Lyrical: Chapter 24


Pen

We gaze at each other as a fist wraps itself around my stomach and squeezes hard. My heart fucking aches for him. It aches for me, for all of us. I see the loss of what could’ve been right there in his eyes before he blinks it away furiously, refusing to acknowledge that feeling.

“We broke each other, Xeno. You chose the Skins long before I ever chose Jeb,” I counter sadly.

Xeno scoffs, stepping back and away from me like I’m some kind of bad smell or poisonous creature he can’t be within a few metres of. The tiny moment of softness in his eyes is gone, snatched away once more by his furious need to hate.

“What did he promise you, Pen? Was it riches? Was it a guaranteed place here at the Academy? Did he promise you that all your dreams would come true, huh?”

“No, it wasn’t like that.” I wrap my fingers around my phone and grit my jaw, standing. The chair scrapes over the wooden floor as I do. I’m still not tall enough to match him in height, but my heeled boots give me an extra few inches. I straighten my spine and raise my jaw in defiance. Angry that he could think so little of me.

“No? Did he fuck you good then? Was that it? Did he fuck you better than the four of us would, given half the chance? Did he take your fucking virginity, Pen? Or did he loan you out as some kind of whore? Did you let him?”

The sound of my hand slapping his face rings out before I’ve even realised what I’ve done. His head snaps around, the sting of my slap is a bright red mark against his cheek. My chest heaves as more angry tears burn my eyes. “How fucking dare you!”

“That’s more like it. That’s the girl I knew,” he says, pinning me with his green eyes that are like two broken bottles glinting in the sunlight. “Where the fuck did she go?”

“What?” I snap, barely holding on.

“That night. Where did that girl go, Pen? Who the fuck was that person who sat at our table and fucking broke us? Who the fuck was she? Because she sure as fuck wasn’t the girl we knew. She wasn’t Tiny.”

“I didn’t go anywhere,” I say, looking away from the intensity of his stare, my throat closing over, unbearable pain lancing through my chest.

“You walked the fuck away, Pen! Just like all the other girls who fucking used us to get to him,” he spits.

“Who?” I ask.

“Jeb! Who the fuck do you think? All those girls we trusted over the years. Every last one of them used us, used the Breakers to get to him. We thought you were different. We believed you when you said you loved us!” he shouts.

“I—” I begin but slam my mouth shut. I didn’t know that. I just assumed the boys dumped them, not the other way around. My chest is heaving, fucking tears well behind my eyes but I blink them back. I will not cry. I fucking won’t.

“Was it his status? The allure of the big-dicked gangster.”

“No,” I shake my head, but he doesn’t appear to be listening.

“You said we were the ones you wanted, and when we gave you that, you fucking shat on us.”

“You were the ones I wanted,” I say, but even to my own ears it sounds feeble. Not that Xeno hears me. He’s too lost to his rant.

“We were a fucking family, Pen. You fucked us up. You fucked me up!” he roars, gripping hold of my upper arms. “Look at me. Look at what I’ve become!”

And I do look. I do see what he’s become, and it makes me feel nauseous. He really has changed, but he doesn’t get to pin that on me and use me as an excuse.

No. No fucking way.

“I’m not responsible for how you choose to behave, Xeno. Yes, I walked. Yes, I broke your hearts, but I haven’t seen you for three goddamn years. I didn’t make you into this person. You did that all by yourself,” I say, swiping at the tears rolling down my face. “You don’t get to blame me for that. You don’t get to blame me for everything you’ve done in his name whilst we’ve been apart. So don’t you dare accuse me of breaking us first when I lost all four of you to Jeb way before that night.” I shove my hands against his chest as hard as I can, and he stumbles backwards. Shock and sadness replaces the self-righteous anger and pain.

I don’t hang around. I’m done with him.

I’m fucking done.

He reaches the door just before I do, and I almost collide into his body. “We are not fucking done,” he growls.

“Get the fuck out of my way, Xeno!” I’m shaking so much that my teeth are chattering. “I’m not doing this with you. You wanted me to leave, so I’m leaving.”

“I’ve changed my damn mind. We’re doing this right the fuck now.”

I glare at him, my heart pounding loudly. Everything hurts.

He’s hurting.

I’m hurting.

But neither of us can take the leap to end the torment.

“What the fuck do you want from me, Xeno?” I shout, livid now.

“I want the damn truth!” he roars back.

I blink, stepping away from him, from his red-hot wrath. For a moment we just stare at one another and I swear I see guilt flash across his gaze before he hardens his heart again.

“Pen—” he growls.

“Fine. You want the truth. You’ve fucking got it,” I bite back, striding over to the sound system and plugging in my mobile phone. Yanking off my shoes, I flick through to find the perfect track, hit play, then walk into the middle of the room.

Xeno watches me warily, his jaw tight, his arms folded across his chest as he leans back against the door. His bare chest is covered in a sheen of sweat, the taut muscles of his abs pronounced against his skin.

The piano intro begins and as soon Jorja Smith starts to sing Let Me Down, Xeno’s chest heaves. He draws in a deep, shuddering breath, knowing this song just as well as I do. Good, then he’ll get the meaning well enough. When this song released, the Breakers had been gone a year. I’d still been a heartbroken, lonely mess and this song hit me hard. Nothing’s changed.

It still hits me hard, I’m still a broken mess.

Fixing my gaze on Xeno, I tip my head back and bend backwards, raising my hands in the air as I do. My right foot draws a circle in front of me as I pull upright and push forward onto the ball of my foot, drawing my left leg behind me in a kick that crosses my body. I land unsteadily, the emotion of the song, the burning fire in Xeno’s eyes and the confrontation between us still coursing through my blood. My steps falter just like my shattered heart.

Jorja Smith sings about being let down, and I feel her words as if they’re my own. Pulling myself upright on unsteady legs, I grasp my face, swiping at the wetness on my cheeks with the back of my hand. I hold his gaze, refusing to look away, refusing to back down or hide my feelings. My mask was ripped from me that night at Grim’s club and I haven’t quite been able to put it back on again. It doesn’t fit anymore.

Xeno slams his fist against the door, his veins popping beneath the skin of his forearms. I know he gets it.

He understands what I’m trying to say.

He let me down.

They all did.

Just like I let them down.

It’s all such a fucking mess.

When Stormzy starts to sing, I kick up my leg in a vertical hold before slamming it back down.

I let go.

Jerking my body so that my hips go left whilst my torso goes right, I fling out my arms, my hair lashing around my head like a damn whip as I spin, using Xeno as my spot so I don’t get dizzy. Grabbing my left wrist in my right hand, I yank myself towards Xeno, my finger pointing at my wrist as though a watch ticks there. Stormzy sings about squandering time, about missing precious moments. The lyrics echo the resentment I feel inside.

Three long years.

Three years to make mistakes.

To harden our hearts.

To shore up our defences.

Wasted time.

Squandered.

God, I’ve fucking missed him.

I hold my arms out to Xeno, my fingers splayed as I reach for the boy I loved, to the man I’m angry with now. For all his bitter and hateful words, I still love him. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. Why is love so fucking painful? Why does it have the power to bring us to our knees?

Our eyes meet, and he glares at me, but still he refuses to let the hurt go. His mouth presses into a hard line and he knocks his head back against the door, slamming his eyes shut.

Fucking stubborn bastard.

I scoff, spinning away then ducking low. Sweeping my leg out before I lean on my right hand and flick into a walkover. When I look back over at him, he’s staring at me, his body vibrating with tension. I walk towards him slowly, fully aware of the frantic beat of my heart and the desperate need to hold him. Stopping a few feet away I draw in a deep breath then jerk my chin up with my knuckles. Jorja’s words flow over me. Reminding me of the girl who was never quite sure if I was good enough for him.

Those same insecurities that plagued me over the years when we were friends flood me now. They twist me up with self-loathing, with guilt, with hurt. They wrap around me as I try to shake them off, as I throw my arms and legs out and spin away from him in a series of open split leaps.

No.

was good enough.

Xeno pushed me away when we were kids.

He made me fucking choose.

He watched me walk away, and never questioned it.

He saw me fucking bleed out my soul when I danced at Grim’s club and it did nothing but make him question my intentions. Xeno doesn’t trust me and he can’t fucking bear to see me reconnect with his brothers.

He’s let me down in the worst possible way.

But at least I’m willing to try, despite everything against us.

At least I’m willing to look past the damn graveyard of our friendship and attempt at building bridges.

Xeno’s a motherfucking coward.

I stop dancing and pull up straight, forcing my shoulders back. Striding over to my shoes, I snatch them up and abruptly end the song, then grab my mobile phone. He tracks my every move as I walk towards him, lighting my skin with his wrath.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he snarls, gripping hold of my arm as I reach for the door handle.

“This is over,” I say softly. He barks out a laugh. There’s a wildness in his eyes that scares me, that flips a switch inside my chest. I will not let him hurt me. If he dares to fucking touch me, I will fight. “What are you going to do, Xeno? Prove to me how much of a big bad gangster you are, huh? Are you going to hurt me, is that it? Is that what you do for Jeb, Xeno? Do you hurt people and get off on it? Is that why you’re here? To hurt me, to keep me in line for Jeb, or are you this mad because York and Zayn aren’t following your rules anymore, that they’re making their own minds up? Are you pissed because they’re choosing me, just like I warned you they might when we were kids?”

Xeno’s eyes widen, my words somehow hitting their mark, and it makes me wonder how close to the truth I really am. I don’t have to wonder for long.

“Yes, I’ve hurt people, Pen. I’ve done it in Jeb’s name, in the Skins’ name and I fucking loathe myself for it. I’m ashamed of the man I’ve become, and it eats me up inside, but do you know what I’m not ashamed of?” he asks, his fingers squeezing tightly to the point of pain.

“What, Xeno?” I hush out.

“I’m not ashamed of the fact that I did it to protect them. To protect my brothers. Everything I do is for Zayn, York, and Dax. That is what love is, Pen. Not walking away, not turning your back on people you care about when it gets too hard.” He’s panting now, his body shaking with feeling and I let out a sad laugh.

“I know everything about protecting the ones you love,” I say softly, gutted that he thinks so very little of me. His eyes flash with pain, then confusion, and I reach up to cup his cheek, tempering his painful grip with a soft touch of my own. He flinches, but he doesn’t pull away. “Because that’s what I did too. That’s what I did, Xeno. You were just too angry to see it. You’re still too angry to see it.” My hand drops from his face, and this time he doesn’t prevent me from leaving. This time he lets me go.

Ten minutes later, with a face covered in make-up to hide the blotchiness of my skin, I plaster on a fake smile and sip some cheap white wine whilst Clancy and River try to entertain me with their drunken banter. It’s just as well we’re drinking because it’s easier to pretend that your heart isn’t a bloody mess when alcohol numbs the pain.

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