This book was originally published as Blaze, no content was changed, just the title, cover and formatting.
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He left me when I needed him the most.
So why is he standing there like nothing ever happened?
For the last three years, since the night I lost the baby, I’ve been living on autopilot. Barely surviving.
And now, out of nowhere, Blaze is back, throwing everything off-kilter.
I shouldn’t want him. He hurt me. But he’s the only man who’s ever made me feel alive. He was my muse.
But if I go back to him, won’t he hurt me all over again?
When I was asked to work on the sets of a movie project, I hadn’t expected to run into Lola, my one love, or that we’d be working side by side.
When I fled the hospital, when I left her, I did things she’ll never forgive.
But I can’t put her out of my mind. I can’t stay away. I know she’ll never accept me, but I need her back.
She’ll always be mine. Only mine.
It’s not every day that your twin sister and her boyfriend are in an art show, let alone in the same one. I’m so happy for them, but, at the same time, I’m a little annoyed that they insisted I come with them to the opening instead of letting me go with our parents, as was originally the plan. My plan anyway.
I check myself in the mirror. I don’t have anything to wear for an art show opening. Why would I? I don’t go out dressed up all fancy and stuff. I have no reason to. I’m not popular or friendly enough for people to ask me to come along to parties and dating hasn’t been on my radar for years. All I have are some old clothes from a couple of years ago, most of them hidden in the back of my closet and boxes under my bed. I don’t even think I’d fit into them anymore, or that they’d still be my style. If you can call what I have a style.
“Lola,” my twin sister, Lizzy, calls out to me as she knocks on the door. “Are you ready to leave?”
“I’m not sure.” I turn in front of the mirror. The shirt and the skirt match, but I’m just not sure if the fit is right. Trying to get dressed up for this event has made me feel like crap. I’ve just taken such poor care of myself that I should just forget about tonight.
“Can I come in?” Lizzy is much better than me at styling herself and other people. She always wears things that really suit her, and since she started dating Hunter, she’s only gotten better at it.
“Sure.” I let out a deep sigh. If this outfit isn’t going to work, I don’t know what will. It’s not like I’ve got much choice or time to fix whatever’s wrong.
The door opens, and Lizzy steps in, shining in a beautiful tight scarlet dress that reaches to the floor, her rough boots peeking out from under the hem, giving her whole look a little edge. She looks me over. “So what’s wrong with what you’re wearing?”
Next to her? Everything. She looks like a model while I feel like I’m not even good enough to serve water at events she could be attending. I know this feeling will pass soon. I’ll go back to boring me soon enough.
“Lola.” She comes closer, reaching out to me, putting her arms around me. Her voice is softer this time. “What’s wrong? You look great.”
I shake my head. “I look… not pretty.”
“Of course you look pretty.” She steps back. “What else do you have? If you don’t feel happy in what you’re wearing, it’s no use wearing it, right? Tonight we shine, we’re going to have fun, not hide in the shadows. So dress for it.”
“You are.” I look at her, then I walk back to the closet again. “You’re the one who’s supposed to shine. I’m just driving you.”
Lizzy sighs, her shoulders sagging, her eyes darkening, that familiar sadness spreading through them. “Not this again. You’re there with us, you belong there. Without you, we wouldn’t even be here.”
Lizzy is talking about her and her boyfriend, Hunter, an old friend of mine from high school. Through a sad combination of circumstances, they ended up in the same first-year classes at college this year, even though Hunter and I both graduated high school together three years ago, Lizzy only two years ago. Hunter used to always be rough, always get into trouble, and he didn’t seem to care about much, although he was a great friend. So, while I knew that he was a great guy, I wasn’t entirely sure what to think when he started dating Lizzy. But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that they’re better when they’re together, they’re better for themselves and each other. I hadn’t seen him in almost three years, not since graduation, and a lot happened after that for both of us.
“Fine. Let’s go then.” I shrug. No matter what Lizzy thinks, this night is about her, not me. It’s her life that’s exciting, not mine, and I made peace with that a long time ago. I grab my jacket and pull it on, stepping out of my room, walking down the stairs. I’m not going to argue with Lizzy today. I’m not going to ruin her evening. When I reach the hallway, I find Hunter waiting there.
“Evening.” He grins, flashing me a smile.
“Evening, H.” I look him up and down—this guy cleans up pretty nicely if he wants to, even just in black jeans and a well-fitting button-up under his leather jacket. “I thought you were driving there on your own?”
“I am. Just making sure that you’re not staying behind.” He winks.
I roll my eyes at him just as Lizzy comes down the stairs after me. “I called in the cavalry.” She tries to hide the laughter in her voice. Of course she has. These two know me—they know me very well.
“It seems I wasn’t needed after all.” Hunter leans past me and gives Lizzy a quick kiss. “What about your parents?”
“They already left, wanted to make a night out of it.” Lizzy steps past me, pulling me along with her. “Now we just need to get to the workshop.”
Yeah. Yeah. I’m the one driving Lizzy, as usual.
I know that they do this because they want to involve me in things. They want me to ‘get out more’ and ‘meet new people’. This is a recent thing with them, but since they found each other, they seem to have made it their mission to get me to hang out with other people too. I know that they mean well, and I could fight them if I really didn’t want to come, but I guess that it’s not too bad. I guess they’re right in some way. I’ve just never been good at this—socialising, being friendly, making new friends.
I get in the car and Lizzy steps in on the other side. In front of the car, Hunter gets on his motorbike and kickstarts it, driving ahead of us a little, and then slows down as he waits. I start the car and follow him. The art show is being held at the workshop where Lizzy and Hunter regularly hang out. It’s called Winters’ Workshop and is owned by Tamara Winters, an artist who helps a lot of young artists to develop their art and gives them a safe place to work on their skills. She moved into a new building over the summer, and this show is meant to showcase the new location, and, of course, get fresh eyes on the work of her students. Which was bound to include both Lizzy and Hunter, since Tamara loves them so much.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
I know Lizzy is looking at me, but I keep my eyes on the road. “I’m good. Why?”
“You look… I don’t know, like this is hard for more than just not knowing what to wear. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m good. It’s just been a while since I’ve gone to one of these things.” Pretty sure that the last time I went to an art show was when I was still in high school, and the show included things from Hunter and some… friends. I’ve mostly been a homebody since I left high school, by choice. The last months before graduation were enough ‘excitement’ for me to last me the rest of my life. So I chose a quiet college, and I’ve been studying hard to get ahead here and finish college early. It meant that, apart from choosing not to search out exciting things, I’ve also not made many friends, and I definitely didn’t get invited to parties by my classmates. But I wanted it like that. Until I saw Lizzy and H together, that was the only thing I really wanted for the rest of my life—to have a calm and easygoing life, without any excitement at all.
“Well, you’ll enjoy yourself, don’t worry.” She touches my arm for a moment, then pulls back again. It’s interesting to see how much more confidence Lizzy has gained in the last couple of months. She’s nothing like the frightened girl who started college again in September. Even if the last months have been trying, she seems to be recovering from the relapse in her anorexia recovery so much better this time around. Which is good, and it hopefully means that she’ll now be able to control her eating disorder better than in the past. But it was still scary to watch it happen again, especially since it was so close to her last relapse.
Hunter turns onto the college parking lot, which is more than halfway filled with cars. I’m hoping that most of them are because of the art show. That would be a great turnout. Hunter gets off his motorbike and puts his helmet under his arm, waiting for us. He’s hot, with that bad-boy vibe and the bleached hair, even if he’s not my type. Hunter is my friend, closer to a brother than someone I would consider dating. But I can get the attraction. I can understand why Lizzy’s eyes shine each time she sees him. And I can definitely understand why so many girls on campus have a crush on him.
“Lizzy.” I grab her arm, stopping her before she can get out. “If you want to leave, let me know, yeah? But really, just focus on all the fun. This is your night, and you should go enjoy yourself.”
She looks at me like what I’m saying is the most obvious thing in the world, but for most of her life, Lizzy wouldn’t stay more than five minutes at one of these things even if her art was the main art on display. “I will. You too. Go have fun.” She grins and climbs out of the car.
I follow them a few steps behind as we make our way to the doors, then Hunter reaches out and hooks his arm through mine. “We can’t have one of the Benton twins all on her own.” He grins as he pulls me along.
Hunter and I used to be best friends, because we both understood what it was like for our lives to be defined by a sibling’s illness. We went to the same high school, which was a boarding school for academically and otherwise gifted children, and spent many a night talking because so few of our classmates understood what went on in our lives. Sadly enough, not long after graduating high school, Hunter lost his younger brother—his illness had progressed too much—and then, a year later, his girlfriend, also a friend of mine from high school, died in a motorbike crash. In comparison, I’ve been lucky. Lizzy is still here with me.
“Tsssk. Not like you cared about that before.” I grin, and Hunter winks.
“Back then, I wasn’t intimately involved with one of them.” His smirk turns into a wolfish grin.
I gasp, smacking his arm. “You’re bad.”
“If you think this is bad…” Lizzy pretend-whispers and we all burst out laughing.
And that is how we enter the hall of the workshop, all three of us laughing and having fun. We leave our coats at the doors, and I’m once again feeling very self-aware about my clothes, aware that I’m underdressed for an occasion like this.
Immediately, the woman who took care of this all, Tamara, comes over. “Lizzy! Hunter! Finally! I’ve got people asking about your art.” She points them towards a group of people who are standing near the dual portraits Lizzy and Hunter did of each other last semester, then she hooks her arm through mine. “So it seems that the final masters project next semester is coming along nicely. All the spots have been filled.”
Next semester I’m doing a cross-department project with other masters students for our final big assignment. We’re going to make a movie, from the writing to the design to the staging and filming. Everything, from start to finish. We’ve got people from fine arts involved, people from the drama department, a couple, like me, from the creative writing courses, and some from other courses that aren’t directly involved with creativity, but the people Tamara chose will have skills that we could use. It’s from scratch, so we’ll need a lot of different skills. Tamara asked me to join in on this after she heard from Lizzy that I’m a writer. Lizzy sometimes has no idea how to keep her mouth shut, especially not when it comes to Tamara, or, apparently, me.
“Are you looking forward to it yet?” Tamara’s eyes shine, her own excitement obvious.
I shrug. It’s not like there were many other choices here. No, that’s not true—it’s that there weren’t many choices that actually seemed interesting or would have helped me perfect my specific skillsets. “I guess.”
“It’ll be fun. The projects we did in previous years have always been a blast. I’m sure this one will be too. And a little cross-department working together has never hurt anyone.” She winks at me and looks around the room. “There is a difference between visual and literary arts. It’s not like there isn’t enough visual art, but I think being able to work with words, that’s a whole different skill. Making people feel things just by some squiggly lines on a white background, lines that turn into words and magic. You have a special skill—as special, or maybe even more special, than what you can see here.” She turns me to one of the paintings on the wall. “Start there and make your way around the room. That’s going to be the best experience.” She lets me go and walks off, greeting someone else.
I walk to the painting she pointed at. It’s interesting, made in oil paint, and I think there are pieces from magazines or something on it, but I’m no artist and no art critic, so it’s not easy to understand what’s going on. Honestly, this painting is a little too abstract for me. Then I move to the next one. I recognize the style of this one—Lizzy. It’s a painting she made during her recovery at the eating disorder center last semester. It looks innocent enough: leaves, forest, abstract figures. But I know that there is much more to the painting. It’s not easy to recognize it now, but somewhere in the leaves and other forest elements, in the play of the light, is Hunter, or at least some of his tattoos are hidden in there. I saw her work on this over time, building up the layers. It’s probably the most intricate thing she’s ever made.
I make my way around the room, looking at each painting, drawing, sculpture and everything else. Everything displayed here is beautiful and unique in its own way. Tamara really has an eye for finding young artists. She’s amazing at finding just the right people to put together in a single room so that they can be more from the association with the rest.
I sometimes wish I had a mentor like her, someone who could have helped me with my writing. I had some excellent teachers in high school, but that fell to the side when I left for college, and now… Now I write a little from time to time, but it’s not like it was before. It lacks so much of my passion. Which I guess is not really that strange. It’s not like I’ve been living with much passion anyway.
“Lola.” Lizzy comes over, wrapping her arms around me. “Come see. Come see.” She pulls me along, then stops in the middle of an empty area.
“What’s here?” I look around but don’t see anything interesting. Then there’s a soft click and the whirring of gears as they start clicking together, and lights start flowing around me, all different colors and shapes. Wow.
I look up. Above me is a contraption and in it is a light, and as the light comes through the different-colored pieces of glass, it gets refracted and leaves all the pretty colors on the floor.
That’s interesting. I hadn’t expected this. As I keep looking at the lights, words and shapes start to form in front of me.
“Am I seeing something?” I look up at Hunter, who grins.
“I hope so. Because otherwise, I didn’t do my job properly.” He shrugs and steps aside. Then another click and the lights dim. A whirring sound keeps going for a few moments longer before it stops. It’s quiet for a while. “I don’t keep it running constantly, keeps things interesting.” He looks at me, waiting for my opinion on what he made.
“It looks really cool. I’ve never seen anything like this before. But it’s kinda cliché, isn’t it? Love. Hearts. Stuff like that?” I look between him and Lizzy, who only smiles. She’s a lost cause, but I already knew that. It’s nice to see her happy. Hunter specializes in metal contraptions and big installations. I haven’t seen him do much with light before. That was the area of… of one of our other friends.
I leave them be for now. I don’t need to keep looking at them making googly eyes at each other. It’s nice that they’ve found each other, but it doesn’t mean that I like hanging out with them when they’re all over each other.
I turn around, looking around the room, trying to see if our parents are here yet. See what they think about all of this, see if they enjoy the first art show that Lizzy has been in in years. I can’t see them, but I do see something else from the corner of my eyes—or rather someone else. Someone I never expected to see again.
I stop moving, talking, breathing.
Because he is here. Blaze is standing in the middle of the room. The one person from my past I’d hoped never to see again…
Next to me, H stops too. I feel his hand on my arm before he steps between us, blocking most of my view of B.
I feel a little light-headed as a darkness settles in my chest.
This can’t be happening. Definitely not. This cannot be happening.
What’s he doing here? Why is he looking so relaxed? Why?
It’s like a nightmare, one I want to wake up from, but never do.
Blaze turns to me, and even in the dim room, from this distance, I can see the recognition in his eyes. In the way he automatically moves a little in my direction.
How can this… I don’t want this. No.
My heart starts beating faster, and I can feel my dinner come back up. This was supposed to be about art, about H, about Lizzy, about the future. So why is my past standing there like it’s the most normal thing in the world? Did he even know I’d be here? I wouldn’t put it past him.
Then a beautiful and skinny girl walks up to him, and his arm snakes around her back, an automatic response, as she starts talking to him. She doesn’t seem to realize the look in his eyes, the way he’s not listening to her at all. Instead all his focus is our way. On me.
Then his eyes meet mine full on, and I come undone.
I can’t do this. I can’t be here.
I turn around and flee. Overwhelmed by my past. By the memories. By the feelings rushing through me. But more than everything, overwhelmed by the mix of desire and devastation that takes hold of my body. The darkness inside me is spreading, suffocating me like tar.
“Lola!” Lizzy follows me.
I don’t stop. I don’t slow down. I keep moving, ignoring everyone, until I’m outside and in the cool air. It’s way too cool, too cold, freezing, but that makes it all the better.
I have to stop, my lungs burning. I can’t move my feet one more step. I can’t. My shoulders start to shake as my lungs have trouble taking in all the air that I need, the tears unexpected and overwhelming. There is no stopping them. It’s still too raw.
Normally, I can ignore the pain. Normally, I can push it to the back of my mind and maybe pretend nothing ever happened. But this surprise wasn’t one that I’d ever planned for, and now it’s like the scab has been pulled from the wound. Underneath, the wound is still raw, never having healed at all, just scabbed over, just no longer bleeding.
Blood. I dry-heave, and then I feel hands on my back, wrapping around me.
“Oh, Lola.” Lizzy. She pulls me closer, protecting me, even though she is the only one here who has no clue what’s really going on. No clue how badly broken I am. My own twin doesn’t even know how much one boy hurt me. One boy who I never expected to see again, ever. We were teens, we didn’t know how to deal with one of the most devastating things any human can encounter. And in all of that, we hurt each other even more, until he left… And I fell into darkness.
Then H is next to us too. “You want me to send him away?” His voice is quiet but determined.
I shrug. I’ve got no idea. I’m scared of how much I want to see Blaze, touch him, hold him. And at the same time, I want to be as far away from him as possible. I don’t need all the memories to flood back. I don’t need everything to start all over again. I was doing so well… I was…
“Who is…” Lizzy speaks, then she pulls me tight again, her hold one of comfort and protection at the same time. “It’s him, isn’t it?”
I nod. She may not know the full story, but she knows enough to get why I’m in pain. Enough to understand why I’m breaking apart right now. I couldn’t tell her everything, but I told her enough.
Then she stills as H starts walking to a point behind us.
I know it’s Blaze before I hear his voice. “Lola? Lo?” Even hearing his voice shreds me to pieces, tears everything apart.
I take a deep breath, ignoring the tears in my eyes, standing up straight and walking away. Pretending not to hear him, pretending that he isn’t here. Even when every step is a fight.
“Lola?” He raises his voice now.
But I shake my head and keep walking.
I can’t do this. I can’t. There is no way.
Lizzy keeps holding my arm as I walk to my car, making sure I don’t trip and fall. I need to leave. Now.
Only when we’re at the car and I see H’s bike do I realize that he hasn’t followed us and that the keys for the car are in my jacket, which is still inside.
I hope Hunter doesn’t do something stupid. He’s been trying to prove that he’s changed, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t turn on a dime. I don’t want him to get in trouble for my sake. There’s been enough pain in our group of friends to last a lifetime. So much pain. Too much.
I silently sob, letting it all out as Lizzy holds me.
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