It’s been way too long! I’m finding itty-bitty chances to chisel away at this chapter. Here’s a peek because you guys are so patient and kind!


(Click on the picture to make it readable)


Alright, so I know a lot of people will probably be frustrated that I’m posting something personal on here again (trust me, I know; I’ve gotten your angry messages and comments about these), but I really feel inclined to put this out there for anyone to see: A bad grade in school is not the end of your life. 

I feel like ever since I started high school, I’ve been so worried about how an A+ looks better than an A which looks better than an A- and especially a B, let alone anything lower: and I hate myself for it. I can’t seen to wrap my mind around why something so little, such as one bad grade out of tons of great ones can make me feel completely worthless. Yes, other people will get better grades than you: in fact, most often, they will get better grades than you. But they’re not you! You are you because of who you are, what you stand for, what you’re talented at (and don’t you dare try to tell me you’re not talented because each and every one of you can do something I can’t), and most of all? How you’re not the person next to you. 

Seriously though. I’m tired of self-loathing, I’m tired of watching others self-loath over god forsaken grades and more. Who honestly cares? Yes, absolutely try your best! Try to get that A! Study all the time, but you know what? Sometimes you don’t have to study. You can skip every once in a while if it makes you happy. Who cares if you got a single bad grades? WHO CARES? WHO CARES?

Sadly enough, care. And I’m trying desperately not to. 

There’s this girl in two of my classes this semester who is so absolutely dead set on going to Yale. Let’s call her…Rachel. 

So Rachel is the number one student in my entire grade, easily maintains a 4.0 gpa, and the worst part of all? She always tells you what she got on a test, even if you tell her that you don’t want to. 

People like this drive me mad, and I can honestly blame most of my hectic grade-grubbing tendencies of this semester solely on her. Do you have someone like this in your life?

If so, and I’m telling you this as your friend: Don’t you dare take their “perfection” too seriously. 

You are you.

You are who you are because it’s who you’re meant to be.

Grades don’t define you, and if you dare let them I will personally hunt you down. 

And lastly, be happy. I’m personally sick of being so god damned sad all the time. Wanna be happy with me?

Then let’s fucking do it. 


And also, because I know it will make a significant amount of you happy…well, here:


So I tend to do these a lot, especially following long and unannounced hiatuses. So here’s the deal. 

School is ending soon…I get out about the beginning of the fourth week in June. I’m assuming ya’ll get out sooner since my school is a bit off the trend. 

So anyway. I’ve got my huge term paper for English (which, might I add, I’m expecting about a 1% on at this point, if even), along with steadily preparing for the long-awaited finals, playing sports, and more, Believe me. If it were up to me, this blog would be at the top of my priorities, especially with the cliff hanger I ended on. But, alas, that will not be possible for likely the next month or so. 

So, I mean, I highly doubt any of you will be too concerned. I just kind of wanted to chuck this out there to let ya’ll know I’m still alive. I’m going to an early showing of The Great Gatsby on Thursday night, and I just finished watching all six seasons of Lost. The finale was phenomenal, and I really don’t like the people who say the finale was awful. 

So, perhaps my mind hasn’t been completely focused. But still. That’s what’s been going on with me, and I don’t take any of it back. What’ve you guys been up to? Anyone wanna get into a heated discussion about Lost? I’ll see you all soon. ^_^




Valerie is BACK!

I got a new computer, and you want to know what the first thing I did was?

I downloaded all the games, brought in Valerie, dressed her up all nice, and took some pictures.










And this, folks, was the only reason I posted this. I hope ya’ll have a nice evening. I haven’t started the next chapter yet. But expect some pictures.



[Howdy ya’ll! I hope this makes your week more bearable. ^_^ I was going to wait until Sunday, but then I was just like, why the hell not? It’s done. So here ya go! Let me know what you think! -Jaimee]

I tapped my foot impatiently against the side of the wooden chair I sat in. My eyes focused on the glass display case of pastries in front of me. Bear Claws, cupcakes, brownies, scones and more were laid out on display for me to feast my eyes on. I was only partially hungry, to be honest, but if I was going to keep blaming my considerable weight gain on over-eating, I at least better make a show of it. Though I struggled a bit to stand, it wasn’t long until I stood in front of the young cashier waiting to tend on me. She couldn’t be older than seventeen, what with her fair skin and messy blonde hair pulled into a loose braid down the side. She gave me a floppy smile as I pulled my eyes from the display case to her.

“Good afternoon!” She smiled genuinely, clicking a couple buttons on the register. “For here or to go?”

“Here.” I tried my best to smile back, but the pregnancy had left me a bit queasy and sickly today. Kindness wasn’t at the top of my priorities.

“Cool,” she grinned, unfazed. Her eyes flitted to my stomach, but only for a second. “What’ll it be?”

“Um, oh, yeah,” I said quickly, remembering where I was. “Can I get two crab claws and…hm, a Chai Tea Latte?”

“Sure thing-”

“-Oh, wait!” I cut off. “Sorry, can you make the latte decaf?”

She gave me a small, knowing smile. “Sure thing, ma’am.”

Satisfied, I started to fish some money out of my purse. A few moments later I brushed across some bill and pulled it out, happy to see it was a twenty. I handed it over, and as she gave me my change she smiled again.

“Congrats on your pregnancy,” she said whole-heartedly. “You look…really, really good.”

I almost thanked her, but then something hit me. If I told her, a random stranger, then who was I not to tell Adan? Or my parents? Some person I was.

“I’m not pregnant,” I rushed, creasing my eyebrows.

“O-oh,” the girl stammered. “Um, ma’am, I’m so sorry…it’s just, you’re so skinny, and your stomach is just…” Her voice faded out. “Sorry.”

However bad I would’ve felt about my family had I not told her she was wrong may have hurt less than the embarrassment that now showed on her face. It was beet red, truly and utterly apologetic as she looked down. Was it really worth it? She wouldn’t have told anyone. Why would she? She didn’t know how screwed up my situation was.

“Keep it,” I said, pushing her open hand with my change in it back. “Tip.”

The young girl brightened at this, which in turn made me feel a bit better. I turned and walked back to a farther table this time, wanting nothing more than to avoid making eye contact with her again. I set the bear claws and latte down on the table and eased myself into the chair.

Four months. I could hardly believe it’d been four months already. My wardrobe had long since changed to nothing but baggy shirts and lots of layers. Lucky for me, the pregnancy was also affecting my face and arms a bit, which made it more believable that I was just gaining weight overall. That’s what made it hard to believe that a teenager could have the insight to see what this really was…or maybe it wasn’t that hard to believe. Teenagers see everything through the clearest possible vision, and they always call it as they see it. That’s what is so frightening about teenagers. As much as no one ever wants to admit it, their raw views of the world are often true. It’s a shame we’re all trained to think the same.

Just as I was about to take my first bite of the bear claw, a surprisingly familiar voice-though not the one I’d expected-chirped out my name.


I turned around so slowly that you’d of thought I was in slow motion. But no, that voice…I knew that voice. And I wasn’t as welcome to it as it seemed to me.

“Freya!” I pushed as much happiness into that name as I could. “What a surprise.” Unsure as to what kind of greeting our peculiar relationship granted, I stayed seated.

“I know,” she laughed, standing next to my table and leaning on it with her knuckles flat against it. “I never knew you liked coffe.”

“I don’t,” I countered, confused by the playful banter going on. My hand reached for the latte and tapped on it a few times, smiling semi-wickedly. “Chai Tea Latte.”

“You’re kidding.” Freya looked shocked. “I love those.”

To my own surprise, I smiled as genuinely to Freya as the cashier had to me and laughed lightly. “So what brings you here?”

“Oh, me?” I cocked an eyebrow, as if asking her who else I could possibly be talking to. “Meeting my fiancé.”

“Fiancé?” A jealous knot formed in my chest.

“Tall, red hair, freckles like me, pale as can be…” Her countenance was dazed and happy, a look I’d never before seen on her. “…and cute as can be.” She shook her head, breaking the moment of bliss. “How about you?”

“Friend.” I idly wondered if she’d get her soon and what I’d do if these “meetings” overlapped. I gestured to the seat across from me, tired of craning my neck upward. “Sit!”

Freya dropped her purse to the ground and pushed her hair back, smiling in wake of her tousled locks. “Speaking of friends,” she said, lowering her voice as she pulled her long hair into an elastic, “have you heard?”

Though I had no clue why, my chest tightened as she said this. “Hear what?” My mouth felt drier.

“Denis,” Freya gushed, leaning forward on her elbows. “Denis Levi.

Oh. So my chest had been correct when it’d clenched just a moment ago.

“Really?” I couldn’t tell if the feigned shock was evident in my tone, so I dropped my jaw a little lower for effect. “No way. Last I heard he was off to Iraq and destined to stay there forever.” The picture of Denis brought on startled and clashing feelings to me, the most apparent being the thought of him experiencing so much pain. Our time together had gone a long way to ease the tension in me when I heard his name, but not nearly long enough.

“I know, right?” Well, judging from Freya’s voice, she had no clue what was going through my head. “I never thought I’d see him again.”

“Wait, you’ve seen him?” There was that jealous knot again.

“Me?” Freya held her hand to her chest, eyebrows lifted. “No, of course not.” The knot dissipated. “But I have dropped by his house a couple times, you know, just to drive by, and I think I saw a light once. So that’s something.” The knot returned. “Who knows, maybe he’s back from the dead.”

I sat back in my seat suddenly, as I stared at Freya’s concerned and excited face. This was not the face of the girl who’d once been my very best friend, then pushed me into a lake when she knew I couldn’t swim. This most definitely wasn’t the face of the girl who’d deprived me of having a chance at Denis before things got so complicated.

“You okay-” Freya was staring at me when her gaze suddenly diverted. “Oh, sorry,” she murmured as she collected her bag from the floor and stood within a matter of seconds. “My fiancé’s here…it was good talking.” She started to walk away as I stared straight forward. Then she backtracked. “Here,” she continued, placing a crisp white business card down on the table. “Sorry to be so formal, but feel free to give me a call sometime…I’d love to catch up.” I nodded absentmindedly.

I sat in my disconcerted state for god knows how long, debating the simple question of why Freya was suddenly on good terms with me. Also, not to mention the fact that my mind was on Denis again. I reached down to my belly, placing a firm hand over my belly button. The simple move brought me some peace, though it was short-lived.

I started digging into the Bear Claw again when Ande joined me. If it was up to me, I would’ve stayed in today. But I’d avoided her for months, so it was about time I guess.


I tried to look happy as I got up from my chair as normally as possible. Only the most careful watchers would see my struggle.

“Hey Lee!” Ande returned my grin, pulling me in for a quick hug. And thank goodness it was quick. I just barely arched my back enough to keep my belly back.

When I pulled away, I was slightly surprised to see that Ande had brought someone.

“Oh!” Realization seemed to hit her as my eyes were pulled from her to the new girl. I stared at her in wonder. Why did she look so familiar? “Lee, this is Delilah. Lilah, this is Valerie. Valerie, Delilah. Delilah, Valerie.” Her eyes were expectant as I stared down Delilah. “Do you…”

“What’s your last name?” I asked curiously, still studying her.


Oh. That didn’t sound familiar at all.

“Okay, sorry.” I took a deep breath, beckoning them to sit down with me. I carefully slid into my seat and concealed my belly as I turned back to Delilah. She was actually really pretty, what with her blonde hair and kind eyes. “That wasn’t the nicest intro I’ve ever made. You actually look pretty familiar, to be honest.”

“Really?” She looked me over similar to how I’d looked at her. “You know, now that I think of it, you look kind of familiar too.”

“Are you serious?”



We looked at one another some more, until Ande stood up abruptly.

“I’m gonna go get some food. The usual, Lilah?” Delilah nodded and looked back at me. I smiled.

With Ande gone, I decided to become friendlier with the newbie and stop being so creepy. I may be pregnant, but I wasn’t as socially inept as some people pegged me.

“Friend of Ande’s?”

She nodded. “Our parents were good friends, so we were around each other a lot. Made good sense for us to at least become friends.” I smiled genuinely as she spoke. “How about you?”

“Huh? Oh.” Casting my gaze down, I shrugged. “Uh, some class…in college. You know.” I sure as hell wasn’t about to tell this stranger I’d met Ande at Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Oh, right! I’m so stupid. Watercolor Painting, right?” I gave her a confused look. “The class you guys took together…Watercolor Painting, right? I think Ande mentioned that.”

“Oh, yeah.” A small smile flitted around my lips that I struggled to keep down. Of course Ande lied for us. Our friendship, even after months, was just that secure. A sudden pang in my chest clued me in to how much I’d actually missed her in our time apart. “Watercolor Painting…what a wild class.” Delilah laughed lightly as Ande reappeared.

“They were out of red velvet cupcakes, so I got you crumb cake.”

“No problem,” replied Delilah. She seemed so easygoing. “What’d you get?”

Ande lowered her plate so we could both see it. A Reese’s Cupcake. I picked some more at my crab claw and took a hesitant sip of the latte. Delicious.

With Ande seated next to Delilah and all of us making casual small talk, things seemed…well, normal again, to be honest. And it felt good for a while. That is, until Ande changed the topic.

“So,” she said once we hit a snag in the conversation. Her eyes hesitantly stared down. “Um, so, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. A reason I brought Lilah here.”

“Okay…” I replied carefully.

“And, uh, the last time I tried to talk to you about this…well, the multiple times I tried to talk to you about this, I approached it all wrong. And I’ve had a few months now to think and sit on this, and I really couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t. I can’t.” Despite my best prying, my mind couldn’t think up one thing that could be bothering her. Everything was an open book between us. “Delilah?” She motioned to her friend.

“Um, okay.” The atmosphere was all nerves and none of the jovial giddiness it was the moment before.  “I’ll…I’ll just get right to it. Valerie…Val, may I call you that?”

I nodded uncertainly.

“When I was younger…when I was younger, I was raped.” All of the air left my body. Every ounce of it. “And we know…we know you were too.”

Moving as fast as I had since before my pregnancy, I stood up and started moving for the door. No way was I dealing with this today. Tears sprang up in my eyes. This pregnancy, Adan, Denis…and now this? No way in hell. Not today. Not now.

“Valerie, stop.”

I ignored Ande’s pleas and kept walking. Just a few more steps until I was out of her reach.


My hand reached for the door. Just as I felt the cool metal beneath my hand begin to turn, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Valerie.” My body turned rigid. “Valerie. Come back. Sit down.” I still doubted Ande’s sincerity, but there was something in her voice that I’d never heard before. A certain tone that told me this wasn’t a joke. “Just sit.

My heart beat fast in my ears and every single ounce of my being told me this was a bad idea: yet I still turned around. I had never once in my life so cautiously approached anything as I did that table. But sooner than I could think otherwise, my body had eased back on to the wood, across from Ande and Delilah.

When she tried to talk, I cut her off. “Why,” I began, “do you think that I was…uh, raped?” The word was painful to repeat. “Because I wasn’t,” I continued, matter-of-factly.

“You might not’ve been.” Good. At least she was listening to me. “But,” she went on, “you have that look.”

“What look?”

“The look that says you’ve been through something you can’t talk about. Something you won’t talk about. And Delilah…it took her a while too. But once you do…well, I’ll let her tell you.”

“Val, I know we just met, but you need to know something.” The tears I had been trying so hard to hold back fell from my eyes, one hot drop at a time. “I know how difficult it is to admit it to anyone, but especially yourself. For the longest time I tried to convince myself that the rape was normal, or that it was an accident or didn’t matter, or even that it was my fault. But I’ve learned.” She appeared like she might cry too, but I could’ve been wrong. I was looking at the world through a veil of…what was it? My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I realized what the feeling was. Relief.

“Please don’t cry,” Ande pleaded. She attempted to lay her hand over mine, but I jerked it back instinctually. She slowly repealed her own, looking dejected.

“I’m not crying.” I sat up a little straighter and started re-packing my things in my bag. “In fact, I’m starting to think you’re imagining a lot of other things too, like this stupid, stupid idea you have that I-“ I tried my best to stop my shaking voice. “-have been raped. I don’t know what kind of sick joke you’re playing, but this needs to stop.”

“Don’t go.” This, surprisingly, came from Delilah. Her eyes were wide as she looked up at my standing figure. I shook my head, refusing to listen. As I started to turn away my phone slipped out of my hand. Making a dramatic show of it, I dropped my purse to the floor and very carefully reached for it. Halfway down, my back gave way a little and sent me plummeting to the ground.

“Valerie?!” Ande dashed to my side, looking concerned. Damn, I thought. If only she knew I was pregnant.

“Don’t try to help me,” I said harshly when she reached her arm out. “I don’t need your pity.”


“-And I sure as hell don’t need you thinking I need saving all the time. Did you ever stop to think that I’ve avoided you for months for a reason?

I stood again, phone in hand. Ande placed an unmoving hand on my shoulder.

“When did it-“

“-Like, stop!” I screeched. “I wanna go. I wanna go home…to my boyfriend. Unlike you, he actually-“

“-Would you just stop for a second and-“

“-I wanna go ho-“


“Because I don’t wanna be with you.”

“Where do you live?”

“You know where I live!”

“Can I come with you?”

“What? No!”

“When were you raped?”


It only took me a second after I said it to realize what she’d done-she tricked me. She tricked me into admitting the one thing I promised myself was my problem and my problem alone. In place of the anger I expected-the anger I always tried so hard to keep at bay-was that strange feeling again. Relief. But was it relief? Honestly? A hysterical cry sprang from my lips as I avoided her gaze.

“Fourteen?” Ande’s voice, while muddled to my screaming ears, was filled with an ardent concern. “Are you…are you serious?”

“No,” I shot back, looking up with an annoyed countenance. “I lied.”

She looked at me harrowingly.

“I didn’t mean that.” An indefatigable pain jumpstarted in my chest.

“I know you didn’t.”

Slowly, after exchanging hesitant looks between Ande, Delilah and myself, we sat back down. Exhausted, I leaned back. It really looked like I wouldn’t be getting out of this discussion this time.

“How old were you?” I directed this question to Delilah, and when she looked up her face appeared how mine felt-despaired and caught.

“Sixteen.” If physiognomy still held true in the modern age, she would be an enigma, what with her dejected eyes and sad, sad expression. No one who looked like that could possibly feel so much sadness. Yet here she was. “It was my best friend’s dad. Things were…complicated.” I nodded solemnly.

“Wait.” This came from Ande. Her face showed that a new idea had occurred to her. “Is this why…why you were in Alcoholics Anon-” Her voice cut off as she shot cursory glances between Delilah and me. “Shit. I didn’t mean to-“

I sighed deeply. “It’s okay.” And surprisingly, it was. I felt a sort of peace that I hadn’t previously known was attainable. Delilah helped me cope with some things about my life I hadn’t known needed coping, and Ande was nice to have for support. It was the weirdest thing to be a part of and talk about after keeping it in so long, but when all was said and done and the moon had long sunken into the dark hues of night, I felt at peace. Of course, that peace could only last so long.

“Before we go,” Ande said quietly, as if nervous for my reaction, “I think you should…well.” She nudged my phone that sat in the middle of the table over to me. I didn’t remember her touching it, but as I looked down I came to notice something peculiar-my mom’s phone number scrawled on the screen.

I looked up frantically, begging with my eyes for her to relieve me of this one task. She shook her head sharply.

Before I could stop it, the phone was ringing. I prayed and prayed she wouldn’t pick up, and I even began to think she wouldn’t as the time ticked on, but at the very last second her voice chirped through the other end.

“Valerie?” she asked hesitantly, as if surprised by my call.

“Mom…” I choked back tears. Ande and Delilah stood up, nodding their approval and encouragement to me. I could always hang up after they left, but their looks told me I wouldn’t be getting out of this either. “Can I come over?”

“Yes…” She still seemed confused. “What do you need?”

In an air of certainty I never knew I possessed, I sighed and replied in my most level voice. “We need to talk.”

D: coffee today?

V: time?

D: 11 good?

V: yep. place?

D: you pick 😉

V: Castiel’s Café, over on Werth Ave.

D: see you there

Waking up to the news that I’d never met Shane and was free of every ounce of depression that had ever haunted me couldn’t have filled me with more happiness than those seven messages did. I woke up at nine to the original, and the rest took less than a few minutes. I got right in the shower after a small bout of queasiness.

As I lathered up soap and washed it over my body, one though defeated all the rest: it’s about freakin’ time.

At least once in the past two weeks since seeing Denis again, you would’ve thought I’d’ve cracked and texted him. But no, in a rare showing of extreme self-control, I hadn’t. The part of me that wanted to talk to him nearly won, but then there was always that lingering thought that me texting first would send the wrong message; that message being that I was looking for more than a friendship. And no, the fact that Adan had the ability to read my texts had no effect on this new self-control. None at all.

I stepped out with dripping hair a few minutes later. I had to use every second I had in the next hour or so prepping myself to look normal. Also, as much as I hated to think of it, I also had to find an outfit that wouldn’t show off my growing belly. I’d found out at six weeks in that I was pregnant, thanks to a secretive doctor’s visit, which now left me at two months in. For the most part, it looked like I’d been snacking a bit too much lately, which was the story I was going to go with if anyone (namely Ande) asked.

It turned out that a plain dress I bought a while back did just the trick. It was black with small hints of mint blocking in certain parts of the dress. It was slimming and had a low scoop neckline that even I could admit was slightly appealing on me. Once smoothed out and paired with some eyeliner and mascara, I felt ready to go. I just had to fix my hair into a nice bun on top of my head.

I struggled with this part more than I would’ve liked, thanks to the queasiness building up in my stomach. My morning sickness could usually be tamed, but on certain mornings it was really apparent. Adan working so far away was a blessing since I had the apartment to myself most mornings. Not that, at this point, we’d even talk if he was home. So it was a blessing in more ways than one, but I didn’t really feel like delving into the politics of the latter at that particular moment.

I eventually got my hair fixed up into a messy bun. I left a few pieces hanging out in the front that, with the natural wave in my hair, curled back slightly and framed it well. Fitting my swollen feet into flats was a slightly bigger issue as I was about to leave, so I eventually gave up and threw them in my purse. I drove barefoot with ice on my feet that, once there at 10:54, I could barely fit into the flats. I shrugged and opened up the door, surprised when I saw a familiar buzz cut within just seconds.


A smile crept up on my face as I approached the café. His back was toward me but soon became his face when he heard my voice. Our eyes met across the spring breeze, teal against green. I held it all the way until I reached him, and then I finally lowered it and let me smile falter a bit.

“Hey there, stranger,” he said lightly, standing up. His grin broadened, but then we both got stuck when we couldn’t figure out what to do next. Hug each other? If we did, I don’t think I could’ve handled being so close yet so unbelievably far at once. If we shook hands, the formality of it would’ve killed me. And plus, touching his hand…

“Uh, wanna sit down?” he asked, running his hand over his brown hair. The buzz cut was only one of the remnants of his post-high school history, and it hurt a little to look at it.

“Yeah, sure.”

Though some of the initial joy at the meeting had been dimmed by the uncertainty over our encounter, it soon returned after I sat down across from him. A smile started playing over my lips as I read the menu below me. I was so utterly aware of Denis when he was near. Just his simple breathing made me see all that I could have, and it was suffocating-in a good way.

“I’ll have the coffeecake,” he said, smiling up at the waitress. How did he so easily charm everyone? Even in high school, he was popular. Denis was so shy with me, but so easy with everyone else.

“And to drink?” asked the waitress smoothly, grinning sheepishly right back down at him.

Denis didn’t waver once before replying simply, “A hot tea,” and handing his menu up to the mesmerized woman. She looked at me for my order next, but I was so distracted that I picked the first thing I laid my eyes on and handed my menu up without another glance. With everything done, I turned back to Denis and that anxious feeling filled my gut again. How could one person throw me off so easily?

“Nice day, huh,” muttered Denis, looking off to the left. I looked up at him and let out a light chuckle.

“What, did I say something funny?” he asked, mock-defensively.

“No,” I said slowly, picking my words carefully. “I just never took us to be the nice-weather-talking kind of people.” I took a chance by looking up at him, and to my surprise he seemed amused.

“We aren’t, are we?” he chuckled. “Some things change, but this hasn’t…” he trailed off as a dark emotion crossed his face. “But some things do change,” Denis continued, looking down and fiddling with his thumbs. “Like your…your boyfriend.”


So that’s what today was coming to.

An uncertain silence possessed the meal, but I knew where both of our minds were. No doubt we were both remembering the encounter at his house a few weeks ago. The silence broke when the drinks arrived. The tea seemed to visibly calm him down, so I chose that moment to speak.

“But, um, Denis,” I stumbled out. “He’s just…he’s just a thing. I mean, a guy-a guy my parents set me up with. But you…you weren’t…” I broke off my own speaking and looked down. When Denis spoke next, almost all of his earlier episode was forgotten.

“No, I’m happy for you.” He paused thoughtfully, taking a long sip of his tea. “I’m glad you…moved on.” His cheeks grew flushed again, but it only lasted for a brief second. “Besides,” he continued, laughing. “We went on, what, one date?”

I nodded, forcing myself to smile in the slightest. This wasn’t good territory for this “lunch date.”

“Yeah,” I murmured painfully. I could almost feel the rain slamming into me, cutting across my cheek as I ran from Denis and the life I could’ve had. Instinctively, I reached down to touch my belly as my depressed thoughts came on. Remembering where I was and who I was with, I removed it almost instantly.

“But he…your…” Denis searched for the right word to use but eventually gave up and continued. “Does he know you’re here? The guy you were with the last time we saw each other? Whatever he is to you.”

My eyes found his and searched for some sort of emotion, but I couldn’t grasp how he was feeling at all. Denis was hiding his emotions well.

“He knows that I went out,” I shrugged, taking my gaze off of him.

“Valerie,” said Denis sternly. I knew he was staring straight at me, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn back to him now.

“He’s at work, so he doesn’t care,” I continued, trying really hard to convince him-as well as myself- that there were no strings attached to this meeting. But I think we both knew there were.

“And besides, I’m my own person. If I want to have lunch with a friend from high school, then I will. No one-not even Adan- could tell me that I couldn’t do this or anything else I want. I’ve spent enough of my life letting people dictate how I act, who I am, what I stand for-“ I ticked the reasons off on my fingers harshly, a determined look on my face. Then I cut off my panicked voice abruptly when I realized what I was doing. Why had I chosen now of all times to go off on a rant about my life? Damn myself.

“So, the mysterious boyfriend has a name,” said Denis, chuckling-or was he? He held a smirk on his face, but deeper than that was a palpable anger just below the surface. “Adan…” Denis let the name play around on his tongue, when suddenly his face fell. “Do you like this guy?”

My eyes registered a clear shock at his daring question. For anyone else, I would’ve refused to answer, insisting that there was an obvious answer to such a silly question. But something about who was saying it and how he was saying it made me question the happy façade I’d long since put on my relationship. But there was more than just us now. There was this third person, an “it” inside me who complicated things beyond compare, and I felt compelled to defend it. Gripping the fabric lying over my belly, I turned back to Denis.

“I do,” I said, surprised by the hardness in my voice. His face made me falter, but I tried  desperately to hold on to my initiative. “I love…I like him very much, and I love where my life is at. We’re very happy together, and we even live together! Why is it so hard to see that we’re happy?”

My voice had risen considerably and my face flushed, so I decided to dial it back and sit farther into my chair. I hated to admit it, but I couldn’t help thinking I was trying to convince myself more than him that I was happy.

“Forget I asked,” said Denis after a long silence. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought this up.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” I agreed, casting my gaze down. I hated this fighting, but I’d be a fool if I’d have thought this topic could’ve been evaded today. It was inevitable.

“Well, um, what’s going on in your life? Obviously a lot has changed with you too since high school.” My attempt to change the topic wasn’t completely overlooked, but I think we could both appreciate the effort. Denis conveyed that much when he sighed heavily and drummed his fingers against his mug.

“Well, the army was…different than I thought it would be. I mean, yes, I knew that it would involve  lot of labor, yelling, and sleepless nights, but I didn’t realize how much it would affect my life until about a week or so in. I was pretty terrified, to be honest.”

The amount of truth he was admitting comforted me. It reminded me that I’m not the only one who gets a little scared sometimes.

“And that sounds totally lame, I know. You’re the first person I’ve even told that.”

I smiled lightly to myself.

“So, um, eventually I got used to it, of course. I was in training more than I was in the field, but towards the end…well, Iraq was all I saw. The endless desert, the freezing nights, and the blood were all horrific. I mean, that’s not the best word to describe it, but it was my own kind or horror.”

Denis heaved a heavy sigh, glancing up to gauge my reaction. Though I had no clue what my face read, his eyes seemed to widen when he saw it.

“God damnit, I’m so stupid,” he said apologetically.  “Why am I talking about blood and gore? I’m so sorry Val-“

In an instant, I pushed my chair back and started sprinting to the bathroom. I tried hard not to think of blood as the muffin I’d just been eating threatened to make a reappearance, but I was unsuccessful. I only made it halfway through the café before it happened. I thought of blood, and nothing had ever been so repulsive. I threw up all over the floor and struggled to breathe. I thought of blood again. It kept coming up, and it was only when Denis laid a reassuring hand on the small of my back that I realized where I was and what I was doing.

“I’m sorry,” I said automatically, using all of my strength to steady myself. All I could seem to think about were two words: morning sickness, and how I needed to conceal it for once. If Denis figured this out, then I would be-

“What, you drink a little too much last night?” he asked, laughing lightly and guiding me toward the bathroom.

“Hardly,” I murmured, avoiding his gaze.

He bent his knees and met my eyes levelly before pushing open the men’s bathroom door. He reappeared a minute later with a disheveled pile of paper towels in his hand and a determined look on his face.

I muttered my apologies the entire way back, but he’d have none of it. He bent down once again without a word and started cleaning up my mess with practiced efficiency, waving employees off when they tried to help. It only took a few minutes for the floor to once again be shining.

I held the door open when we reached the outside Denis murmured his thanks as he slid past me and disposed my mess into the trash.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked in disbelief when we finally sat back down at our table. The waitress, having seen what happened, soon after brought us wet wipes and breath mints. Together, we nodded our thanks. “You shouldn’t be thanking me for anything. I’m the one who threw up like a loser and made you clean it up. It’s not fair. I’m sorry. Let me do something, anything, to prove to you I’m better than this. I mean, I can totally handle war stories. I swear. If you could just-“

“You didn’t make me do anything,” he replied in a slow, calculated way. “Friends help friends out.”



“And besides,” he continued, “I know how people are with war. Half the men in my bunker could hardly bandage their own wounds without doing what you did.”

He let out a light laugh, though I hardly doubted anything being said was very funny to him. It was more so in an effort for normalcy.

I nodded agreeingly, moving the mint around in my mouth with my tongue.

“You cleaned that up pretty efficiently,” I said lightly. “Were you ever on cleaning duty, warrior?”

He bowed his head, shaking it.

“Nope. More like I practiced my entire childhood every time my mom came home drunk and threw up. She did that more often than I’d like to remember.”

A dark expression crossed his face, similar to earlier. That part of him scared me, and we were tapping into it a lot more often than I felt comfortable with.

“Well, uh,” I started, attempting to brighten the mood. “I guess we both had interesting childhoods, if I remember correctly.” Denis fixed his sad gaze on me, visibly lightening up a little. “Remember that time in high school when you showed up late for the timed mile, so you sprinted down to the track and just started running? And then you ended with a better time than anyone, despite starting a minute and a half late.”

“Yeah,” Denis, smiled. “That was when I was thinking of doing track and field in college. But then you know how the story goes from there.” His half smile made me so emotional I nearly cried, but that was thanks to my pregnancy. Or maybe that was just the effect he had on me.

“I know,” I replied quietly.

For the next hour or so, the conversation stayed lighter, thank god. We often brushed over topics that I liked to refer to as the “Danger Zone.” We’d have to no doubt discuss them someday, but that day wasn’t today. And I sincerely hoped it wouldn’t be for a while after that either. Around 1:30, we finally had to say our goodbyes. If anything, I felt more flustered and unsure about how to part than I had been greeting him earlier. What terms were we on now that we’d properly “caught up?”

It became obvious that we’d reached friend status again when Denis pulled me in for a hug. His long, muscular arms wrapped around me in a way that was surely friendly and casual to him, yet meant the world to me. I sank into it but eventually realized that my stomach was starting to brush against his. I could let it stay, but then I’d have to do some pretty hefty explaining of my newer “eating habits.” To my mortification, when I started to lean back he pulled away immediately, looking like he had committed some sort of felony. I laughed, waving off his distress. His creased eyebrows relaxed  bit as his hand ran over the buzz cut.

“It sucks, but I’ve got work,” said Denis as he opened up my car door for me. I tried to hide my blushing.

Don’t get too attached, I demanded myself.

“Hey,” I said, turning to face him one last time. “Duty calls, right warrior?”


I could see that he wanted to say more, but he left it at that. It was probably a smart move too, because if he’d said more we likely would’ve stayed for a while longer. His deep green eyes stared down at me until he was forced to break the look. As soon as he did, I had to look around and re-gather my surroundings.

“Um, yeah, okay. Bye,” I muttered, stepping very carefully into my care. Denis gave me one last, wistful look as he watched me pull out.

All I could think was thank goodness the parking lot was empty.

If there had been another car, I would’ve run into it and never noticed as I looked at Denis. And wouldn’t that be a nice way to die, I couldn’t help but think? To die looking at the one person you loved?

Because there was no more doubt. This was the person I loved most. I just wasn’t sure he loved me back. 

[This street. How, oh how, did I always end up here? And why? Why did everything in my life always lead back to the same thing? Why couldn’t I stop the never-ending voice in the back of my head telling me that maybe he still exists? That maybe Denis and I could be together. Staring at his house, I frowned so deeply I thought my face might collapse. And that’s when the craziest thing of all happened.

                The light turned on.

                I stumbled out of the car so fast it was a wonder I didn’t fall and break my neck. Some other-worldly force pushed me up to his door. No thought told me that this was a bad idea. All of my thoughts, jumbled as they were, all had one thing in common: Denis. Was this him? Was he home? Did someone else move in? Was I deluding myself? Was this a dream? Without another thought, I reached out and knocked on the door.

                And, against all reason, it opened.]


A woman, probably in her late thirties, with a high blonde ponytail and bright blue eyes answered. She appeared impatient as she looked me over.

“Can I help you?” She seemed genuinely curious, which I could understand. I had just barely enough time to shut my gaping mouth before answering.

“U-um, I’m sorry,” I managed to get out. “I must be at the wrong house…”  While every fiber of my being was telling me to get out of this embarrassing situation, I couldn’t stop the question before it came out. “Uhm, do you live here?”

If she was startled by my question, she didn’t show it. The lady just seemed confused. “No…” she began slowly, looking behind me. A wave of disappointment welled up inside me as I debated the reason for her curious glances. Probably to see if she was being punk’d. I somehow doubted that would be that much weirder. “I’m actually here to help-“

“Aunt Beck?”

The woman swiveled around at whoever called her. She seemed to relax a little at the sight of whoever was coming her way. In fact, when she did, I couldn’t help but notice the difference. Had she really been that tense around me? I mean, I could understand that it was a little weird for a complete stranger to knock on your door and ask who lives here. But still. If what she said was true, then she didn’t live her either. I knew I probably didn’t look normal, what with the crazed look in my eyes and frantic ramblings, but I surely-

“Honey, there’s someone here…”

I looked up and, without a word, it was as if my entire world had been slapped in the face. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. Could it? Denis. Denis Levi was standing right in front of me.

 Age had done him well. It’d been about ten years since I’d laid eyes on his once-scrawny body. His skin was darker, tougher, more lived in and was definitely covered with more scars. Denis’ eyebrows creased in a seemingly permanent dismay despite the shocked expression on his face. His lips were slightly parted, but they kept opening and closing as I read him. He raised his hand to scratch his head as his tall frame leaned lightly against the side of the door. Denis’ arms crossed and uncrossed. My breathing picked up as he looked at me from his slouched stance. I think his aunt left at some point, but I hardly noticed. I didn’t feel okay.

“So,” he muttered, making the first sound.

“So.” I breathed heavily, looking down. My palms were sweating incessantly, so I rubbed them together.

“Wh-what’s-you look so, um, hey-how are you?” Denis stumbled over his words, but it’s not like I could form them either. I bit my lip, waiting for the right words to come to me.

“F-fine,” I managed. “It’s just been a…long, uh, time.”

Denis grunted agreeingly, doing that thing where he bows his head and looks up, smoldering me with his gaze. I shivered, backing up.

“What, are you cold? Do you-I mean, only if you want. I’m sure you have to be somewhere but, uh, wanna come in? It’s kind of crazy here, but if you’re cold-“

“Yes,” I laughed quietly, releasing my arms. “I would-“

The sound of a car engine and a slamming door knocked me out of my trance. Denis looked confused as he lifted his eyes above me, so I turned around slowly, anticipating some creep to be behind me. But when I turned around, it was worse. So much worse. It was Adan.

“Hey man, I don’t know what your problem is-“

“No, I don’t know what your fucking problem is,” snarled Adan, reaching us in just seconds. I think that was the first time I’d ever heard him curse.

“Whoa, I’m not looking for trouble,” said Denis quickly, grabbing my arm in a brave move and attempting to push himself in front of me. I stood completely still as the scene unraveled.

Adan lowered his gaze from Denis to me, keeping all of the intensity in it.

“So what, I follow you here and you’re with some guy?!” Adan returned his icy glare to Denis, pulling me forward and out of his protection. Underneath the anger, I could sense a sharp pain. I just barely recalled that he was about to propose to me. “Even I thought you respected me more than this, Valerie,” sputtered Adan.

“Wait, Val-“ Denis caught himself using his pet name for me and corrected it quickly. “Valerie, you know this guy?”

“Um, yeah, Denis-“

“We’re leaving now,” cut off Adan. I couldn’t remember a time when he’d been half as aggressive as this, and I was surprised he chose now of all times to unveil it. “Get in the car.”

I shot back a pleading look at Denis. His face wore a particular look of confusion, and unless I was mistaken I also saw some desperation. His eyes darted quickly between Adan and I, and then he eventually settled on me. Our gazes locked, and suddenly it was as if no time had passed. A thousand messages ran between us in the span of a few seconds, the most apparent being his uncertainty over whether or not to let me go. I shrugged, as if saying, “I don’t know either.” But I did know. I just wasn’t sure I wanted him to know I did. At the same time, not telling him was probably allowing his mind to wander as far as thinking this was a kidnapping.


I hadn’t noticed, but Adan was back in the car-and he was angry .

With one last, helpless look, I recounted my steps to the street. I was momentarily confused as to how he got there, but then I realized he borrowed my Aunt’s car. Was it out of pity?

Once we were driving for a minute or so, a startling thought occurred to me. “The car,” I said quickly. “The car is still-”

“I’ll get it tomorrow,” Adan growled. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that much coldness.

I sank farther back into my seat and snuck occasional glances at his brooding face. His posture was tense and rigid, face hard and staring straight forward. After about ten minutes of driving, I think he actually forgot I was there. But I was alright with that. I felt like a child about to be chastised for something like staying out too late or talking back. It was hard to believe I was 24-wait, 25 now-and being held up as a child by my “boyfriend.”

I didn’t think I could feel any worse, but as soon as the car pulled back up in front of my parents’ house and the engine cut to a disserting silence, I suddenly realized it could. I gathered up all of my courage and attempted to reason with Adan before things got any worse.

“Adan, if you could just listen to me, I can explain that that wasn’t anything bad! He was an old friend and I was just going to say hello-hell, I didn’t even know he’d be home but I figured that maybe I would try and say hi but I swear it’s nothing bad and I just-”

The smallest gesture could be worth a thousand words. Adan held up his hand between us, begging for silence. On one hand, I felt oddly relieved that he wasn’t resorting to screaming like I thought he would. On the other hand, I’ve been wrong before.

“I don’t care who that was,” Adan shot at me, scowling. “All I care about is that your family gathered here today-just to celebrate your birthday-and you skipped out not only on dishes-“ I bit my tongue to keep from insisting that they wouldn’t let me, “-but then you just out right left! Right in the middle of the god damned thing! Do you have no respect for the people who love you? For the people who want nothing but happiness for you? For the people who work every day just to make you smile?

A bit of my confidence faded into an uncomfortably startling realization: the people who work every day just to make you smile. What people? I couldn’t even remember the last time I smiled genuinely, aside from when Denis asked me to come inside so hesitantly. I almost smiled again as I thought of him, but then another thing occurred. Was I doing it right now, the thing he said I do? Pushing away the people who try to help me?

“I-I’m just-I’m so sorry, Adan…”

“I don’t want your apologies.”

“I know, but I-”

Adan’s hand dropped from its tight grip on the steering wheel and on top of something in the cup holder. I looked down, desperately trying to see what it was, when I suddenly noticed it. It was the ring box.

“But if you just let me explain…” I attempted to continue.

“I think right now you need to go inside and finish tonight.” Ouch. Adan drew in a deep, unsteady breath. “If they ask, you were at the store getting medicine.”

“But I swear, it’s not what you think!” I couldn’t help the anger churning within me, insisting that this was unfair. “Adan, it wasn’t anything bad! Why are you assuming-”

The driver’s car door opened as he unclicked his seat belt. The crisp evening air blew in, providing somewhat of a wakeup call in the midst of the darkness. I allowed my body to be woken up and shoved out of my funk, left to my own devices once I was alone again. I watched Adan walk quickly back into the house, not turning to look at me once. Was this really what this was all coming to? A misunderstanding? Or, maybe, Adan saw what I couldn’t see. Maybe Denis could be more.

But in the back of my mind, I knew that was a pipe dream. And plus, considering I could hardly keep a hold on my current relationship, I highly doubted I should be looking into a future one. Sighing, I undid my seat belt. It came off weird and zipped harshly over my stomach. I normally would’ve accepted the pain and moved on, but things were different now. Call it the hormones, but I struggled to suppress a tear as I clutched my stomach and silently apologized for managing to hurt the one person left, the one person who it was seemingly impossible to hurt. The person who wasn’t even born yet.

I gathered myself as much as I could and went inside five or so minutes later. The house was still alight with chatter and familial warmth, but I could feel that all plummet when I walked in the door.

Or maybe that feeling just came from the dirty looks from Adan.

“There you are!” exclaimed Aunt Penny. Her smile looked a little strained, but she was still quick to my side. “We were thinking we wouldn’t be able to toast to your birthday!”

“Oh, um, it’s really okay,” I said quickly, shooting panicked glances to Adan. He didn’t return any of them.

“No, honey, come on.” I refocused on my aunt. She placed a delicate hand on my arm. “It’s a family tradition.” I noticed her sneaking glances at Adan, but I wasn’t really sure if he was returning them. “Why don’t you head into the kitchen with your parents, and Adan here’ll help me with your gifts?” Gifts? “Alright?”

“Yeah,” I murmured, shuffling away. As soon as my feet hit the tile I craned my neck to try to hear what was being said back in the living room.

“-tonight? You still have the ring, right?”

“Yeah.” This came from Adan.

“Are you alright, sweetheart?”

“Fine,” Adan said dismissively. I could almost imagine the face he was making. He always acted like this when something about work was bothering him.

“So…I mean, are you still going to ask?”

“I’m sorry.” Adan did sound genuinely apologetic, but I could hear the anger backing his words. And it was all directed at me.

“Here, Valerie.”

I turned back around, unfocusing from what wasn’t technically my business. My mom handed me a shaky glass of champagne in a tall, cylindrical cup. I think it was plastic, judging from the light weight. They probably wanted to eliminate any potential threats in case I had a psychotic episode or drunken fit of rage.

I almost took a sip but then remembered that’s not in good taste. Aunt Penny and Adan joined us a moment later and were handed equally satisfying glasses, though I’m pretty sure they were given a significant amount more than me. I shrugged as they all began to speak. It was my mom who got the ball rolling.

“Can’t believe it’s been 25 years,” she began nostalgically. “You were such a cute baby…the best birthday you ever had was when you were five. Oh, I can just imagine your excited face when you saw the Dora cake. You were so happy.” The word were did a lot more damage to me than I think anyone noticed. Were. I was so happy. Everything was past tense. “And I know I don’t say it a lot, but things have been better since you’ve returned, Val. You were missed…” Her voice dropped off before deciding to clarify and added, “Are missed. Stop around more.”

I thought she would go on more, but when she didn’t we all kind of looked at one another. In a show of tradition, we all took a generous sip of our drinks and moved on to the next person. I knew how it looked, but I took a pretty generous first sip of my drink. I silently prayed no one would notice.

Soren went next, and he hardly said anything I wouldn’t have expected. At one point he did mention that he wished I would stop over more and maybe look after Alice sometime, but I secretly disagreed with that. Sure, I was apparently having a kid of my own (which I kept nearly forgetting), but that didn’t mean I was good with them. In the back of my head I knew that me babysitting would likely result in a crying baby and possibly a burned down house, and I think they all knew that too. They just didn’t want to say it, as usual.

As he wrapped up his sentimental speech and I struggled to retain anything he said, we all took another sip. I tipped the cup back and drained it, half-hoping that I could sneak some more but also knowing-

Oh my god.

My heart sunk as I stared down at the empty glass. Champagne. Alcohol. I’m pregnant.

Was I really so ignorant that it took chugging a glass of alcohol and a few minutes of tipsy stupidity to realize the fault of my ways? What if I hurt the baby? What if I killed the baby? All of the blood rushed to my face as my heart beat about ten times faster than normal.

What if I killed the baby.

I didn’t have any clue as to what to do, but the first thing that came to mind was to throw up. My mind wasn’t on Denis or Adan or the way my family so casually spoke of their “fondness” for me. MY mind centered around the word “killer,” and that was about it.

“Um, hey, sorry,” I said quickly, interrupting Jaimee as she spoke. “I, uh…I need to go to the bathroom. Real bad. Sorry. Be right back. Uh…hold that thought.”

My feet were going before my mind, and before I knew it I had twisted open the difficult door to the upstairs bathroom. As scattered as my thoughts were, I knew throwing up downstairs wouldn’t exactly send the message “I’m okay” to my family. Their concern was the least of my worries right now.

And surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to make myself throw up as I thought it would be. I remembered watching all those shows when I was younger, shows in which pregnant woman would, like, faint at the sight of fish and stuff. So I just thought of a fish and I threw up. Simple enough, eh? Maybe pregnancy had its perks.

Well, that is, had perks until I realized I couldn’t actually stop the vomiting. I eventually lost track of how long I had my head slung over the toilet, but it had to be at least in the double digits of minutes when someone came knocking at the door.

Nothing could’ve shocked me out of my sick haze more than the deep voice that beckoned me.

“Valerie.” Adan said it with a sigh, like he knew he was losing in this fight by approaching me. “Valerie, are you okay?”

“Fine,” I said after coughing. I struggled to stand up, nearly slipping on the tile. I held tightly on to the sink to stabilize myself. “Um, be out in a sec.”

He sighed again, but his feet were unmoving, clueing me in that he wasn’t leaving until I joined him. For a second I thought he’d forgiven me, but then I realized that my family didn’t know about our fight, and he was hardly the person to drag others into personal matters. It took a millennium and a half each time to get him to talk to me.

When I finally found the will to stand up and flush the toilet, I started reaching for the door-but then I caught a look at my pale, rimmed eyes and sickly skin in the mirror. I wouldn’t go unnoticed like this. My fingers worked through the knots in my hair, pushing it all forward to cover the hollowed places in my face. The picture of pregnancy, I thought mockingly to myself. A subtle glow of beauty.

Satisfied, I opened the door-and to a less than amused Adan, might I add. He somehow looked more annoyed than earlier, a stark contrast to the warmth I thought I’d heard when he was asking me if I was okay.

Wordlessly, we went downstairs. He gave my parents, Aunt Penny, and Soren and his wife a look. Then he reached down and waved very animatedly to little Alice. In another universe, that would have been reassuring and adorable to watch, to be made sure Adan would be a good father. In another universe, he’d know I was pregnant and we’d be the happiest couple alive.

In this universe, I bowed my head and tried not to look at what I knew would never happen for us. It was too wholesome, too pure for someone as broken as me.

I followed suit and bid my farewells to everyone, idly hoping that none would take a closer look at my concealed face and shaking hands. Adan’s feigned happiness dissipated as soon as we set foot outside. The drive was silent and uncomfortable. My mind wandered to Denis and all the possibilities he held, the baby, and whether or not the alcohol would affect it. It. Sooner or later, assuming I didn’t mess this up, I’d have to give it a gender. For now it was an it.

We didn’t talk for the rest of the night. Once home, Adan rushed upstairs. He quickly got changed and was back down within minutes, when I hoped to talk to him. But the look on his face told me I wouldn’t get a single word out.

Rather he grabbed a blanket and flopped on the couch, turning off the light before facing away from me. Sudden darkness surrounded me as I watched his body lose its rigidness as sleep took over. My steps were unstable as I silently made my way upstairs through the darkness, but one thing I was sure of.

Of all the uncertainty of my life, choices, and relationships, of all the ways I screwed everything up, there was one thing I knew: darkness. And not just in the literal sense. As the room grew darker and I laid in bed, the darkness in me began to rear its ugly head again. But one thing I was sure of: maybe it wasn’t so ugly as I once thought it was. These days, it was all I knew. And I’d give anything to be certain of anything anymore.