Page 14 of RoomHate

I just needed to throw it all out there.

“There is no excuse for my leaving the way I did. I was young and stupid and scared. My biggest fear had always been getting hurt by you, because you were the one person I could count on besides Nana. When I found out you knew what was happening behind my back…I took it as betrayal. At the time, I didn’t realize that you were just trying to protect me.”

***

Nine Years Earlier

Mom was out per usual, so I would be sneaking out with Justin to go to the little red theater. This week, they were playing an Italian film called Si Vive Una Volta Sola that I had been wanting to see.

As he always did, Justin met me at the corner.

“We’d better hurry up,” he said. “We don’t want to miss the nine o’clock show.”

“We’re good on time. Relax.”

We started the walk to the bus stop when I realized I didn’t have my bus pass. It was inside of a hoodie that I knew I’d left inside Justin’s house when we were doing homework the other day.

“Shoot. We need to go inside your house. My bus pass is in the pocket of my jacket that I left in your dining room.”

He waved his hand dismissively. “I’ll just pay for you.”

“No, Justin. That’s stupid. We still have plenty of time.”

I started walking back toward his house.

He grabbed my arm. “Stop. I have it covered.”

“I’m going inside.”

An uncharacteristically panicked look flashed across his face. “We can’t.”

“Why?”

As was usual every other week, his mother, Carol, was on an out of town business trip. I couldn’t understand why he was so insistent that we not go inside his house.

He looked like he was struggling to come up with an excuse. His eyes moved from side to side, and my instinct just told me something was off.

“What are you keeping from me?”

“Nothing. We just can’t go in there right now.”

“I don’t understand. Your father’s car is outside. He’s home. Why can’t I just run in and get my jacket?”

“My father would get mad if he knew I was going out with you. I told him I was going out with Rob.”

“I don’t believe that. Your father knows we hang out. He’s cool with it.”

“Not at night.”

“You’re lying.”

“Patch, will you just trust me?”

I suddenly ran toward the front door and knocked frantically. There was no answer for almost a full minute before Elton Banks finally answered the door.

“Hi. Justin and I were heading to the movies, but I need my bus pass. It’s in my jacket that I left in your dining room. I just need to come in and get it.”

Justin’s dad looked over at him worriedly. Meanwhile, Justin’s face was practically white.

When Mr. Banks hesitated to let me in, I pushed my way past him. “I just need my jacket.” After entering the dining room, I spotted my sweatshirt hanging on the chair. Something else caught my eye: my mother’s faux fur coat.

What was she doing here?

It didn’t take me long to figure it out. Storming upstairs, I knew exactly where I was going to find her. I burst through Justin’s parents’ bedroom to find my mother frantically trying to put on her clothes.

Covering my mouth with my hand, I shook my head in disbelief before running back down the stairs and out the front door.

Justin ran after me. “Patch, wait. Please!”

I turned around and spewed, “You knew about this?” You KNEW that my mother was here messing around with your father? How long has this been going on?”

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I can’t believe this!”

“I’m sorry, Patch. I’m so sorry.”

I ran back into my house and slammed the door, unsure of what hurt more: my mother’s actions or Justin’s keeping it all from me.

CHAPTER 6

The hurt in his eyes was palpable. Justin leaned his head back against the couch as I struggled to find the words.

“It was wrong of me to take my anger out on you. My mother was basically an irresponsible child, a selfish person. She’d had so many different boyfriends, affairs with married men. It never really surprised me that she would stoop to that level with your father. At the time, though, I just felt betrayed by everyone, including you. But I was wrong to punish you in any way for their actions.”

He rubbed his eyes warily and turned to me. “What do you want to know, Amelia?”

“How did it start? How long did you know about them?”

He turned his body toward me and wrapped his arm around the back of the couch. “I’m pretty sure my father was the one who pursued her. He used to always ask me questions about Patricia before they got together.”

“Really?”

“What I know now that I didn’t know then was that my parents had an open marriage. My mother went on way too many business trips, if you know what I mean. At the time, though, I hadn’t figured it all out yet. I came home from school unexpectedly early one day and found your mother there with him. I walked in on them having sex.”

I shuddered. “Oh my God.”

Justin grabbed his beer and took a long swig. “My father sat me down later that night and explained to me that he believed my mother had been having an affair too, and that he and Patricia had just started seeing each other. Your mother made me swear not to tell you. She said you wouldn’t be able to handle it, that your relationship with her was already tarnished enough and that you were under a lot of stress that I didn’t know about. She somehow convinced me that telling you would ruin your life. She told me if I really cared about you, I wouldn’t tell you. I believed what she told me.”

“There was nothing I ever kept from you, Justin. There was nothing going on with me. She was manipulating you to keep her antics a secret from me.”

“I wanted to tell you, but the more time that passed, the harder it was to admit that I’d been keeping something from you for so long. So, I chose not to say anything. I was only trying to protect you.”

“Justin, I—”

“Let me finish,” he interrupted.

“Okay.”

“We both came from broken homes, but from the moment I met you, my world seemed a little less broken. I always felt like my job was to somehow protect you. And my keeping what they were doing from you was only an extension of that. It wasn’t meant to be deceptive.”

I get it now.

There was so much I was embarrassed to admit in regards to my feelings all those years ago, but I couldn’t hold anything back. He was giving me this one chance to explain myself. Taking a long gulp of my wine, I prepared to lay it all out on the line.

“I ran away because I couldn’t handle my emotions. It was more than just your keeping that secret from me. It was what it represented to me, that there would be other things in the future that you would keep from me, too.” I paused. Just say it. “I was developing really strong feelings for you that went beyond our friendship, and I found myself unable to handle them. I didn’t know how to tell you. I was afraid to scare you away. It just felt like I was somehow destined to get hurt, so I chose to move away before that happened. It was my own way of controlling it. It was rash and foolish.”

That was the first time I had ever admitted to having feelings beyond friendship for him.

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