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The Brightest Porcelain Smile

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I pick at the cold lunch on my tray and force a laugh at Jasmine's joke. I'm not sure why it's funny. I don't think it is, or maybe I just don't understand it. 

 

"Hey Kara, you bought the tickets, right?" I look up and nod, "Yeah, all eight." I respond, smiling weakly. One of our classmate's older brothers is throwing a party and is selling tickets for entrance. They said it's my turn to pay, but I can't remember the last time one of them paid.

 

"Do we really have to go? We can just watch movies at my house or something." I suggest. Julie turns to me, and the annoyance on her face is obvious, "Kara, relax. You never want to do anything fun. We'll be able to meet older guys and can make those guys jealous." She says, gesturing to the four boys at the other table.

 

"Are you coming or not?" Emma says, not even bothering to spare me a glance while fixing her lipgloss. "Yeah. I'll come." I say, pushing my tray away. I lost my appetite.

 

"Great. I'll pick everyone up at eight." Jasmine says, basically vibrating in her seat. The other girls cheer, and I just smile.

 



 

New York sucks. I decided that after three weeks of living here. I drop down on my bed and bend over to strap up my heels. I don't understand why  it's so important for us to date older men, but it seems normal here, so I just follow along. 

 

"Kara! Hurry up!"  They honk the horn, and I roll my eyes. I stand, grab my purse and rush downstairs. 

 

"Another one?" My aunt asked from where she was sitting on the kitchen island. I shrug and cross my arms, "I guess." She nods and looks at my outfit. "Remember a jacket." She says, simply turning back to her book and tea. "Kay, love you!" I shout, grabbing a black jacket from the rack and running outside. 

 

I walk as fast as I can in these heels and hop inside the van. "Took you long enough." Jasmine huffs in annoyance. "Sorry," I mumble, biting my lip to stop me from playing with my fingers. I sit quietly as they make up a plan to make the boys jealous. 

 

I still don't understand what it has to do with me. There are four boys and two likes Julie. But, then again, since I moved here, I haven't understood many things.

 

 When the cab pulls into the neighborhood, we can tell exactly which house the party is. It's a large house with moving lights around it, and the music is so loud we can hear it three buildings away. "You have the tickets, right?" Instead of rolling my eyes, I reach into my purse and hand out a ticket to everyone.

 

"Great, let's go, ladies!" Emma squeals. We climb out of the cab one at a time and hand the guy outside our ticket and fake ids. When we reach inside, my friends are looking around in pure amazement. "Guys, this doesn't seem safe.." I say, looking around at the red cups and white lines on the tables.

 

"Relax," is the only Jasmine says to me before grabbing Julie and Emma's hand. I watch them glance at the boys and make a beeline for a group of older guys. "Kara, hey!" I turn to the familiar voice and smile as he walks up beside me. 

 

"I thought you girls weren't coming tonight?" He says, staring at Julie, who's visibly flirting with one of the older students. I shrug and glance at my group of friends, "We changed our minds." I say. He nods and turns back to me. 

 

"You shouldn't be alone. Come hang out over here." Darren suggests smiling. I nod and follow him to the other boys, who seem to all have the same idea as they stare at my friends. Darren was always the nicer of the four, which is probably why we got along so well. Or maybe I'm just a way to get closer to Julie.

 

"Come on, Darren," Adam says, stomping over to my friends with the others not far behind without sparing me a second glance. Darren sends me an apologetic smile and jogs over to friends. I huff and lean on the table behind me. I'm not a stranger to being left alone at parties. It happens at every party.

 

"Hey." I furrow my eyebrows and glance at the guy walking over to me waving. "How come you're alone? I could've sworn I saw you walk in with some other girls." He says, looking around. I sigh and gesture to my friends, "They're busy." I mutter.

 

He looks back at me and holds out his hand, "Hey, I'm Mike." He greets with a smile. I raise an eyebrow and shake his hand, "Short for Michael?" He shakes his head and mirrors my position. "Nah, just Mike." I nod and watch as he fills up two cups. "Drink?" I shake my head.

 

"You don't take drinks from strangers, smart." He says, drowning a cup and then the other. "You don't wanna be here." He says rather than asking. "That obvious?" I ask. He laughs and points at my forehead. "There's a cute little crinkle.. right there."

 

I sigh and rub my forehead, "I don't have a crinkle." He laughs, and shakes his head, "Whatever you say." He goes silent for a few seconds before lighting up, "How about this. If I beat you at pool, you have to admit you have a crinkle."

 

I let out an exasperated laugh and crossed my arms, "And if I win?" He shrugs, still looking at the game table, "It's up to you." Then, he looks back at me, his eyes shining with amusement. "Whatever. I'll think of something." I push myself off the table and walk over to the table.

 

I grab two cues from the wall and then throw one at Mike. "Ladies first," I tease, crossing my arms. He rolls his eyes, "I'm only going first so you can have an advantage." I nod and gesture toward the table.

 

He lost.

 

"How'd you do that!" He asks, eyeing the empty table. "I'm a genius," I say simply and take a sip of the burning liquid. "God, this is gross." I grimace and place it back down. "Yeah, it hasn't changed since the last three times you said it." He says, drowning my drink.

 

"So you won. What do you want?" He says, leaning on the pool table. I chew my lip and eye the room for my friends, "Uhm. There's this dance coming up.. Would you be my date? It's fine if you don't want to or if you have a girlfriend or something but-" He laughs, interrupting my word vomit.

 

"A sixteen-year-old dance?" He teases. I roll my eyes, "I'm turning seventeen in June, and how old are you anyway?" I remark. He shrugs, twirling the cue between his fingers, "Twenty-one." I blink at him and look him up and down. "No offense but you-" He nods and waves toward himself. 

 

"I look younger, I know. I'm going to be a lawyer and weighing if the court will take me seriously." I eye him weirdly, "A lawyer?" He nods and licks his lips. "Yeah."

 

"I'll go." I look back at him, and he explains, "I'll be your date to the dance. But you have to do something as well." I nod nervously, and he holds up his hands, "Woah, nothing weird, I promise. In return, you just have to give me your number."

 

I blink a few moments and look back at my friends dancing with the other guys. It's normal, I tell myself. "Sure." I take his phone and type it in. "Great." He says with a smile. "Thanks," I say, taking a deep breath. He eyes me curiously, "For what?" I play with the ring on my finger, "For agreeing to be my date.. and for hanging out with me."

 

He looks puzzled and quickly responds, "Technically, you won the bet, and you're pretty cool." He says, poking me with the stick. "Yeah, cool." I snort. 

 

"Wanna go boogie?" I let out a loud laugh at that, "Boogie? Who even says that anymore?" I ask through my laughter. He holds up a hand, and I let him lead me to the floor. "I do." He says, joining in on my laughter.

 

He never did say if he had a girlfriend or not.

 



 

We talked for a few weeks. And then Mike finally asked me to be his girlfriend.

 

"Close your eyes," Mike says, leading me by my hand. "Mike, I'm wearing a blindfold." I just know he's rubbing his neck from the way he goes quiet, "Right, I knew that." I sigh and lift my arm when something wet drops on it. "Holy shit, is it raining?" Mike squeaks. I laugh, and he stops us.

 

Then it starts to pour. "Dammit!" He yells. He quickly unfolds the cloth over my eyes, and I gasp at the sight before me. A large blanket was laid on the grass with a basket to one side. There's a thin vase with a few roses in the middle and a candle beside it. "It's beautiful!" I squeal, clasping my hands together.

 

"Well, it's raining now." He mutters, waving at the now wet setup. I laugh and plant a kiss on his cheek. "It's perfect," I say, pushing wet strands of hair behind my ear. "Will you be my girlfriend?" He blurts out, and his eyes go wide as if he hadn't been expecting to say it.

 

Instead of answering, I laugh and pull him closer by his jacket. I kiss him and, he's fast to wrap his arms around my waist. Once we pull apart, he's smiling at me with so much adoration I lower my head to hide the blush that's most likely forming. "So that's a yes then?" He asks. I look back up at him and let my eyes roam around the park.

 

"I'll think about it." He laughs and nods. He takes my hand, and we both run back to the car laughing the whole time. He opens my door, and I jump in while he runs around to the driver's seat. "How about a movie?" He asks, pushing his wet hair back. "A movie's great." I smile back, and he holds my hand the whole ride back.

 



 

And for a while, I was happy. I liked that Mike treated me like everyone else and never brought up my last name. I liked how he held the doors for me anytime we went anywhere. 

 

But then, naturally, everything started changing.

 

"Come on, babe, it was just a kiss!" I look him up and down in disbelief. "Yeah, Mike. You kiss your  girlfriend ." He rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. "Babe, they kiss all the time where she's from, and you wouldn't get it. You're too young." I scoff and cross my arms.

 

"What does my age have to do with it?" I snap. "Kara, older people do it all the time." I chew my lip and look at the clock. "Don't you trust me?" I sigh and rub my temple, "Of course I trust you." My voice cracks, and he lowers his arms. 

 

"Babe.. I'm sorry. If it really makes you upset, I won't do it again." He walks closer to me and wraps his arms around my waist. I let my head drop on his shoulder. "I love you." My head shoots up, and he's staring back at me with the same determination from the first time we met.

 

Sure I liked him and enjoyed his company. I liked how I got butterflies when he called me nicknames. I loved when he canceled plans to hang out with me. But do I  love  him? The only other person I said that to other than my family was Ellie. And I can't even remember if I meant it like that.

 

I think about my friends and their boyfriends. I think about how they would always ask if Mike and I were dating yet. "I love you too," I say though the words feel bitter in my mouth. He lights up and twirls me in a kiss. "So you forgive me?" He looks like a child on Christmas morning, and I laugh, "Yes, I forgive you."

 

"Great, now let's go before we're late." He says dramatically, bowing and holding his hand out for me. I take it, and we leave for his friend's dinner party.

 

I'm fine.

 



 

"Hey, love?" I turn around from where I'm rummaging through a box and stop to smile at my aunt. "Hey, auntie." She smiles back nervously and walks to sit on the couch before me. "I hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but you both were quite loud." I furrow my brows and stand dusting off my hands.

 

"Honey, New York isn't that different from California." She says. That's a lie. Well, on my part anyway. For me, New York was like another planet. Most of them here were rude, obnoxious, and mean, and I learned rather quickly most of them were just always like that. However, I chose to indulge her and nodded my head.

 

"Do you love him?" She asks, narrowing her eyes as if trying to find something about me through my expression. "I do," I say a little too fast for my liking. She sighs and pats the spot next to her. I slowly walked over and dropped beside her.

 

"Are you sure?" I can feel the irritation burning up already, probably a habit I gained from hanging around my friends so much. "Yes, I'm sure." She smiles weakly and turns away before turning back to me. "Kara, I hope you know you aren't obligated to say it back. Love is a strong word, and you've only been dating a small while." 

 

I cross my arms and lean back. "I think I know how I'm feeling." I snap. She rolls her eyes and nods, "Yes, yes, of course. But I'm only saying this because I love you." I shake my head and stand, "I love you too." I say before leaving.

 

I'm fine.

 



 

I snort and shove Darren backward until he bumps into someone else and starts apologizing. I'm broken from the view when someone grabs my arm. "Can we talk?" I furrow my brows but nod nevertheless. Mike leads us to an empty hallway before turning to me.

 

"Can't you stop hanging out with him?" He asks the second I stop walking. "Excuse me? Who? Darren?" He nods and rolls his eyes as if it should've been obvious. "You're both too close, and I see the way he looks at you."

 

I raised an eyebrow unamused and blinked at him, "Mike, I've been friends with Darren for a while now. First, he always looks at me like that, and second, he has a thing for Julie. Everyone knows that." I say, softly tugging my arm.

 

"Kara, he's bad news." He says matter of factly. "Mike, you don't even know him! You never want to hang out with my friends." He tightens his grip as if he was unaware he was still holding me and huffs. "Because they're all young and act immature." He says. 

 

"Mike, what the hell are you saying? I'm literally the same age as them." I say as if talking to a toddler. "You're different. You're mature and sweet and so pretty." He says, pushing me back into the wall. I tug my arm back and look around the corridor, "Mike, no, not here." He rolls his arms and pulls back.

 

"Why because of Darren?" He accuses. "Me and Darren are just friends! So seriously,  what  is your issue?" He shakes his head, "Nah, it's Darren. Did he say something to you?" He accuses again, completely ignoring what I had said.

 

Before I can remark, he's stomping off through the halls. "Oh no," I mumble, running after him. When I finally find him after pushing my way through the crowd, he's gripping Darren by his collar. "What the hell do you want from my girlfriend?" Mike screams in his face.

 

Darren just looks at him, confused, "What the hell are you talking about? Kara? We're just friends." He explains, trying to remove Mike's hand. "I know exactly what boys like you want. I used to think the same thing." Darren's face switches from confusion to anger.

 

"Dude, I don't want your fucking girlfriend." He says through gritted teeth. "Stay away from her," Mike yells. By now, the party has stopped to watch, and I feel suffocated. "Or what." Darren bites back. Before I can blink, Mike's fist clashes with Darren's face. "You piece of shit!" Darren shouts, holding his nose.

 

"Mike!" I yell. They both ignore me as Darren launches himself at Mike. "Guys, cut it out!" I scream at the two figures clashing on the ground. Soon enough, one of Mike's friends is pulling him back, and one of Darren's is doing the same for him.

 

I glance around the room, and my friends are looking at me smugly while Julie straight up glares at me. I take a deep breath and turn around, shoving my way past the group of people. I wait until I'm outside to call my aunt.

 

"Hello?"  A sleepy voice answers.

 

"Hey, can you come pick me up.. please?" I ask, my voice cracking. Then, I hear shuffling, and the response comes quickly.

 

"I'm on my way."

 

The car ride home was expectantly quiet. "Can I ask what happened?" My aunt asks after a few minutes of silence. I bite my lip and avoid looking at her. "Was it Mike?" She asks, and I hate how well she knows me. She looks at me and nods as if that's the only answer she needs.

 

"He.. He just got  so  mad, and I don't know why. He started accusing me of cheating with Darren and started a fight right there." I explain, wiping my tears. I missed the pained look on my aunt's face.

 

I'm fine.

 



 

I couldn't even sleep that night. I told my aunt I'd be fine and we could talk in the morning, but now I'm exhausted and can't fall asleep, just like when I was younger. I shake my head before my brain can bring up any memories with my biological family and sigh. 

 

I peek over at my beeping phone and turn away from it. Mike's been trying to reach me since I left, but I obviously don't feel any need to talk to him. He was an being an asshole. He insists that my friends are immature, but he started a fight tonight based on theories he pulled from his ass. 

 

But I love him, and he loves me. I tell myself. 

 

I'm fine.

 



 

When I walk into the kitchen, my aunt's silently making pancakes. I probably would've jumped for joy if I didn't feel like shit. Instead, I hesitantly sit at the kitchen island and wait until she turns around. "So, are you going to tell me what happened last night?" She asks without turning around.

 

I sigh and run my hand through my hair. "It's fine." She turns off the stove and drops the spatula. "Kara, it is  not  fine. I love you and trust you but you calling me so late at night because your boyfriend started a fight is  not  okay." 

 

She's right, and I know it. "I love him." I croak out my voice raspy from crying. My aunt takes a deep breath and deflates. "Kara. You and Mike need to talk. I reluctantly agreed to the four-year age gap because he was respectful and seemed smart, but now?" She rubs her temples and stares at me.

 

"Your relationship is toxic, Kara." I roll my eyes at that. Sure we have our issues, but I wouldn't call us toxic. "No, we aren't. We fight like every other couple." She clicks her teeth and narrows her eyes at me.

 

"Kara, normal couples argue about normal things! Like you were late, or you forgot something! They don't pick fights or accuse the other person of things!" She snaps. 

 

"I'm fine. It's fine. We're both fine!" I snap back. I stand from the counter, "I'm not hungry." And went back to my room.

 

I'm  fine.

 



 

I look up from my phone when the doorbell rings. My aunt had left earlier to go to the store, so it was only me. I groaned and stretched from where I was sitting on the couch. I stood up and walked to the door. My eyes widened at the view before me.

 

Mike was standing on the porch with balloons, flowers, a teddy bear, and a bag. "Kara, I'm  so  sorry." I crossed my arms and narrowed my eyes at him.

 

"You were right. I should've just listened to you and trusted you. I do trust you; I was just jealous." I felt my walls breaking when he started pouting. "I love you  so  much, and I won't do that ever again." He promised. 

 

I let my arms fall and stepped back into the house, opening the door wider. His smile grew, and he was quick to run inside. "Thank you." He said, kissing my cheek and handing me the items. I glance at the bag in his hand, and he raises it up.

 

"Ice cream." He reaches inside it and pulls out a carton, "Cookie's N' Cream, your favorite." He says, beaming. I smile and plant a kiss on his cheek. "I love you." The words come out lighter. He smiles and nods, "I love you more."

 

"Now, let's go watch a movie." He says, taking my hand.

 

We're fine.

 



 

"Alex!" I shout, staring at the family coming down the escalator. The redhead drops her bags and sprints over to me. We wrap each other in a crushing hug when she gets close enough. "God, I missed your hugs." Alex breathes into my neck.

 

I laugh, and we pull away. "So.. Where's Maggie?" I ask, glancing behind her. Alex turns a bright pink and turns around, "Might've been too fast." I laugh and nudge her shoulder. I beam when Eliza and Jeremiah finally come into view. 

 

"Sunshine!" Eliza says, with the same warm expression she's had since I met her. I let her wrap me in a hug and kiss my head. "You're getting so tall." She says, looking up at me. "It might be all the tea my aunt's making me drink." 

 

She laughs and swats my shoulder. Beside her, Jeremiah, as always, stands with the luggage. "Hey, angel, I'd give you a hug, but.." He gestures to the bags.

 

I laugh and wave it off, "It's fine. Where's Maggie?" Beside me, Alex crosses her arms, "I swear she's more excited to see Maggie than us." She mumbles.

 

Soon enough, a short woman with long black hair is walking over. "That's little Danvers?" She asks, surprised, looking between my family and me. "She's not very little." She points out.

 

"No, I'm not. Alex probably described me as six, right? Anyway, I'm Kara!" I smile, opening my arms. She looks confused for a second but hugs me back. "I forget you're a family of huggers." I laugh and pull back.

 

I rush over to Jeremiah and grab some bags, "Car's out front." I tilt my head at Alex's confused stare, "Do you work out?" She asks, eyeing the bag in my hand. I shake my head, "No, I do play soccer, though?" I shrug, leading them to the van.

 

"Are you driving?" Eliza asks. She's smiling, but I can see the anxiety on her face. I huff and roll my eyes, "No, Eliza. There's a driver." I can practically see everyone deflate, and I pout climbing inside the car.

 

"Speaking of dating." I glance at Alex and raise an eyebrow, "No one was talking about dating." She shrugs, "Well, since we are now, when are we going to meet Mike?" 

 

I shift nervously in my seat and shrug. "He said he's free tomorrow." So it turns out I might've left out a few details. Not that age gap they know about that, but about the fights, we're constantly having. I play with my fingers at the thought of Astra telling them. 

 

"You okay?" Eliza asks, glancing at my fidgeting hands. I still them and send her a reassuring smile, "Just happy you're all here. You too, Maggie." I say, turning to the shorter woman. She laughs, and Alex groans.

 



 

"Go fish!" Jeremiah exclaims, and everyone groans. Everything is going well so far, and I don't think Astra said anything. I glance to where Mike is sitting beside Eliza and telling jokes. "Hey, do you like this?" Alex asks Mike showing him a picture of something.

 

He freezes and turns to me, "Kara, I literally have no idea who that is." I make a face at him and look at the picture Alex is showing. It's of a girl with a pretty black bob. "Mike, she's talking about the hair," I roll my eyes. "Oh. Yeah, it's cute." He says, leaning back nervously. 

 

I miss the way Alex glances between Mike and me while taking a sip of my lemonade. "So Mike, how's school?" Jeremiah asks to lighten the tension. "Oh, it's great. I've been selected for an education trip to Europe." He says proudly.

 

I chew my cheek and reshuffle the cards. "That's great! Why didn't you tell us, Kara? We would've brought a gift." Eliza asks, smiling warmly as always. "I would've brought a gift too if I knew," I say, smiling sweetly at Eliza and glaring at Mike.

 

"Come on, babe, I did tell you. Remember?" I cross my arms and shake my head, "No. You told me that your teacher hated you and would fail you out of spite. And even then, that was weeks ago." I say calmly. He rolls his arms and crosses his arms as well.

 

"Yeah, and right after that, I told you about the trip." I place the cards down with a little bit more force than necessary, "Mike. How earth would I have forgotten that my boyfriend had been chosen for a trip and would be going to Europe?"

 

He huffs and clicks his teeth, "I don't know, but I did." He says, taking out his phone ending the argument. I ignore the concerned stares I'm getting from my family and flip the cards. "Round four," I say, handing out the cards, refusing to look up. 

 

I'm fine.

 



 

"Hey, Kara?" I turn around to where Maggie's standing nervously at my door. "No little Danvers? It must be important come on in." I say, my eyebrows creasing. She walks in and drops down on the small white chair a few feet from my bed. 

 

"So.. Mike?" I nod for her to continue, unsure of where the conversation is going. "Everyone's too afraid to talk to you about this, but I'm technically not family. Astra said, you both fight like that all the time. Is it true?" 

 

Of course, Astra told them. "Mike and I have disagreements just like every other couple. I already told my aunt that it's not a big deal." I say, brushing her off. "Uh, little Danvers. Your boyfriend shouldn't have to explain himself when he sees a picture of another woman or forget to tell you he's traveling to another  continent ."

 

I let out a sigh and run a hand through my hair, "Maggie, it's fine. I probably forgot." Maggie lets out a laugh, and I flinch at the sudden outburst, "Kara, you don't forget. Like anything." She explains, "When was the first day we met. Well, face-timed?" 

 

"Two months ago, it was a Wednesday, and you were so shy I couldn't stop teasing you," I say without missing a beat. She raises an eyebrow at me, and I know she's right. "Maggie, I love him. It's fine, he forgot, and that's okay people forget." I shrug and lay my book on my nightstand.

 

"Not to be rude, but I have school in the morning," I say, hoping she'll take the hint. Fortunately, she does. She nods and walks over to the door. "Night, kid." She gives me a weak smile and leaves.

 

I reached over to turn off the light and laid flat on my back. I stare at the ceiling reflecting on everyone's advice. Mike and I weren't toxic. If I think it enough, I might believe it. My friends say I'm lucky and should be grateful to have a boyfriend like Mike.

 

He's handsome, sweet, and has a bright future. What more do I need in a man? Man. What about a woman? Wait, no, I'm straight. I smacked myself on my head and turned around.

 

Mike loves me, and I love him. 

 

We're fine.

 



 

"Kara!" I look up from my computer and stand to make my way over to the barista. I take the coffee and sip it before beaming at the server. "Amazing as always, Kye!" She ducks her head and laughs. "Kara, it's literally ninety percent sugar." She says, wiping the counter.

 

I shrug and take another sip. "So, what are you doing on this fine morning?" It's not really a fine morning. It's raining outside, and there are probably about four people here in total. I glance back at my computer and take a seat on the stool. "Some short story project. Any ideas?" 

 

She looks around as if thinking hard and chews her lip, "What about dogs? People love dogs." I laugh and nod, "Yes! I love dogs! They're just so cute and lovable!" Kye chuckles and shakes her head. "Do you have one?" She asks, leaning her head.

 

I shrug and hold my cup with both hands, soaking up the warmth. "Nah, my boyfriend is allergic." She makes a face as if she missed something, "I thought you lived with your aunt?" I nod, "Yeah, but I wouldn't want to risk it." I shrug and smile.

 

A beat later, and the bell chimes. I glance at the door and back at Kye before my brain catches up. I do a double-take, and there is Mike standing looking between Kye and me. "Hey babe, thought you would want a ride. It's still raining pretty hard."

 

I smile at my boyfriend's thoughtfulness, and get up to pack up my things. Before I can reach him, Kye's calling me over. "Here! On the house." I blink at her and stare at the pastry in her hand, "I couldn't-" She waves me off with a smile. 

 

"Kara, your in here every single day. Think of it as a reward or something." She shrugs, and I laugh, taking the cookie. "Thanks, Kye!" I shout over my shoulder, leaving the building. I look over at a silent Mike, clenching his teeth and avoiding my eyes.

 

He opens the door for me, and I step inside the car. Confused, I watch him walk around and slam the driver's door. I raise my cookie toward him, and he slightly slaps it away. "What's your problem?" I ask. He rolls his eyes and starts the car.

 

"You know Kye's gay, right?" I shake my head slowly, "She's bi." He shrugs and makes a face, "What's the difference? She still likes women." He says matter of factly.

 

"The difference is she likes men and women, Mike." I bite back. He glances at me, then back to the road. "Jeez, Why are you getting so defensive?" I raise my eyebrows and cross my arms, "Maybe it's because my sister is a part of the LGBTQ? Or maybe it's because that's rude." 

 

He clicks his teeth and speeds up. "She probably has a crush on you or something." I scoff at his ignorance and turn toward the window. "She doesn't. She has a girlfriend, and you know this. Why am I even explaining?" I ask, facing him. 

 

"Is this going to be a remake of what happened with Darren? Because he still isn't even talking to me." I glance down at his foot which is pressing even harder down on the gas. "Slow down." He clearly ignores me and continues staring straight ahead. 

 

"Slow down!" I shout, watching in horror at how close we're reaching to the car in front of us. He slams the brakes, and I push my body back to prevent me from flying forward. "What the fuck!?" He still doesn't acknowledge me as he turns on the radio and bops his head.

 

I stare at the car that we just passed and see the family of five inside. He could've crashed into those people. He could've  killed  those people. I take a deep breath and hopes he doesn't notice my hands gripping the armrests.

 

I'm fine.

 



 

"Have you guys done it yet?" I glance up from my phone at Emma. "Done what?" She rolls her eyes and leans forward. "Ya know? Sex?" I roll my eyes and place my phone down. "If I were dating him, I would've done it the first week," Jasmine says, sighing dreamily. 

 

"No. We haven't done 'it,'" I say simply. Julie stares at me and bobs her head, "Isn't your birthday coming up or something? That could be your night." She says as if we aren't talking about something serious. 

 

I shrug and pick at the salad on my plate. "Come on, Kara. He can't wait forever." I dropped my fork and glared at her, "What about me?" I say a little louder than necessary. Emma narrows her eyes and studies my face. Her eyes widen at her self-realization, and she's quick to voice it, "Oh! You're a virgin." She says quieter.

 

The other girls stare at me, shocked. "I'm still young. Do I need to?" I ask them, unimpressed. They just shrug and continue eating. "You all have!?" I ask, looking between my friends. "Well yeah." Julie answers.

 

 I shift in my seat, and what seems to be my new routine, push my plate away.

 

I'm fine.

 



 

I bite my lip and stare at the unfinished report on my lap. Something is playing on the tv, but I'm not paying attention to anything but this paper. I sigh and flinch when a hand is roaming up my leg. I glance sideways, and Mike is staring at me with a dopey smile. 

 

"How about you take a break?" He breathes into my ear. I cringe and shake my head. I softly push his hand off my leg, "I'm not ready.." I say quietly. He rolls his eyes and sits back, taking out his phone. 

 

I chew my cheek and urge myself not to cry. A few minutes later, he's putting his phone away and standing up. "I'm gonna go out with my friends." He says, leaving no room for argument. "You remember what's coming up, right?" He glances at me before leaving. "Of course," he sighs before disappearing behind my door. 

 

I'm fine.

 



 

June 1st

10:48pm

 

"Hey, are you on your way?" 9:21 pm

 

"Did you forget what tonight is?" 10:09 pm

 

"Hello, Mike???" 10:34 pm

 

I look up at the clock for the millionth time since sitting down. I told my aunt I'd like to spend today with Mike, and she actually agreed. We spent the whole day together yesterday, and since she's busy in another town, we'll go out tomorrow. But now it's almost eleven, and I haven't even heard from Mike.

 

I expected not to hear from friends. They'd only remember if I had actually thrown a party. My phone chimes, and I'm quick to pick it up.

 

PrincessJazzy just posted a photo .

 

I roll my eyes and click on it. As usual, my friends are out drinking and whatnot. A familiar shirt is what catches my eye. I look at the guy wearing it and, of course. It's Mike. 

 

I slam my phone down and stand from the dining table. I pick up my cake and walk into the kitchen. I step on the garbage pedal and drop the colorful pastry in.

 

I turn off the kitchen light and make up my way up to my room. I take a seat at my vanity and remove my earrings and makeup. I get up and grab a pink sweat suit. I let my dress fall to the ground and put on the soft set. I walk over to the box on the shelf and pull out the large purple camera. 

 

I turn it facing me and snap a picture, hoping I don't look too upset. I wait for it to come out and shake it and, as usual, scribble on the back of it,

 

"Miss you; I just turned seventeen. Of course, you'd still be two months older than me, but I'd be able to tease you about being shorter than me. Love you, always, El." 

 

I put the camera and photo back in the box and walk over to my bed and pull the covers over my head.

 

Was it so hard to show up for your girlfriend's birthday? Was it so hard to remember your girlfriend's birthday? Was it so much to ask?

 

I ignore the urge to get my phone and call Alex. Instead, I take a shuddering breath and bring my legs up to my chest. On particular hard nights, I think of my parents. My biological ones.

 

This is a particularly hard night. Even though my birthdays with my parents were merely staged, I got to spend time with them. I can even recall my mother smiling at me on my ninth birthday. The memory itself is enough for me to start crying. 

 

I always tell myself I hate crying. But it always makes me feel better, like when you're doing something stressful, and you cry. But after you're done crying, the thing that made you upset seems insignificant. Like how I used to cry before starting my papers, and after I stopped, I would finish the report in about thirty minutes.

 

I wipe my eyes and pull a pillow over my head.

 

I'm perfectly fine.

 



 

June 3rd

 

I spent yesterday with my aunt, but it didn't cheer me up. When she came home, it was as if she already knew he wouldn't show, and I'm not sure if I should be irritated at that or concerned. 

 

I ignored him all day yesterday and even blocked his number. I haven't heard from my friends either, but that's not much of a surprise. I'm broken from my thoughts when someone knocks on my door. "Come in?" 

 

The door creaks open, and in walks Mike. His eyes are red, which I chalked up from crying, and his hair is a mess. "Kara, I'm  so  sorry. I swear I remember I had a gift and everything." He says, walking toward me with a gift bag. I eye the bag and glance back at him, keeping my expression neutral. 

 

"Just open it.. please." I take pity on him and take the bag with an eye roll. "You ditched me on my  birthday  to do what you always do. Party." He rubs his neck and avoids eye contact. I shake my head and open the bag. Inside is a small box.

 

My eyes widen, and I look back up at him. He nods, and I take out the box to open it. "Mike, it's beautiful!" I squeal at the diamond bracelet. "I love you so much. I'm sorry." I frown and stand up to kiss his cheek. "Thank you. I love it." I say, holding the bracelet to my chest.

 

"Here, let me." He carefully takes the jewelry and clasps it around my wrist. "Fits like a gem," I say, twisting it. "How about I make it up to you?" He speaks gently, pushing me back on my bed. 

 

I think about what everyone says. That Mike's a great guy, that he's perfect for me, that he's older and won't be able to wait any longer. I wonder if he'll leave me if I refuse yet again. I don't think I'll be okay if he leaves too. So I force myself to nod. He lights up and is quick to start undressing me.

 

I'm fine.

 



 

I feel disgusting. I tenderly extract myself from Mike's naked body and rush to my bathroom. I shut and locked the door behind me before sighing. I immediately hop in the shower and turn on the water.

 

I hold my arms up to my chest and wait until I feel better. I don't. I must've soaped myself up and rinsed off a thousand times, but I still feel dirty. The entire situation was uncomfortable. For me, at least. Mike seemed to enjoy himself, but I just wanted to tell him to leave. I couldn't even think straight, my thoughts were all over the place. 

 

I know I can't blame him. I didn't voice my thoughts. How would he have known? I slide down to sit and let the water bounce off me. The only thing I can think of is Alex. She'd know what to do. She'd know how to help me. But she isn't here.

 

I stand and turn off the pipe and exit the shower that's done nothing to improve my mood. I wrap myself in a towel and unlock the door to leave. Unable to calm my nerves, I rush over to the bed, shaking Mike awake. "What's wrong? Are you okay?" He asks, voice husky from sleep.

 

"You need to go." He blinks at me a few times before sitting up. "Why? We're dating." I nod and roll my eyes, "Yes, obviously, Mike, but I would feel a lot better if you left.. Like right now." He huffs and stands, dragging on his pants. He throws his shirt on and walks over to me. 

 

I lean back from his kiss, and he stares at me, hurt. "What's going on with you?" I shake my head and wave him off with a weak smile. "Nothing, just tired. Bye." He rolls his eyes and shrugs, leaving the room. I look at my bed, and it's now just a reminder of what I've just done. 

 

I take three deep breaths, and the bracelet on my wrist feels a hundred weights heavier. I attempt to take it off, but it won't budge. I don't even think I'm doing it right, but it's making me frustrated, and I rip the suffocating piece of jewelry off my hand. I stare at it in my hand before shoving it in my bedside drawer. 

 

I run over to my closet and throw aside pieces of clothing until I find the one I'm looking for. I grab the oversized yellow hoodie with a duck and throw it over my head alongside some underwear. I pace my room, biting my fingernail.

 

I just had sex. I just  lost  my virginity. He's years older. What if he leaves now? I hate that I think that. I hate how I'm not positive he won't leave me now. I won't tell anyone, I decide, running a hand through my hair. If he does leave, I'll look like a naive little girl who just gave away her most prized possession. Or so people say. 

 

I stare at my bed and rush to grab my computer. I quickly put in an order for a new bed and shut my laptop. I open my dresser to throw on large black sweatpants.

 

I walk over to my small couch and drop down on it. I pull my legs up to my chest and bury my head in them.

 

I'll be fine.

 



 

"So, Kara, don't get upset." I stare at Julie from my place on her bed. "That depends. What did you do?" She chuckles nervously and raises the white pharmacy bag. "We know you and Mike slept together." I groan and rub my temple. "How?" I ask simply.

 

"He kinda told his friends who told our friends.. and yeah. Anyways you've been.. moodier." She says as if trying to find the right words. Emma takes a deep breath and cuts in, "We know you missed your period for the past two months. We think you should take a pregnancy test." I let out a loud laugh.

 

"You think I'm pregnant?" I ask, staring at them. My smile drops when they avoid my gaze. "Please?" Emma pleads. I blink at her then the bag. "Whatever." I stand and grab the bag from her. "What do I do with it?" Jasmine's quick to answer, "You pee on it." I laugh again and walk towards the bathroom.

 



 

Two lines.

 

There are two fucking lines. I stare at the test in my hand, looking fuzzy from my shaking hands and teary eyes. I shove it back in the bag and wash my hands. I throw the door open and grab my bag from the chair. I ignore my friends as I bolt out of the house. 

 

I ran all the way back home. Ignoring the buzzing in my head, my uneven breaths, and the pain in my feet. I fumble with my keys and run inside. I rush to the living room, where my aunt turns to me with concern written all over her face. Too high off adrenaline to be annoyed, I hurry into her arms. 

 

She doesn't ask what's wrong. She doesn't question me at all as she caresses my head and lets me cry. "I did something terrible." I croak out between my tears. My aunt's hands don't slow as she takes in my words. "What happened, little one." She asks softly.

 

Instead of responding, I reach into my bag and pull out the small box. I take out the positive test as carefully as possible with my shaky hands. She stares at it for a few seconds before she begins crying as well.

 

She wraps me in her arms, and we both cry in each other's arms. "I promised you. I promised I'd protect you." She confesses. "Who would've thought I needed protection from myself," I say as a weak joke. She stares at me, bewildered.

 

"I never understood how you stayed so positive in uneasy situations.." My aunt admits pushing my hair behind my ears. I shrug and wipe my eyes with my sleeve, "I have to live up to my name somehow." We both laugh at the nickname Eliza gave me the second she met me. 

 

"We'll get through this. I promise." She leans her forehead on mine and holds my hands.

 

I'll be fine. 

 



 

"You're  pregnant?"  Mike asks again. I cross my arms self consciously and shake my head, "Yes, Mike. When two people have sex without protec-" He holds up his hand and cuts me off, "Yes, I'm aware of how babies are made."

 

I shrug. "Kara, I'm  leaving ." I stand there processing his words before laughing, "You're joking.. right?" He sends me a guilty look and shakes his head, "That Europe trip? It's permanent. I have family there, so I'm transferring schools."

 

I let my arms drop, "When were you going to tell me!?" I yell. "Soon! I swear!" I laugh, and he rubs his temple. "Can't you abort it or something? You're seventeen! I'm still in college!" I scoff at his vulgar terms and clench my teeth.

 

"And if I don't want to?" I challenge, glaring at him. "Well, you're gonna have to figure it out because I'm leaving." I scoff, "I'm  sick  and  tired  of your bullshit! You know what? Leave Mike! Take your shit and fucking leave!"

 

He looks caught off guard by my outburst and holds out his hand, "The bracelet then?" I shove him with my shoulder making my way over to the drawer I left it in. I grab it and slam it closed. "Here." I shove it in his chest and cross my arms. He looks at the broken bracelet and back at me. 

 

"Bye, Kara." He says before disappearing behind my door.

 

For good this time.

 

I drop to the floor and cry, like loud, obnoxious crying. Soon enough, my aunt's running in and wrapping me in her embrace on the floor beside me. 

 

Everyone was right

 

I'm  not  fine.