon, he was scared that, when she was gone, he’d lose her forever.

 


 

Even though he was trying not to pay too much attention to Carol, Yon still felt like he had to keep a close eye on her during track. He would have felt better if she'd sat this one out, but he knew not to bother asking, since she'd be determined to put a brave face on and push through.

He didn't think she was going to make it through sit-ups and push-ups, or even just the warm up stretches for that matter, but she seemed particularly determined to keep up the act of not being in pain. He should’ve remembered he was dealing with the same girl who had been masking abuse from her parents for years; this was, sadly, in her nature. He was genuinely worried she might hurt herself even more, but he couldn’t call her out in front of the rest of the team if she wasn’t giving him an actual reason to.

But once the team had started their warm up laps, it seemed she had finally reached her limit. It didn’t take long before she was noticeably struggling to keep up with her teammates, and soon she had stopped running, holding her side and practically doubling over as she attempted to catch her breath.

He watched her for a second, then took a deep breath and lightly jogged over to her on the track.

“Everything alright, Danvers?” he asked, approaching her, eyeing the rest of the team running at the other end of the track, making their way back around.

“I’m fine,” she answered, but almost immediately winced as she took in a breath, gripping at her ribs.

“What’s hurting you right now?” he asked.

“I said I’m fine,” she gritted her teeth as she spoke. “I just ran out of breath.”

“Carol,” he lowered his voice, leaned as close to her as he could without looking suspicious, “I know you want to keep going, but you’re hurt—your ribs are bruised. I let you push yourself as far as you could today, but I clearly can’t let you participate anymore. You have to sit out until you’re recovered. I’m sorry.”

She shot him a look that was somewhere between a glare and a silent plea. Then she clenched her jaw, focusing on the ground, hand still holding her side. The rest of the team was passing them as they finished their lap, a couple of them slowing down close to where they stood. Yon wished more than ever that they weren’t in public.

Angela was approaching them, catching her breath as she asked, “Are you okay, Carol?”

“Yeah,” Carol mumbled, not making eye contact with anyone as she turned, heading for the bleachers. Angela watched after her for a second, then gave Yon a confused look, as if she were asking him for an explanation. Minnerva was behind Angela now too, glancing from him to Carol.

“She’s not feeling well enough to keep going today,” Yon said, hoping the vague answer would be enough to stifle any further curiosity from them.

“Is she going home?” Minnerva asked, openly staring at him in a way that made him a little uncomfortable. Or maybe he just didn’t like that he was being put on the spot specifically about Carol.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I suppose that’s up to her and how she’s feeling.”

That explanation seemed good enough for Angela, who gave Carol’s direction one last glance before rejoining the rest of the team. Minnerva still stood before him, giving him what felt like a one over.

“Everything alright?” he asked.

“She might need someone to give her a ride home,” Minnerva said.

“What?” He glanced over at Carol, now sitting on the bleachers, then back at Minnerva.

“Carol. She might need someone to give her a ride home if she’s not feeling good.”

“I’m sure she’ll give someone a call if she needs to.” Yon didn’t know why Minnerva was suddenly talking to him about this; it wasn’t like her to be so concerned about Carol, of all people.

“Her parents might not come get her,” she said. “I don’t think she gets along with them.”

“Well… I’m sure they’ll still come get her if she calls them.” His heart was beating faster than he thought it should be.

“Or maybe she’ll get an Uber,” she said, looking him over almost analytically.

“Maybe.” Yon glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the team, relieved to have them as an excuse. “Let’s get back to practice, shall we?”

He didn’t give Minnerva time to say anything before he headed over to everyone else. She followed him, rejoining her peers.

The rest of track practice went as smoothly as any other day. He kept glancing over at Carol on the bleachers, hating that she had to sit out. But every time he looked at her, he felt like Minnerva was watching him—he swore he caught her quickly averting her stare from him more than once. It could’ve been in his head, though. Or it could’ve meant nothing. After all, he was the coach; everyone was looking at him.

 


 

Carol felt like such a loser during track. She had hoped that maybe her bruised ribs would shut up for a while, which, of course, was dumb—she had been in pain all day, why would it suddenly go away when she started to actively exercise? But still, it was disappointing and humiliating to have to sit out, especially since there weren’t that many track meets even left.

So she sat sulking on the bleachers, watching her teammates, wishing she was outrunning Minnerva. Eventually, she decided to go get changed and grab her things from the locker room before everyone else did, just to avoid having to answer too many questions about why she was sitting out. She had also successfully avoided anyone seeing her bruises by being the last one to change before track—she was getting pretty good at this whole avoiding people thing.

By the time she had changed and was leaving the locker room, track was finishing up. She went back to the bleachers, figuring she’d just wait for Yon over there. The girls slowly started coming back out, some lingering on the track to chat or wait for rides. A couple of the girls were talking with Yon, one of them looked a little flirty with the way she was touching her hair and giggling, probably over nothing—Yon wasn’t that funny. Carol just rolled her eyes and looked away; she wished she could be that naive again.

As Carol tried not to care that someone else was being flirty with her secret teacher boyfriend, she noticed Minnerva standing at the other end of the bleachers. Her backpack and gym bag were at her feet and she was looking at her phone. Minnerva had her own car, so it didn’t make sense for her to just be standing around. Unless she was waiting for someone else or didn’t have her car today.

Whatever.

Carol didn’t actually give a fuck what Minnerva was or wasn’t doing. Just as long as everyone left soon so it would be safe for her to get into Yon’s car and go home. And soon pretty much everyone was gone. Except Minnerva. She was still on the bleachers.

Yon was coming over to Carol, his work bag slung over his shoulder. He was giving her the same apologetic look he had been giving her all weekend, like he was some kind of puppy who had got caught doing something wrong. It would have been more endearing if she hadn’t had to sit out of track.

“Ready?” he asked, as if they were in the clear.

She widened her eyes at him, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head in Minnerva’s direction. Yon wrinkled his forehead as he looked over there, then sighed. He hadn’t noticed her, clearly. With another sigh, he walked towards Minnerva.

“Everything alright?” he called out as he approached her. He was always so considerate of students who didn’t have rides, he wouldn’t leave until he knew everyone was safely on their way back home. Which was obviously how Carol had ended up in her whole situation with him in the first place. Her stomach knotted at the thought of him possibly giving Minnerva a ride first, while she was stuck here waiting.

Carol watched them having some conversation that she wasn’t close enough to hear. Minnerva made some gestures to her phone, Yon was nodding his head, they smiled at each other, Minnerva laughed. Carol squinted her eyes at them and groaned, annoyed that they were being so friendly. Then Minnerva was picking up her bags, saying something, and Yon waved and she walked away.

When Yon came back over to Carol, she was still eyeing the empty spot on the bleachers where Minnerva had been.

“What was that about?” Carol asked.

“Nothing, she got distracted on her phone,” he stated simply. “Meet me at the car in a minute?”

He was picking up her gym bag for her, which seemed dumb, however chivalrous his intentions may have been. What was the point of going separately if he carried her bag for her? She wasn’t going to argue about it, though, so she let him walk away with her bag. A minute or so later, she was heading for his car, too.

“Was your day alright?” he asked as she got in and buckled up.

“Yep, it was fantastic,” she answered, trying not to sound too snarky, but failing. What else did he really expect from her, though? Was she supposed to smile and say something like: Oh, I was in too much pain to participate during track because of that silly little argument we got in over the weekend, remember? The one where you pulled me down the stairs? My day was just perfect, though, sweetie, don’t you worry!

She definitely came off as way too snarky, though, because he kinda just cleared his throat and put the radio on. It did make her feel bad that she was still being bratty—she knew how sorry he was. Holding in a sigh, she stared out the window.

As they drove past the student parking lot, Carol noticed Minnerva leaning against her car. There were still more students’ cars in the parking lot, so it wasn’t technically weird that anyone was still at school for clubs or whatever. She rolled her eyes and brushed it off.

Senior year was almost over, and now that she wasn’t dating Attlass, Minnerva wasn’t going to bother Carol ever again. Their dumb, petty feud was practically a thing of the past. A lot of things seemed to be going to shit, but at least she had that going for her.

Chapter Text

“Have you given any more thought to a summer job?” Yon asked one rainy morning on the way to school.

The windshield wipers filled the silence with steady squeaks.

“I thought I’d start applying soon,” Carol said.

“Well, before you do that…” Yon took in a deep breath, and continued, almost cautiously, “I had an idea.”

She turned to stare at him now, trying to fight off her gut feeling that this wasn’t going to be good. After a moment, she asked, “What’s the idea?”

“I was thinking that instead of you getting a job—”

“What?”

“Let me finish.”

“Sorry.”

He waited a second, as if he were making sure that she really wasn’t going to keep reacting, then went on, “Instead of you getting a job somewhere else, you could be an assistant during the summer track program.”

“But isn’t that a volunteer position?” She squinted her eyes at him, feeling like this was the dumbest idea she’d ever heard. “All the girls in the past have been volunteers and I need money for a car. I want to have a car when I go to school.”

“I know, and I’ve thought about this already. First of all, this is going to look very good on a college resume.”

“I already got into college.”

“Yes, but for internships or anything else you might want to do, this is good experience.”

“Okay, but all this good experience isn’t getting me a car.”

“Yes, well, as far as you getting a car… I’m going to help you with that.”

“What? How?”

“I’m going to buy you a car.”

“What? But…” She couldn’t actually be hearing this right. “But that’s so expensive.”

“That’s why you’re going to help me with the summer program,” he said. “We’re both getting something out of it.”

She knew she should be feeling a lot happier than she was right now, but she found herself wondering what else Yon was going to be getting out of this. If he got her a car, then that was just one more thing that she felt she owed him. How was she supposed to say no to anything he wanted from her if he was going to keep giving her all these things? She didn’t want to be ungrateful about this, though.

Backsplash from a puddle hit the windows as Yon pulled into the parking lot.

“I… I can’t let you just buy me a car,” was all she could say.

“Like I said, that’s why you’re going to be helping me this summer,” he said, parking in his usual spot and turning off the ignition. “And I want to do this for you, because I love you.”

“But you wouldn’t rather just have me get a job and pay for the car myself? I don’t want you to spend so much on me…”

“The thing is, I’m not sure you’ll be able to find a job that will pay you enough to get a car by the end of summer. It’s better to just let me help you with this. And it’ll be nice to spend more time with you before you leave for college.”

The idea of continuously spending time with him over the summer, the same way she had to over the school year, wasn’t really making her feel okay about this. But maybe it would be different if he wasn’t her coach… although he’d be her boss now. It could still be totally different, though, right? And maybe he was right that she wouldn’t be able to afford a car by getting some other job. At any rate, she’d probably hurt him if she declined this.

“I… I don’t know what to say…” She really didn’t.

He reached over and took her hand, gently squeezing it. “I’m more than happy to do this—it’s time for you to have your own car.”

She gave his hand a squeeze back, gave him a smile, trying to look grateful and happy. She didn’t want to think about when they argued and he took her phone away, insisting it was his phone. But that had only happened once, so it probably wasn’t fair to think about that right now. He still loved her—he was doing this for her because he loved her.

 


 

Yon really hoped this decision was going to make things better with Carol. It was no small thing to get her a car, but the pain he had caused her hadn’t been small, either. Telling her how sorry he was or how much he loved her wasn’t enough; even all the things he had done for her and given her before weren’t enough. He had to make some grand gesture like this.

And saying that the car would be payment for her helping during summer track just seemed like the best way to placate her pride. That, and he still didn’t like the idea of her getting a job somewhere else. He only had so much time left with her before college, and he didn’t want it to be wasted on some job he had no control over. He also knew how much time and energy they would both be putting into the summer camp, which added the silver lining that she wouldn’t have too much free time to potentially spend with Attlass, or anyone else.

He also knew that, by being the one responsible for getting her a car, he could control when she got the car. So she would still be dependent on him for transportation until the end of the summer, when he would finally make good on his promise.

But, when all was said and done, he was still going to get her a car, so using it as a means to keep her closer to him, at least a little while longer, didn’t feel like a terrible thing to do. He knew he had hurt her, that he had crossed a line with her—he had crossed more lines than he had ever thought himself capable of crossing—but he wanted things to get better with her. He hadn’t done everything perfectly, but he did love her.

That was the simple truth. He had never let himself go with anyone the way he had with her. He hated how badly he wanted her to stay, and part of him wished he had never gotten in this deep with her. Part of him wanted his life before her back. His life would be so much simpler if none of this had ever happened.

But it had happened, and now he didn’t want to let her go. He couldn’t stand the thought that he had actually let himself fall in love with her and now she might not want to stay with him anymore.

There must still be a part of her that wanted to stay with him, he was certain. If he could just appease that part of her, keep giving her reasons to stay with him, then maybe he could still have some kind of decent future with her in it.

In the meantime, while he waited for her to warm back up to him, he could take things slower, the way he should have to begin with. He would let her keep sleeping alone in her bedroom until she was ready to come back to him.

He didn’t have another option. He couldn’t risk pushing her any further away from him. He had to give her space, as much space as he could, and time. It had to work—the same Carol that had fallen for him was still in her. And then she would come back to him. She had to.

 


 

Just as she had expected, Carol’s bruised ribs were taking forever to heal, so she had to keep sitting out of track. There were only a few meets left, so she felt pretty bummed watching her teammates from the sidelines, knowing she wasn’t going to get to finish her senior year the way she wanted to.

As she watched them one day, she felt a little too jealous of all their seemingly normal lives. She had told them all a partial truth, that she fell at home and hurt herself, and now they had all been saying things to her like “hope you feel better” or “sorry you can’t finish the season with us” and then they got to go run off and be teenagers. And no one had a fucking clue that the coach they were all listening to was the reason why she was sitting out. Yon still got to have his normal life at school, too; he didn’t have to sit and watch clueless people flirt with her.

She couldn’t bear to keep sitting around watching everyone be happy in front of her, so she got up, heading to the locker room to just be alone for a minute.

After making sure the locker room was actually empty, she sat down on one of the benches, resting her elbows on her knees and planting her face in the palms of her hands. She counted to ten in her head and took a deep breath, slightly hurting her ribs, which just annoyed her—she couldn’t even try to calm down the way Yon taught her without being reminded that he hurt her. But how was she supposed to be upset about that when he was going to buy her a fucking car?

She groaned loudly into her hands, stomping her feet in a way that made her feel like a toddler throwing a tantrum, but she was so frustrated. She looked up, inhaling deeply, hurting herself. With another groan, she stood and kicked the locker in front of her.

“Am I interrupting something?” came a voice behind her. Carol spun around, eyes widening and stomach dropping as she saw Minnerva.

“What the hell do you want?” Carol snapped.

“Maybe I came in here to use the bathroom,” Minnerva said, shrugging, but just standing there.

“Okay, then use it and leave me alone.”

Minnerva just kept standing there, staring at her, like she was sizing her up.

“What do you want?” Carol practically shouted, her body tensing.

Minnerva seemed so calm as she said, “I want you to tell me the truth.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

Minnerva let out a breath that sounded like an unimpressed laugh, then rolled her eyes and walked towards a locker, opening it, pulling out her backpack. She started digging through it.

“Are you seriously just not going to say anything right now?” Carol felt her hands curling in and out of fists. “You know, I could just walk away right now, right? I don’t really care about what you have to say.”

“Oh, I think you might,” Minnerva said, pulling a small, crumpled piece of paper out of a folder, then setting her backpack down. She held up the piece of paper—it looked like a sticky note—but Carol was too angry to focus on it.

“What, did you finally learn how to write or something?” Carol glared at her. “Congratulations.”

“Well, you clearly haven’t learned how to read yet.” Minnerva continued to hold the sticky note up, triumphant, and then another glance at it made Carol’s heart stop, then start again at twice the speed. That wasn’t just a crumpled, random sticky note in Minnerva’s hand. It was a hand-written note. A note written to Vers—the fucking note Yon had stuck on her sandwich weeks ago, telling her how much he loved her. She had thought it had been lost in the laundry, but here it fucking was in Minnerva’s fucking hands.

Her face was suddenly so hot, it had to be bright red. “How did you—what is—What the fuck is that supposed to be?”

“You can’t play dumb. This fell out of your pocket the day you were lying about your birthday, and I’ve known ever since that Mr. Rogg wrote it to you.”

“What are you talking about?” Carol pretended like she was looking suspiciously at the note, as if she didn’t know what it said. “Why do you think it’s from Mr. Rogg? It could be from anyone—it’s not even signed!”

Another unimpressed laugh as Minnerva reached into her backpack again, pulling out a folder that had “French” written on it in permanent marker. Carol’s heart was going insane right now, practically thumping out of her chest.

“It’s clearly his hand writing,” Minnerva said, pulling out several homework assignments with writing in red ink in various spots—Yon’s comments. “And who else is going to call you Vers? It’s a dumb name.”

“I do have a boyfriend, remember?” Carol’s hands were shaking.

“Oh, you mean the non-existent college boyfriend? The one who doesn’t have any social media profiles?”

“It’s not weird that he doesn’t have any social media—he doesn’t like it—a lot of people don’t.”

“Okay, then do you have a picture of him you can show me right now? Maybe some text messages from him?”

“I don’t have to show you anything.” Fuck, Carol felt like she was losing her grip on anything that was happening right now.

“And I don’t have to keep your relationship with Mr. Rogg a secret.”

“What relationship?” Carol felt like she was burning up to the tips of her ears. “You’re just a fucking bitch.”

“And you’re a dumb slut.” Minnerva almost smiled, like she had been waiting so long to say that. “Who has an affair with a teacher? Were you really doing that bad in French?”

“I’m not having an affair with a teacher.”

“Okay, then why are you always the last one at track? Why is he carrying your gym bag and giving you rides?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” At this point, Carol didn’t know what she should be doing other than just deny, deny, deny, however useless that was beginning to feel.

Minnerva pulled her phone from her backpack, scrolled through it, then held it up, showing a grainy picture of Yon in the parking lot from a distance, holding her gym bag. It must’ve been from the other day—she knew it was a dumb idea for him to take her bag.

Carol made herself think fast and said, “Okay, so I forgot my bag and he grabbed it. Big deal. Looks like you’re stalking him, though. You sure you’re not having an affair with him?”

“I know this is going to be hard for you, but stop playing dumb. You were gone as soon as Mr. Rogg left the other day, I checked. And you two also randomly showed up at the park together over the weekend? Not very discreet.”

“I already told you—”

“Yeah, you were finding a rock for your fake boyfriend. No one believes you. Besides, I already have the note he wrote you, so I don’t know why you keep denying this.”

“Because it’s not true.”

“Okay, then can you also explain why he randomly cancelled track when you also randomly didn’t show up? And why is he always looking at you during track and French? How come when he puts on a video in class and then looks at his phone, your phone suddenly lights up?”

“Wow, you sound really obsessed with Mr. Rogg. And also with me. Maybe you need a hobby.” Carol sounded dumb even to herself, but it did make Minnerva flinch a little.

“Maybe you need to stop lying all the time,” Minnerva said.

“I’m not.”

“Look, I have way too much against you. It’s honestly pathetic that you just don’t admit that you’ve been a slut this whole time.”

Carol started feeling dizzy and felt like she was seeing red. “Stop calling me that.”

“Why? It’s true.”

“Why do you even care?” Carol couldn’t tell if she was yelling or not but she couldn’t stop herself. “Why does it matter so much to you whether or not I’m having some crazy affair with Mr. Rogg? I’m not! Why do you care so fucking much?”

“Because you ruined my relationship with Attlass.” Minnerva sounded the angriest she had been this whole fucking conversation, but the accusation made Carol’s head spin from how stupid it was.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Carol threw her arms up. “How did I ruin anything between you guys? You’re insane!”

“I told Attlass everything that I figured out, and he didn’t believe me.” Minnerva stepped closer to Carol, practically hissing the words in her face. “He sided with you, because he believes you and all the lies you’ve been making up. He doesn’t think you’d ever lie to him about something like this, even though it’s been pretty obvious since your birthday.”

“It’s literally not my fault if he didn’t believe your dumb made-up story about me. That’s on you.”

“No, actually, it’s on you.” Minnerva backed up, staring at Carol, regaining some of her calm. “You’re going to tell him the truth.”

Carol laughed. “I’m not telling him shit.”

“Either you tell him the truth, or I tell everyone about you and Mr. Rogg.”

“What?”

“Oh, you need me to clarify that for you? I’ll post all of this online—the note, the picture of him with your bag, everything. Your secret will be visible to everyone, and they’re all going to see you for what you are, which is a stupid, lying little slut who has too many daddy issues to keep it in her pants. And when the school asks me about the post, because they will, I’ll be honest with them. And it’s going to suck that Mr. Rogg has to get fired over this, and probably go to jail, but that will be all on you.”

Carol couldn’t speak. For a split second she thought about just decking Minnerva in the face right then and there, but she couldn’t seem to get herself to move. Minnerva had the smuggest look on her face as she replaced all her stupid things in her backpack.

“So today is Wednesday,” Minnerva said as she put her backpack in her locker, closing the door and securing the lock. “I’ll give you until Friday to tell Attlass, because I’m generous. If he doesn’t know by then, I’ll be making my post on Saturday morning, and I’m sure I’ll be called to the principal’s office early next week. Could be a really fun way to end senior year.”

Carol didn’t know what to do. It almost felt like she was blacking out, and the next thing she knew, Minnerva was walking out of the locker room, leaving her alone again. Did that really just happen?

She took a step forward, as if she were going to run after Minnerva and tell her… tell her what? There wasn’t jack shit Carol could tell her to make her change her mind, and going after her now would just cause a scene—a scene that Minnerva would probably be all too happy to be part of. And Carol didn’t want that to happen, not here, not in front of Yon.

Fuck. There was no way she could tell Yon about this—he would lose his fucking mind if he knew. No, she had to handle this herself, before he found out, before Minnerva made good on her threat and told everyone about everything.

She hated that she had been backed into this corner. But if she didn’t want Yon to go to fucking jail, she had no choice. She had to tell Attlass.

More than ever, Carol felt completely fucked.

Chapter Text

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuuuuuck!

Carol’s brain just seemed to be an endless string of curse words and profanities, which wasn’t helping her at all, because she needed to focus on how she was going to tell Attlass about her and Yon. How the fuck was she supposed to tell him she had been lying to him basically all fucking year? And why did Minnerva have to stick her stupid, bitchy nose into this? Why did Minnerva get to have everyone’s fate in her fucking bitch hands?

Fuck!

She just wanted to calm down and plan out what she had to say to Attlass. She literally had to. The thought of Yon going to jail was knotting her stomach and burning up her brain. After everything, she couldn’t stand the idea that Yon’s life was going to get ruined because she just had to keep the note he wrote her—the note he had thrown in the trash. If she hadn’t taken that note and shoved it in her pocket, then she wouldn’t have lost it at school and Minnerva wouldn’t have found it.

But it was too late, obviously. Now Carol just had to make sure that Yon never found out and didn’t lose his job because of her. This was exactly what he had been so scared of—that she would somehow slip up and get him in trouble.

As Carol imagined different scenarios of the inevitable conversation with Attlass, she couldn’t picture an instance where he’d hear the truth and not tell an adult about it. How could she sit there and expect him not to be concerned after telling him that their French teacher had let her secretly move in with him and then started fucking her? The more she played out all these potential conversations in her head, the more she realized that the truth about her relationship with Yon didn’t sound good.

Even if she tried to make Attlass promise not to tell anyone, she knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t keep that promise. And, honestly, she’d probably do the same thing if she were in his shoes. Which made the idea of telling him the truth seem just as bad as letting Minnerva spill the beans to everyone herself.

And, of course, it wasn’t like she had any space to herself to tackle this dilemma in. The car ride back home after track was so fucking awkward—she could barely even look at Yon as he tried to ask her about her day. She honestly felt nauseous. Yon asked a couple times if she was okay, and she just kept trying to shrug it off, saying she was fine. She didn’t think he believed her, he kept giving her odd looks, but he didn’t ask too many questions, maybe scared of starting another argument with her.

She couldn’t think about anything except how guilty she felt when she was around him, so she excused herself to her room before dinner, mumbling something about her period and a headache.

That night, lying wide awake in bed with her heart pounding, it dawned on Carol: Minnerva didn’t actually know the full truth. All Minnerva really had was the story of running into them at the park, a grainy picture of Yon carrying her gym bag, various suspicions, and the sticky note, which was the most incriminating piece of evidence. But it wasn’t like Minnerva had found some non-existant sex tape that Carol had to explain to Attlass. Minnerva suspected that Carol was sleeping with Yon, but she didn’t actually know.

So that meant that Carol didn’t have to tell the full truth to Attlass, either. She could tell him a version of the truth that wouldn’t concern him to the point where he’d feel obligated to tell an adult and get Yon in trouble. Maybe she could sugar coat things for him, just enough to keep anyone from getting hurt.

 


 

Carol decided that she had to have this conversation with Attlass in person. If she sent any of this to him in a text or a chat, that would leave a record of everything she said, and she didn’t want this to be able to get out to anyone else. She hoped this conversation would go well, but just in case it didn’t, she wasn’t going to give anyone else any kind of proof about anything.

But since she wanted to talk to him in person, that meant she couldn’t do it until Friday. There was no track on Thursdays in the spring, so she couldn’t talk to him after school without Yon wondering where she was and freaking out. And she obviously couldn’t talk to him about this during the school day. So, since it wasn’t like she had to be on time for track while she was sitting out, she would have to wait to talk to him until after school on Friday.

Waiting practically two days to talk to Attlass frazzled all her nerves, she was finding it hard to eat or sleep with everything rampaging around in her head. But she was finally half way through Friday, having lunch outside with Attlass, and soon the bell would ring and they’d be off to French class. Attlass was looking at something on his phone and she couldn’t stop bouncing her leg underneath the table.

“Hey, uh…” She pushed her heels into the ground, trying to calm herself down. “Do you think I could meet you at your car after school?”

“Yeah, you need a ride or something?” he asked, briefly glancing up from his phone.

“No… I need to talk to you about something,” she said. “It’s important.”

He looked completely up from his phone now, wrinkling his forehead. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine. I just need to talk to you.”

“Okay…” He kept giving her a funny look. “You can’t just tell me now?”

“No, it’s…” She glanced around at the surrounding tables and lowered her voice, “I think it’s better if we talk in your car.”

“You’re worrying me, Danvers.” Attlass came off as if he were joking, but they both knew she was being weird. Then the bell rang, cutting the conversation off until later.

The second half of the day wasn’t any easier on her nerves, and she booked it out of her last class when the final bell rang, rushing to get all her things together at her locker, and then made her way outside. She found Attlass standing by his car at the edge of the student parking lot underneath the shade of a tree. He smiled at her when he saw her, giving her a little wave.

“Hey,” he said. “Time for this mysterious conversation?”

She forced a laugh into her throat, offering a close mouthed smile. He looked a little worried as he opened the driver’s side door. As she climbed into the passenger seat, her stomach full of hornets, she was momentarily rushed by a comforting familiarity—she used to drive around with Attlass all the time, sitting in this seat and feeling happy. But she wasn’t here today to go on a joy ride.

“Okay, so what’s up?” Attlass asked as he shut his door, turning on the car to let the air conditioning run. “Is everything okay?”

“Mmhmm, yeah, everything’s okay. How—how are you?” God, she didn’t know how she was going to fucking do this.

“I’m… fine?” Attlass laughed, awkwardly.

A silent moment passed, and he raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to get to the point. She made her hands into fists to stop them from trembling. She really didn’t want to do this.

“Okay, but you are actually kinda worrying me. For real.” Attlass was quiet for a second, maybe waiting for her to talk, but all her words were stuck in her throat. Then he said, “Wait, aren’t you supposed to be at track right now?”

“Oh…” She forgot that she hadn’t had to make an excuse about her bruises for him yet. “I have to sit out for a while.”

“What? Why?”

“An… injury.”

“You’re injured? Where?”

“My ribs. They’re bruised.”

“Oh shit, that sucks. How’d you do that?”

“I fell on the stairs at home, but it’s fine.”

“Wait,” Attlass wrinkled his forehead as he looked at her, as if this information about her bruised ribs was making him see her differently. “Are you actually okay? Is something going on at home?”

“No, no, that’s not—my ribs were honestly an accident, and my fault. That’s not what’s happening.” She sighed, trying to will away how all her nerves seemed to be vibrating right now. “I need to talk to you about something else.”

“Okay, what is it?”

“I… Well, I kinda…” Fuck, she didn’t want to say this to him! But if she waited any longer then Yon was going to go to jail, so she had to just say it. “I know why you and Minnerva broke up. I mean, I know what you argued about.”

“What?” Attlass let out a sigh. “How did you find out?”

“Minnerva told me.”

“Oh… I’m sorry, Carol, she shouldn’t have dragged you into this. I don’t think she was right about anything, obviously, and—and…” Attlass took a second to think, wrinkling his forehead. “What all did she actually tell you?”

“She said that she thinks that me and… that me and…” It felt like she physically couldn’t say it.

But he said it for her, “Yeah, I know, it’s stupid, she thinks you and Mr. Rogg have a thing. But all of her evidence is just coincidences or, like… not actual proof of anything, right?”

She hesitated. “Well…”

The silence was weighted. Attlass laughed. “Well, what?”

“She… she wasn’t exactly wrong.”

“What?” He laughed again, out of disbelief, or maybe discomfort. “What do you mean?”

She squeezed her fists tighter, telling herself to breathe. She knew what she had to say.

“I… I do have a thing with him kinda, but it’s not… it’s not what you maybe think it is.” She took the deepest breath she could without agitating her ribs. “He’s been helping me this year.”

“What does that mean?” Attlass was scrutinizing her, skeptical. “What is he helping you with?”

“Well… see, he started giving me rides at the beginning of the school year, and he found out about how my parents are, so he let me stay with him when I needed to?” She made herself take a breath, trying to get herself to not talk so fast. “And then my parents actually kicked me out for good—”

“Carol, what?” Attlass’s eyes widened and he turned his body more towards her, as much as the driver’s side seat would allow, one of his knees hitting the steering wheel. “How long have you been kicked out?”

“Since, like, the beginning of the school year, basically, but it’s fine,” she said the words too fast, despite wanting to be speaking calmly and slowly, but she didn’t want to get too into the whole getting kicked out thing. “Mr. Rogg let me stay with him, though, and it’s honestly been really great.”

“But wha—why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because we weren’t really talking when it happened. But it’s fine now.”

He rubbed his hands over his face. “If I had known that you weren’t living at home, I could’ve tried to help? I don’t know, maybe I could’ve talked to my parents again or something.”

“Like I said, it’s fine. Living with Mr. Rogg has been a million times better than living with my parents.”

“So you live with Mr. Rogg?”

“Yeah.”

“But… but you said that you have a thing with him? What does that mean? Is he… are you…” Attlass groaned, leaning back into his seat. “Has he made you do anything with him?”

“No, nothing bad has happened! He’s never made me uncomfortable, he’s been super great.”

“But what about the note Minnerva found? Why is he saying that he loves you?”

“Okay, so… he has told me that, but it wasn’t until I turned eighteen that he even suggested anything like that. For my birthday we went on a nice trip to the city to go to some museums and have a fancy dinner—which is when I saw your parents—and then he told me that he has feelings for me, but he didn’t want to risk telling me until I was eighteen. And I told him I had feelings too, and… yeah, so that’s why he wrote the note. But he’s honestly been super awesome about the whole thing. I’ve never felt like he was being weird or inappropriate.”

Attlass was silent for a moment, taking it all in. “But has he… he really hasn’t made you do anything?”

“No, never!” After a moment of hesitation, she added, “I mean, he has kissed me, but that’s all. And that wasn’t even until I was eighteen. He’s not pressuring me to do anything. I don’t even go into his bedroom, like, ever. We’re taking things so slow, it’s honestly kinda boring.”

“But he’s our teacher…” Attlass just sat there shaking his head, staring forward. Then he turned to her, “Carol, what the fuck… You can’t date a teacher.”

Fuck. Her entire body was heating up and her hands curling into fists over her knees as he gave her a disbelieving look, making her feel even more on the spot than she was. She couldn’t let this choke her up, though, and she couldn’t let him be upset about this.

She made herself relax her hands, resting her palms on her knees, and, sounding surprisingly calm, said, “But he’s not going to be my teacher in a couple weeks, and we didn’t do anything wrong. He basically saved my life by taking me in this year.”

Attlass put his hands on the steering wheel, absentmindedly gripping it and wringing it in his fists. Voice soft, he said, “But he kissed you? He’s our teacher, Carol.”

“But it was only after I turned eighteen. And I swear that’s all that’s happened between us.”

“I don’t know, I just can’t believe this is happening with you and I didn’t know.” He kept wringing the steering wheel, not looking at her. “I never thought Mr. Rogg would be this type of person. I kinda already knew you had a crush on him, but I never thought anything like this would be happening.”

“It only happened because he was helping me. He wouldn’t have ever thought about me as anything but a student if we didn’t spend so much time together outside of school. He waited for me to be an adult to even say anything. He’s really not that type of person.”

“I never thought of him as a creeper…”

“Yeah, and he’s not, that’s what I’m saying. You see how cool he is with everyone all the time, and that’s still how he is with me. He’s one of the nicest teachers at our school. You know he’s a good person.”

“Yeah…” Attlass sighed, loosening his grip on the steering wheel, letting his hands fall back to his lap. “I can’t believe this is what was happening with you all year, though.”

“But you get why I couldn’t tell you, right? If anyone found out, he could get in serious trouble. At best, he’d get fired.” Carol actually couldn’t believe how calm she sounded right now. “But he hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s been the only adult in my life I can trust—he really cares about me. I can’t let him get fired for helping me.”

“He really hasn’t made you do anything else?” He gave her a sympathetic look, like he really wanted to believe her. “I mean, I know he’s a good teacher and everything, but… you’ve really been safe with him?”

“Yes,” she sounded firm, certain. “I’m safe with him. He’d never do anything to hurt me. He loves me. More than anyone. And I… I love him.”

Attlass stared ahead again, looking like he was sad or concerned or full of pity or just confused. She found herself holding her breath, waiting for him to say something so she could determine if she had just fucked everything up or not.

“I’m…” He paused, staring down at the center console as he took a deep breath, then looked her in the eye. “I’m glad someone was there for you. I wish I had been there for you, too, but if he’s really been treating you alright, I’m glad you at least had Mr. Rogg this year.”

“Really?” Carol let out the biggest sigh of relief, then sucked in a huge breath, quickly wincing at the pain in her ribs and trying to ignore it. “I mean, I’m glad you understand. I wish I could’ve told you sooner, but… yeah.”

“But you know you can let me know if things end up not working out with him, right? Just forget about everything that happened with my parents, because I’d figure out a way to help you.”

“Thanks, but I’m… I’m pretty sure everything will be fine. Everything will be better after graduation.”

“Are you gonna tell everyone once you graduate, or…?”

“No, no we want to wait until I’m at college, just to be safe. I’m going to be helping with the summer track program, so it’s better to just keep it a secret.”

“Oh, that makes sense, I guess.”

“And he’s gonna buy me a car this summer, too, which is amazing.”

“Really? He’s buying you a car?”

“Yeah, as, like, a graduation present.”

“Whoa… so he’s actually pretty serious about this?”

“Yeah, he is.” Carol smiled, momentarily buying into this perfect version of her life. “You just have to promise you won’t say anything to anyone, okay? If anyone found out right now, he could get fired, and we’re so close to being in the clear.”

“Yeah… yeah, I understand. I won’t say anything.”

“Thanks, Attlass.” Carol glanced at the car’s clock, realizing she shouldn’t stay away from track much longer in case Yon got worried and started a search party. “I should probably get going.”

She stepped out of the car, and Attlass stepped out with her. She walked around to his side of the car, and another thought struck her.

“So I know this is maybe kinda awkward, but…” She took a deep breath. “Could you maybe talk to Minnerva? Like, just to tell her that I told you?”

Attlass wrinkled his forehead. “Why does she need to know?”

“Well, she told me what she found out because she…” Carol quickly glanced around, and no one was nearby but she still lowered her voice as she continued, “She said that if I didn’t tell you about this, then she was going to tell everyone.”

What? She threatened you?”

“Yeah…” Carol held herself back from spewing some choice words about Minnerva. “She said she’s going to post about it tomorrow morning if you didn’t know by then.”

“Jesus Christ, I can’t believe her.” Attlass groaned, looking up at the sky and running his hands over his face. “I’ll talk to her. She had no right to threaten you.”

“Yeah, I agree, but maybe don’t say that to her? I’m worried that she might post it anyway if she thinks I somehow made you mad at her.”

“I was already kinda mad at her, so it wouldn’t really be your fault.”

“But she blames me for you guys breaking up. I can’t risk her having another reason to be pissed at me if it’ll make her get Yon—uh, Mr. Rogg fired.”

Attlass gave her a funny look when she said Yon’s name, which made her heart jump as if she hadn’t just “confessed” everything to him. Then he huffed at the ground, kicking some loose pebbles across the parking lot.

“I won’t say anything to make her upset,” he said. “I’ll talk her down. She’s not gonna make a post about anything.”

“Thanks, Attlass. I can’t tell you how much it means.”

He nodded towards the ground, kicked another pebble. Then he looked at her with a sheepish smile, stepped closer, opening his arms up, and she let him hug her.

“I’m glad we talked,” he said, gently squeezing her, keeping his arms around her. In that moment, Carol really did feel like he had genuinely missed her this past year, and it made her heart ache a little.

“Me too,” she said, hugging him back. Attlass didn’t love her the same way that Yon did, but it was so nice to feel like her friend really still cared about her, even just for now.

 


 

Carol couldn’t believe she had done it—she had told Attlass a version of the truth, which he believed, and Yon was safe for now. Minnerva could go suck a huge dick for all she cared.

It was good knowing that she had been able to basically save the day for once, but she didn’t actually feel that great that she was kinda still lying to Attlass. It was better than having Yon get in serious trouble, though. Even so, as she made her way to the bleachers for another round of sitting on the sidelines, her hands wouldn’t stop shaking. She was glad to have this time to herself before interacting with Yon.

Carol watched from afar as Yon called the girls into a huddle out on the track, saying who-knew-what to all of them. Whatever he said made the whole team start laughing. Watching him with the team like that, she supposed it must have been pretty easy for Attlass to believe that Yon was as good as she said he was.

After selling Attlass on her rosy relationship, though, part of her couldn’t stop imagining how perfect everything would be if that version of events were real. She kept thinking about how great her birthday would’ve been, how she’d still feel all tingly at the thought of Yon being in love with her. She’d be so much happier right now.

And now, whenever she was around Attlass, she’d have to pretend to be that happy about everything. Yes, she was relieved that the truth about her and Yon was still a secret, but that didn’t suddenly make things all perfect out of nowhere.

 


 

Carol had managed to get her nerves mostly under control by the time they got home that evening. Even so, she went pretty much straight to her room to change, and then sat on the edge of her bed. She could hear Yon downstairs in the kitchen, opening cabinets, taking out dishes.

She was fairly confident that Attlass would make good on talking Minnerva down, but even so, she knew there was a chance that things would go wrong and this could be her last weekend with Yon. After everything, after how careful she had been about everything, after how worried he had been that she would screw up, she had finally done it.

So things had been pretty fucked up between them lately… well, for a while. And she was angry and hurt and confused about so many things, but was it really worse than life back at her parents’ house? Aside from the obvious things that were very, very different, like that she was having sex with Yon, and that sometimes she didn’t like having sex with him anymore. That never happened at her parents’ house. But maybe that was just a thing that all adult couples went through? Maybe they just didn’t talk about it?

Whatever the reason for that, it didn’t change the fact that Yon really had done a shit ton of good things for her this year, and now he wanted to buy her a car. He still was technically treating her better than her parents, right? At least he still wanted her with him.

It felt like all of her insides constricted at the idea of ruining his life and losing him. She wished things were as perfect as she told Attlass they were, but she hadn’t been lying when she said that Yon cared about her more than any other adult in her life ever had.

Her leg was bouncing as she zoned out sitting on her bed, her stomach twisting and churning, her nerves electric. She felt so guilty. Even though she had done everything she could, things might still be going to shit and Yon had no fucking idea this could be his last normal weekend. He probably thought she was just up here being as ungrateful as ever and that she didn’t love him.

But she believed that she did still love him. If she didn’t love him, then would she really be this tormented over potentially destroying his life and losing him? That had to be what this all meant, right? Maybe she just had to keep trying. At the very least, she felt like she should spend time with him now, while she knew she could.

She forced herself to stand up, taking some steadying breaths as she counted to ten. Stepping to her door, she hesitated with her hand on the knob, took another deep breath—she was starting to get used to the way her ribs hurt now, as if this was just another fact of life she had to learn to live with. Then she opened the door and went downstairs.

Yon was in the kitchen, chopping some vegetables at the counter, and he paused—knife mid cut over some lettuce—when he saw her, surprised.

“I thought you were lying down,” he said.

“No, just changing,” she said, starting to feel awkward as she stood there watching him.

“Well, I’m glad you’re feeling okay.” He gave her a little smile, and resumed chopping.

She stepped forward. “Do you need help?”

He furrowed his brow. “I think I’m okay right now. I’m almost done.”

“I could set the table?” she offered, already moving to get the plates.

“Alright, if you’d like…”

She set the table and he finished putting together a salad with some leftover grilled chicken—another day she might’ve remarked that she was tired of eating salads so often, but right now she was trying to appreciate it. They sat down together, her leg starting to bounce almost as soon as she sat, but she forced herself to stop. She just needed to act fucking normal, like everything was perfect.

She watched Yon take a bite of his food and looked down at her own plate, pushing the lettuce and veggies around with her fork.

“Everything alright?” Yon asked.

She looked up at him, nodding, trying to smile. She made herself take a bite, chewing it slowly, forcing it down into her unsettled stomach.

“Yon,” she blurted, cringing at herself for how unsmooth she was.

He gave her a weird look. “Yes?”

“I… I just…” She huffed, fidgeting with the star pendant on her necklace. “I really appreciate how you’ve helped me so much this year—like, with all the things you got me and letting me live here and everything. Maybe I don’t say it enough? I know it wasn’t a small thing to do all that for me. You’re still the only adult—uh, the only person who’s ever cared about me this much. And I know I didn’t seem excited the other day when you told me about the car and the summer program, but I am actually really looking forward to that—to all of it, the car and the program. I’m excited for it. It’s a good idea and I, uh… I really appreciate everything.”

Yon was more or less a deer in headlights as she finished her rambling speech. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, continuously observing her like she was a puzzle or a stranger.

Then he smiled and said, “I’m… I’m very glad to hear that.”

She smiled too, then focused down at her plate, pushing around her food with her fork again. But then she quickly looked back up to say, “I love you.”

Another funny look from him, this time he chuckled. “I love you, too…?”

She felt really lame, not that she was trying to be cool for him, but she didn’t want to look anxious; he might start to think something actually was going on with her. But she felt so bad thinking about all the good things he had done for her, and how much everyone else liked him. Hesitantly, she reached over to touch his hand.

“I really do love you,” she said.

He looked from their hands to her face, still as if she were a stranger. But he held her hand back, squeezing it a little, and said, “I know you do.”

They were quiet for a moment, holding hands over the table. He was looking at her so softly now and he moved his thumb a bit, a gentle rubbing motion. It felt comfortable—like he was comfortable—like nothing bad had ever happened. She pulled her hand away and used it to pick up her glass and take a drink. She wasn’t ready to keep touching him any longer than that.

“Maybe we can watch something tonight?” She picked her fork back up, focusing on stabbing bits of lettuce on her plate.

“If that’s what you want to do.”

She nodded, took another bite, concentrated on chewing. She could still feel the ghost of his thumb’s heat on her hand. She tried to think about how that would’ve filled her with butterflies months ago, how the version of herself in the story she told Attlass would probably be just as thrilled. Maybe someday she could feel that way again, but she didn’t know how.

As much as she was able to, she had to keep pretending that everything was okay. She was just a normal person trying to spend time with her boyfriend. That’s all she needed to do. She just needed to make sure that, at least for now, Yon was happy.

Chapter Text

Carol spent a good portion of her weekend anxiously checking all of her social media apps, waiting for something terrible to come across her feed. But there wasn’t anything like that. Nothing crazy was happening on Minnerva’s accounts or anyone else’s. Still, all through Sunday night, she kept checking, just to make sure. She was dying to ask Attlass how the conversation went, but also didn’t want to mention it in a text.

At school on Monday morning, there was an assembly for seniors going over where to get caps and gowns, what to expect on the day of graduation, and all that exciting stuff. Carol kept her eyes open for Attlass as she made her way to the auditorium, anxious to talk to him. As soon as she spotted him sitting, she rushed over to the empty seat beside him.

“Hey,” she said, startling him as she sat down.

“Shit, I didn’t see you coming,” he said, laughing.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” she said. Her heart was beating so fast, and a quick glance around told her that the people in front of her were distracted watching a video on someone’s phone, and no one was behind them yet. Not wanting to waste any more time, speaking as quietly as she could in a bumbling crowd, she said, “How’d everything go with Minnerva? I didn’t see a post, so… everything’s good?”

“Yeah, that went fine,” he said, glancing over his shoulder. “You don’t have to worry. It’s all good.”

“Really? Oh my god, you’re the best.” She smiled, relieved that everything had somehow gone alright.

But Attlass gave her a funny look. “There is something you should know, though…”

“Okay…” That didn’t make her feel great. “Is it something you can tell me here or… ?”

“Yeah, here’s fine, but… well… the conversation actually went pretty good for us…”

Carol felt her stomach sinking. “What does that mean?”

“It means…” Attlass leaned forward a little, looking at something beyond Carol. He gave her an awkward smile and cleared his throat a little.

“Mind if I take that seat?” came an all-too-familiar voice. If there was any light in Carol’s eyes, she felt it leaving, and she turned to see Minnerva standing over her.

“I’m already sitting here,” Carol said, fearing that she understood what this all meant.

“Yeah, well, I want to sit next to my boyfriend,” Minnerva said, solidifying Carol’s fear.

Ignoring Minnerva, Carol turned to Attlass. “You’re back together?”

Attlass shrugged, glancing between the two girls. Carol clenched her jaw, turning away from him, standing up and shoving her way past Minnerva.

“Carol,” Attlass called after her, but she ignored him. She wasn’t about to sit here and start an argument with the two people who knew her secret, because that’s what she knew would happen if she stayed here a second longer.

She was so fucking glad that her fucking crisis had been able to reunite her best friend with her arch nemesis. What did Attlass even see in her? Was she manipulating him somehow? How could he see what Minnerva had threatened to do and still want to keep dating her? This was fucking ridiculous!

She took in a deep, angry breath as she sat in a new seat in the back of the room, agitating the pain in her ribs a little. Then her phone vibrated in her back pocket and she took it out to see a text from Attlass, reading: hey sorry I didn’t get the chance to tell you I was saving that seat! talk later?

She clenched her jaw and put her phone back in her pocket, too upset to even consider talking to him later. Fidgeting with the star pendant at her throat, she glared ahead as the assembly started.

 


 

Back at home later, Carol was still upset about Attlass and Minnerva. She hadn’t been able to think about much else all day. Just when she thought that maybe things with her and Attlass would be getting somewhat back to normal, this had to happen. Fucking figured.

If anything, if she had to find one sliver of something decent in everything, at least this meant that Minnerva probably wasn’t going to reveal what she knew to everyone. It’s not like she really had a reason to be mad at Carol anymore if Attlass was dating her again. So at least Yon was still probably safe.

Yon had, however, caught on to her stress again. She was trying to be on her best behavior still, acting like everything was perfect, but she was maybe having a hard time looking at him again as they ate dinner that night. She was staring at her plate, zoning out as she used her fork to push around her chicken and veggies, once again not feeling very hungry, just guilty.

“Is everything okay?” Yon asked, drawing her out of wherever her zoned-out mind had been.

She looked up at him. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“Okay, well… I asked you a question, and you were just staring at your food.”

“Oh…” Fuck. “What was the question, again?”

“I asked if there’s anything special you want to do on graduation night this Friday. We could cook something special or pick something up?”

“Oh, uh… I don’t know, I’ll think about it.” She smiled a little, looked back down at her food, pushed it around again. But then Yon’s hand was on top of hers—they had been holding hands again this weekend, and she didn’t know how to act like that wasn’t okay if she was supposed to be normal and happy. She looked at him, his expression concerned.

“Is something else going on?” he asked, brow furrowed, squeezing her hand a little. “Did something happen with your friends that you’re not telling me about?”

That question immediately made her feel flushed. “Why do you think that?”

“I noticed Attlass and Minnerva weren’t sitting together last week, but they’re back in their usual seats now. You haven’t mentioned anything about them in a while, so… I’m just wondering if everything’s okay with you.”

“Oh…” Okay, so he didn’t actually know anything about the actual issues going on, which was kinda reassuring, she guessed. “They broke up, but now they’re back together, and I think it’s dumb that he’s still with her… She’s a bitch.”

“Ah, well, teenage boys don’t really think with their heads,” he said. “I don’t think you should take it personally.”

Carol wrinkled her nose at the mental image of Attlass doing anything physical with Minnerva, and at the possibility that that was what had swayed him to go back to her.

“But you’re sure that’s all?” Yon pressed, hand still over hers.

“Mmhmm, yeah.”

“Alright.” He was moving his thumb, gently rubbing, not moving his hand away. “You’re almost graduated. You won’t have to worry about them soon.”

“I know,” she said, giving him a smile, pretending that he wasn’t still touching her. “I’ll be fine if I never have to see Minnerva ever again in my life.”

“And you probably won’t have to,” he said. “Soon she’ll be a distant, if not irritating, memory. You can even scribble over her yearbook picture if that helps.”

“Yeah, I’ll give her some devil horns,” she said, genuinely chuckling at Yon’s dumb joke.

Yon smiled with her, then he leaned towards her, raising her hand a little, kissing the back of it. Giving her hand another gentle squeeze, he let go of her, picking up his fork again. She stared at her plate, still smiling, a little frozen.

Trying to keep any uncomfortable feelings pushed aside, she blurted, “Maybe we can get Chinese food on Friday.”

“Mmm.” Yon was chewing, then said, “That sounds good.”

She felt like her hand was burning, and her stomach was twisting, but nothing bad had actually happened. He just kissed her hand. He hadn’t asked her to go upstairs and start touching herself again.

Shaking her head, she used her fork to stab a piece of broccoli and put it into her mouth, chewing slowly. Nothing bad had happened. It was a good thing that Yon was happy with her; it meant that he didn’t know anything about how much she had almost fucked him over and everything was still fine.

Everything was fine.

 


 

Yon hadn’t expected Carol to start warming back up to him so soon, but he had been pleasantly surprised by the way she was acting lately. He could still tell that she was stressed about something—perhaps it was the stress of finals this week, though—but overall, he counted it as a good thing that she had been wanting to spend time with him.

She was still sleeping in her own room, but he could live with that. At least she had been holding his hand and not flinching away from him. He just had to keep giving her space and everything would work out the way he had hoped it would.

Even though he still felt terrible about how he had hurt her, it was reassuring to know that she still loved him enough to forgive him. Her growing warmth stirred within him an odd mixture of remorse and renewed desire.

As he sat on his bed that night, double checking his morning alarms on his phone, he listened to her getting ready for bed in her bathroom down the hall, the shower turning off, the sink running and stopping. When he heard the door open, he stood, stepping to the hall right before she closed her bedroom door.

“Carol,” he called. The door opened a little and she peaked her head out. She was only wearing a towel, gripping at it now as she looked at him. He briefly recalled the first time he had seen her like this, dripping wet as she crossed the hall in her towel, agonizing him. Even after the guilt he had felt over hurting her and realizing how much he had perhaps wronged her, not much had changed in the ways he was attracted to her.

But that wasn’t why he wanted to talk to her now.

“I was thinking,” he said, “that you don’t have to take the final for my class. I know how stressed you are over your other classes, so don’t worry about it.”

“Really?” She brushed a wet strand of hair away from her face. “Won’t that look weird to everyone else if I’m not taking it?”

“Well… you can sit there for fifteen minutes writing whatever you want on the paper and then turn it in. It’ll be fine.”

She was staring at him, expression a little blank—she was probably tired, it was getting late.

Then she said, with the hint of a smirk, “I knew there was a reason we’re together.”

He laughed, happy to catch a glimpse of her typical, sarcastic self. He hoped this meant that he’d start seeing this playful side of her again soon.

“Well, it’s the last time I get to curve your grade like this,” he said.

She looked down at the floor. “Lucky me.”

He stopped his eyes from travelling over her, from lingering over the star pendant against her glistening skin, but he stepped closer. He touched her cheek and kissed her forehead, then quickly stepped back.

“Goodnight,” he said. “I love you.”

“Goodnight,” she said, clutching at her towel as she backed into her room. “Love you, too.”

Her bedroom door shut and he went back down the hall to his own room. He didn’t mind that she was still sleeping down the hall and not with him, because it felt like there was hope for them. And she was still close to him, still under his roof. She still wore the necklace he gave her. She still loved him. She was still his.

Everything was going to be fine.

 


 

Graduation day finally came, and it was almost everything Carol had hoped it would be: sunny, full of smiling faces, an excited electricity zipping through the air, lacing every interaction. She smiled at her classmates when they acknowledged her, but their energy didn’t quite spark her. As they lined up and walked to the football field in their caps and flowing gowns—a sea of teal—to the cheers of friends and family, she felt apart from it all. Her peers were craning their necks as they scanned the audience, waving to the people who had come out to support them. Carol didn’t look too hard at the crowd; there was no one there for her.

The only person who’d be watching for her was Yon, but he wasn’t even officially there for her. He was with the other staff members who came out for the event. As far as everyone else was concerned, he was just another teacher there to say goodbye to his students and there was nothing special about his presence. Even if he wasn’t her secret boyfriend, there was a chance he’d still be there. So no one really had come for her.

Other than having the picture-perfect day for the ceremony, nothing was as she imagined. Graduation was supposed to be symbolic of her breaking free from her old life, finally able to move on to the next chapter. And while she was still taking the next step in her life, she didn’t feel the sense of freedom she had been counting on. Nothing felt better than it had at the beginning of high school; she didn’t even know if it felt worse. She didn’t know if it felt like anything.

The ceremony carried on with cheesy speeches, an okay band and choir performance, and when it was finally time for the diplomas to be handed out, she was relieved that this was almost over. Going up to the stage and being handed a diploma while shaking hands with the superintendent happened in a blur. When she descended the stage, heading back to her seat, she caught sight of Yon smiling at her from the staff section and she couldn’t help but smile back, even if it faded as she turned away.

The moment came for everyone to toss their hats in the air, but Carol didn’t join her joyful classmates—it seemed pointless to her. She unceremoniously removed her hat, holding onto it with her diploma. As the class marched single file off the field to triumphant music, they dispersed into the crowd of their awaiting friends and family. She got swept up in a bustle of people giving each other hugs, taking pictures, crying, and laughing. An ache filled a hollow spot in her chest and she started looking for Yon. She just wanted to go home.

She found Yon with some of the girls from track, their parents taking a group picture of the team. As she started to think how glad she was not to be part of that, Angela noticed her and called her over.

“We need you in the picture, Carol!” she shouted. Carol did her best to smile and reluctantly joined them, standing at the edge of the group.

Group photo accomplished, some of the girls’ parents got pictures of just Yon and their daughter, thanking him for being such a good coach. Carol rolled her eyes.

“Can we take a selfie together?” Angela asked her, already holding her phone up.

“Oh yeah, of course, if you want to.” Carol smiled for the selfie.

“Do you want me to get a picture of you with anyone?” Angela asked. “A lot of us got pictures with Mr. Rogg before you walked over.”

“Oh, no, that’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” She lowered her voice, “Listen, this is your last chance to get in super close. He smells good, trust me.”

Carol couldn’t think of a response to that quick enough, and then Angela was pulling her over to Yon.

“Carol didn’t get a picture with you,” she said, giving Carol an obvious wink that would have embarrassed her if this past year had gone differently. As it were, Carol just went along with it. Yon gave her a strange look as she handed over her phone for the picture.

“Congratulations, Carol,” Yon said, a little awkwardly, Carol thought. He put his arm around her shoulder, squeezing her a little bit, and they smiled for the camera. The picture had barely been taken when Carol noticed a familiar face behind Angela.

“Mom?” Carol said. Yon’s hand was almost instantly off of her.

“Hi, Carol,” her mom said, slowly approaching.

“What are you doing here?” Carol asked.

Angela offered an odd look as she handed Carol’s phone back, then chased after the group.

“I ran into Attlass’s mom yesterday and she mentioned the graduation ceremony,” her mom said. “I’m so proud of you.”

Carol didn’t know what to say. She was keenly aware of Yon standing behind her, and she resisted the urge to look to him for some kind of hint as to what she should do. Her mom was only focused on her, though.

“How are you?” her mom asked. “You look like you’ve lost weight. Are you eating okay?”

“I… I…” Carol closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “I’m fine.”

“I’ve missed you, Carol.”

Carol felt a strange swirl of emotions inside her. She didn’t know if she was angry or relieved or what.

“Is Dad here too?” she asked, glancing around.

Her mom hesitated, “He… doesn’t know I’m here.”

The fire sparked in Carol’s veins was unmistakable. “So then why are you here?”

Her mom glanced around, the group of people around them was thinning out, moving towards the parking lot, none of them really paying attention to Carol and her mom anyway. Even so, Carol’s mom said, “Can we go somewhere private to talk?”

Carol wasn’t sure what Yon was doing behind her, if he was trying to move away or trying to listen in; she doubted he’d want to just let her be alone with her mom right now. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to be alone with her mom.

“We can talk here,” Carol finally said. “Somehow I feel like you’re not going to have anything important to say.”

“Carol…”

Why are you here?”

“I wanted to see you.”

“Why?” All Carol could see was red. “Why now?”

“I know you haven’t been staying with Attlass. His mom mentioned that they haven’t seen much of you around for a while.”

Carol’s face was burning. “Why do you care where I’m staying?”

“Because I’m your mother.”

Carol couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped her, and her mom visibly flinched.

“You don’t get to use that as a reason for anything,” Carol said, “not after this year.”

“I’m sorry,” her mom said. “I tried to—”

“You didn’t try anything. You just stood there and let Dad kick me out and you didn’t come for me until now. It’s been months and suddenly you want to check up on me?”

“Carol, I tried—”

“I don’t care about any of your excuses! Okay? Do you get that? I don’t care about anything you have to say. You let me leave without even looking out the window to see where I was going.”

“I thought you were with Attlass. I thought you were better off with his family than you were with your dad—”

“And with you. Stop pretending that you were doing what was best—you can drink just as much as he does, you just hide it better.”

“I’ve been getting help, I’m really trying.” Her mom’s eyes were tearing up. “Things are different now.”

“Different enough for me to come back?”

Her mom sighed, glanced down, unable to hold Carol’s gaze, and Carol clenched her fists.

“I think we’re done with this conversation now,” Carol said. “Thanks for coming tonight, you’re a real top notch mother.”

“Carol, please, I—”

“I don’t want to hear your fucking excuses,” Carol hissed, heart racing. “Either grow a pair and divorce Dad, or just leave me alone for good.”

Her mom’s shoulders were slumped, making her look smaller than she was, and for half a second Carol really did feel bad for her. Maybe she was being too harsh.

But then her mom said, “At least tell me where you’re staying.”

Carol bristled, that split-second of sympathy gone. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

Her mom looked like she really was going to cry at any second, and Carol fought back an angry lump in her own throat. Then her mom nodded, resigned, as usual.

“I’m sorry, Carol,” she said. “I love you.”

The words came out fast, “No, you don’t.”

Silence. And then she watched her mom duck her head and turn away, meekly pushing herself into the crowd and disappearing. Carol blinked away the hot stinging in her eyes.

“Are you okay, Carol?” Yon asked from behind.

She turned to him. “I want to go home.”

He nodded, looking over the crowd of people that were too involved in their own jubilations to pay much attention to them.

“Wait for me in the car,” he whispered.

He did another quick glance around them, then took his keys from his pocket, trying to be discreet while handing them to her, but she grabbed them forcefully. She pushed through the throng of people to get to the parking lot, not really seeing the people around her, just feeling the overwhelming, annoying presence of everyone blocking her. Finally, she found herself at the edge of the mass of people, and set her sights on the parking lot.

Once in Yon’s car, she turned it on, blasted the air conditioning, and caught herself wiping tears away from her eyes. She covered her face with her hands, groaning loudly. This was never supposed to be how anything was supposed to happen, but here she was.

She hated that her mom had showed up. Even though she had been waiting all year for a sign that her parents still cared about her, it all felt like complete bullshit now. There was nothing her mom could say or do to take away how fucked up everything had become. Her mom couldn’t just waltz in and check under Carol’s bed for monsters, not after basically shoving her straight under the bed to deal with the monsters herself.

And anyway, it wasn’t like Carol was a little girl anymore. What the fuck did she need a mom for? She was a legal adult, she had graduated, and she hadn’t needed her mom to do any of that—things would keep happening and changing with or without her.

Her family could reach out all they wanted, but it was too late. They had wanted her out of their lives so badly before, so now she would be. She wasn’t going to miss them anymore.

Fuck them.

She wasn’t going to be their daughter or their sister or their anything. She didn’t need them. She was going to be away from all of this soon, like Yon had told her. She didn’t need any of these people.

Yon was the most important person in her life. He was her family, her homelife, her lovelife, everything. She didn’t need anyone else.

Sitting in his car, waiting for him, she wiped more tears from her eyes. This day—this week, this month, this year, everything—wasn’t at all what she had expected or hoped for. But it was what it was and she couldn’t change it. She just had to accept her life for what it was, as angry as it made her, and, somehow, deal with it.

Chapter Text

Carol had been in quite a mood since her mom showed up at graduation, and Yon wasn’t sure how to handle it. She had barely spoken to him on graduation night, she hadn’t even wanted to eat dinner with him. He let her fume alone in her room, not wanting to provoke her and shatter the fragile peace they had just started to once again live under.

And, if he were being honest with himself, seeing Carol and her mom together had shaken him, too. When she appeared, he had practically froze where he stood, fearing that somehow her mom would see him standing next to Carol and just know. But of course she hadn’t known, she had barely even seen him standing there—she had been focused on her daughter.

He had been rather shocked by the way Carol handled this reunion. Maybe he shouldn’t have been shocked; he had known how angry she was at her parents, but part of him had been so worried for a while that she’d actually leave him to go back to her parents’ house if given the chance. And yet, she had shot down her mom’s attempt to reunite.

He was deeply relieved, perhaps especially, that her mom hadn’t mentioned the birthday message that Carol herself had never received; he wasn’t sure how long it would have been until she pieced together that he had broken into her phone and blocked her mom from her. That could just be his anxiety overthinking it, but he was glad that Carol had turned her mom away before anything like that could happen.

But he was concerned about how the encounter had affected Carol. It was late Saturday afternoon, and he still hadn’t seen her. He wanted to give her space, but he had to make sure she was okay, so he went upstairs, knocked on her door.

“Carol,” he said after she hadn’t answered. “Is everything okay?”

There wasn’t any answer. He knocked again. Still no answer. Maybe she was sleeping, but he was worried, so he opened the door. She was lying on her back on the floor, phone held above her face, earbuds in. Opening the door further, she finally looked at him, setting her phone down on her stomach, taking out an earbud.

“I just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” he said.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m just watching a show.”

“On the floor?”

“I was looking for my charger and I found it under my bed, then I just stayed here.” She shrugged.

“Okay… Well, you can watch your show downstairs, if you want?”

She shrugged again, looked up at the ceiling, sighed.

“Do you want to…” He hesitated. “Do you want to talk about what happened with your mum?”

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “There’s not much to say.”

“Well, you know I’m here if you want to talk about it.”

“I know you are…” She stared back up at the ceiling again.

“And you must know how proud I am of you, right? I know yesterday took an unexpected turn, but I am very proud of you. You made it through this year, despite everything your family did. You’re stronger than you know.”

She was biting her lower lip, still staring at the ceiling, hands fidgeting with her phone. He was tempted to sit next to her on the floor and take her hand, but he stayed standing.

“You know, we didn’t get to order any Chinese food yesterday,” he said. “Why don’t we do that tonight if you’re up to it, hmm? It’s getting close to dinner time anyway, so we could order soon, if you’d like?”

She took her phone in her hand as she pushed herself into a sitting position, leaning against the bed, knees pulled up to her chest.

“That’s fine,” she said, fidgeting with her phone. “We can do that.”

“Alright, then that’s what we’ll do,” he said, watching her for a moment. She looked up at him, smiled a little.

“I should take a shower, though,” she said. “I didn’t do that last night.”

“Ah, I was wondering what that smell was,” he teased.

The breath she let out seemed like a laugh. She moved to push herself off the floor, and he stepped towards her, offering her his hand. She paused, but took it, and he pulled her to her feet.

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” he said, still holding onto her hand.

“Okay,” she said, letting go of him. “I’ll be down with you soon.”

He went downstairs, listening to her footsteps above him, the sounds of the shower running. He flexed his hand, still feeling the heat of her touch against his palm. He hated that her mom had thrown such a wrench in her mood, but at least she was going to be coming out of her room, spending time with him.

The sounds of the shower from upstairs suddenly invaded his thoughts with the image of her wrapped in a towel—the first time he had seen her like that, and the last, a few days ago. He lingered on the memory of her chest, rising and falling with her breathing, pressed against the damp towel. He thought about the first time he had taken her shirt off on the couch, how he had put his hand between her legs, and felt for the first time how wet she was for him.

He shook his head. He didn’t want to get preoccupied with that right now. He just wanted to spend some simple time with Carol, make sure she was okay after everything yesterday. That’s all he wanted. He just wanted to have this simple evening with her, celebrating her graduation. The fact that she had graduated and no one had found out about their relationship wasn’t going to overwhelm him with his renewed desire for her. The fact that she had been warming back up to him again lately wasn’t going to affect him.

No, he really just wanted to make sure she was okay. She had been through so much, and he just had to keep giving her space to recover. He couldn’t think about all the times she had been upset, and all the times he had touched her to comfort her. He wasn’t going to think about the first time he kissed her, holding her close while she cried. Or the first time they had sex, upstairs on her bed, consoling her over an upsetting conversation with her brother. Or after the argument they had on her birthday.

Taking a deep breath, counting to ten in his head, he took his phone over to the couch, began looking for a take-out place to order from. That’s all he was going to think about. He had everything under control.

 


 

Carol hadn’t been able to pretend like she was happy and okay and everything after graduation, so she had tried to keep herself alone in her room. She didn’t want to talk to Yon about the incident with her mom and have him tell her the same old thing about how she still had him and blah blah blah—not that she wasn’t grateful to have his support, but she just wanted time to be angry without him trying to console her.

But of course, he had come to talk to her, and she couldn’t keep letting herself simmer alone in her room. It was probably for the best to get up and shower and do something besides lying around on the floor anyway. So she made herself get ready for the day, even though the day was half over, but better late than never.

Finally all showered and dressed, she told herself that she was fine, and went downstairs. Yon was sitting on the couch, looking at his phone. She sat next to him.

“You decide where we’re ordering from?” she asked, glancing at what looked like a menu on his phone.

“I thought we could try a new place,” he said, offering her his phone. She took it, scrolling through the menu consisting of pretty standard Chinese restaurant dishes. She handed his phone back to him.

“I just want egg rolls,” she said, leaning back into the couch.

“That's all?”

“And fried rice, maybe. I’m not super hungry.”

“Well, you probably will be once the food gets here.”

She shrugged, watching him scrolling through the menu again.

“I’m ordering you the orange chicken,” he said. “You can thank me later.”

“Unless it’s gross at this place.”

Yon chuckled. “Well, let’s hope that’s not true.”

She stared at the empty, black tv screen as he ordered the food. There was a dark, blurry reflection of them sitting next to each other on the couch, and she kept watching him through it. The blurry reflection version of him lowered his phone.

“Looks like we have about an hour wait time,” he said.

“Okay,” she said, watching the reflection still. His arm moved towards her and she looked down to see his hand on her knee.

“I know I said this already, but I’m very proud of you.” He squeezed her knee a little, then took his hand away. “I hope you’re proud of yourself too, Carol. You’re moving onto better things now.”

“Thanks, Yon.” She smiled for him; he was being pretty nice right now. Glancing down at her hands, she felt like she needed to say something else. “I… I couldn’t have done it without you. You pretty much saved my life this year.”

“I’m sure you would have found a way,” he said, then reached over to her, pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “You’re incredibly resilient, and I love that about you.”

“I… I…” she was stammering, feeling weird. “I love you, too.”

She swallowed, her heartbeat quickening as his fingers lingered near her jaw. She looked at him, and he smiled softly, his thumb traced her cheek. It felt like her hands were starting to shake, and she parted her lips to take in a breath, telling herself to just breathe and act normal. Nothing bad was happening. This wasn’t that different from holding hands.

But then he leaned in closer to her, hesitating, as if he were waiting for her to move away, but she couldn’t. She suddenly couldn’t move or think of anything to say.

“I love you so much,” he whispered, and she could feel his breath. He brought his other hand up, so he was cupping her face, and then he kissed her. She let it happen, mostly because she couldn’t move. But it wasn’t like it was that different from any other time they had kissed, it wasn’t that bad. It was just a kiss. She just felt frozen.

He kept kissing her, and it was starting to feel like the time at the hotel again. He laid her back on the couch, kissing her neck, hands travelling over her.

“Is this okay?” he asked, hand moving down, between her legs.

Her mind was racing, and her body wasn’t moving. She had been trying so hard to keep him happy, and she didn’t want to say no to him, but she didn’t want to feel like she was trapped in her body again either. But she was already feeling trapped. In her laid back position on the couch, she turned her head, looking at the dark tv screen.

“Is this okay, Carol?” Yon repeated, mouth still at her neck, hand pushing her waistband down. From this distance, the reflections in the tv screen had no faces, no defining details, just the general shapes in heavy shadows. Her shadow was barely even recognizable underneath Yon’s, she was barely there.

“Mmm,” was all she could say. Not a yes or a no, just a sound. Just like her not being able to move wasn’t a yes or a no, just an inaction. She stared ahead at the dark tv. Yon kept touching her.

Whatever was happening was going to happen and she wasn’t going to think about it. She pictured herself as her shadowy reflection in the tv screen, pictured her reflection walking away. She imagined herself running far from here, imagined she could run forever, to wherever.

The more she let herself imagine it, the more she let herself slip into that shadowy realm in the blank screen, she realized it was the same place as that dark, deep divide she had found inside herself, that space where body and mind weren’t connected. She could go anywhere in that space, anywhere that wasn’t here. If she closed her eyes, she could disappear.

 


 

It was the first day of the summer track program. Carol woke up before Yon, carefully slipped out of his room, and went on a jog all alone in the gray morning. The pain in her ribs was finally healed, so she could run as much as she liked. These still morning hours were the only moments she had to herself, where she could inhabit her body and feel alive in it.

The morning slipped into golden light, dew reflected in diamond droplets on the lawns she ran past, feet hitting the pavement in a reaffirming rhythm. Some geese floated across a misty retention pond. Birds chirped and rustled in the trees and bushes she passed by. Her feet hit the pavement, steady, alive.

And then she was back home, back inside, going upstairs, rinsing off in the shower, counting to ten in her head. Yon was up. She heard him in the kitchen. She finished in the shower, dried off, got dressed, went downstairs. She ate breakfast with Yon. Let him kiss the top of her head as he cleared their dishes. Counted to ten in her head.

Soon it was time to leave. She went upstairs to grab her gym bag and her running shoes. But as she grabbed her shoes, the same ones she had just gone jogging in, she realized these weren’t the right ones.

These were her old shoes—the ones she had worn before moving in with Yon, the ones her mom had bought for her what felt like a lifetime ago. They were dirty and old and she didn’t know why she had grabbed them at all this morning.

The nice shoes Yon had bought for her were sitting by her closet and she grabbed them, taking both pairs downstairs with her. She went into the open garage, the car pulled out in the driveway, Yon waiting for her there. She looked at the pairs of shoes in her hands.

It made her chest ache to look at her old shoes, thinking about the girl who had worn them. But she wasn’t the same girl who had picked out these shoes with her mom, who had stained them green with clumps of grass and worn out the soles. These weren’t hers anymore.

Yon was probably getting impatient, so she quickly sat down on the step to the garage door, sliding her feet into the shoes he had gotten for her, lacing them up. She stood, grabbing her old shoes. Without thinking too much more, she walked to the trash can, opened the lid, and dropped the old shoes in.

Taking a deep breath, counting to ten in her head, she got in the car with Yon.

“All set?” he asked.

“Mmhmm,” she mumbled, staring at her feet, not looking at him.

He put the car in reverse, backed out of the driveway. He pushed the garage door opener, and she watched the garage close as they pulled away. He took her hand and she let him. With her free hand, she fidgeted with the star pendant on her necklace, and she stared at her shoes. All she was now were the things he had given her, the things he had taught her, done for her, done to her.

She wasn’t a girl anymore, but she wasn’t sure what version of Carol she was exactly. Maybe she was Vers, that fragmented, made-up name that was so linked to him. Whoever she was, until she got to jog alone again tomorrow morning, she belonged with him. She was his.

Chapter Text

Hello! This update is just to let you guys know that I've posted the first chapter in the sequel to this fic.

 

So for anyone's who's interested, it's The Emergence of Carol Danvers

 

Hopefully I see some of you guys again there! 💕