Her Last Year


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Chapter 1

I never meant to fall in love with Noah. Maybe it would've been easier if I hadn't but honestly, I don't regret a minute of it. Falling in love with him was like flying. It gave me butterflies and made me feel alive. And let me tell you, alive was something I hadn't felt in a long time.
"ALEX!" I curse under my breath before grabbing my pillow, smothering myself with it. I roll over burying my face into my bed, pressing the pillow to my ears. 
I hear his footsteps coming up the stairs despite the pillow and find myself cringing. My door is thrown open and before I can react, there is a rough hand on my shoulder, throwing me onto the floor.
"Stupid girl. I thought you'd have learned by now to come when you're called." I manage a glare at him before his hand makes contact with my face.
I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth, refusing to cry. I won't allow myself to show weakness in front of him. He snorts, obviously amused before punching me in the stomach repeatedly. He pulls back to admire his work and I feel a flicker of hope, thinking he's through. He extinguishes that though as he kicks me in the face before slamming my bedroom door. 
I listen for the sound of his receding footsteps and decide he is far enough away before I run to the bathroom. I look at myself in the mirror and already notice the swelling on my face. I gingerly pick up my shirt and wince at the soreness. Yep, that's gonna bruise.
Putting my shirt back down I look at myself in the mirror. I usually don't because I don't see the point but I'm looking for something, anything that would tell me why this is happening. Is this my fault? How could it be? 
I look down at my wrists, admiring how clean they are. I've held off for a long time. But why should I? What's the point? I slide my finger along the edge of the mirror before pulling it open to reveal my medicine cabinet. I look past all the medicine bottles and reach into the corner. My hand grasps the cold metal object and I sigh, knowing what's coming and already finding relief.
"ALEX!" Before I can do anything I throw it in the cabinet and close it before running down the stairs. 
"What?" I ask. It came out sounding more annoyed than I meant for it to and I brace myself for whatever is coming.
"Is that how you treat your father?" I want to throw up just hearing him say that. He is nothing like what a father should be. My father left when I was younger and from the little I remember, even he was better than this scum bag. 
I fight the urge to scoff and instead shake my head. If I open my mouth I know I'll say something I'll regret. "What? I didn't hear you. I'll ask you again. Is that how you treat your father?" Smack.
I bite back my tears and put everything I have into leveling my voice as I prepare to answer him. "No." 
"No what?" He snarls, curling in his upper lip.
"No, sir." I spit out. I watch him carefully, wondering if I need to brace myself for anything else. He focuses his attention back on the tv and I take that as my cue to leave. 
"Oh, and you aren't leaving the house today. I don't know where you go or what you do, but that's going to stop. There's work that needs to be done around here and that's your responsibility. So get to work and while you're at it, make me breakfast." I feel my heart drop into my stomach. How am I supposed to last a day in this house?! I salute him before running up the stairs to grab my iPod. 
I come back down the stairs and notice him watching The Sopranos. I roll my eyes as I walk into the kitchen. I plug my iPod into the dock and smile as "The Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance comes on. Searching through the cabinets I decide on pancakes, bacon, eggs, some hash browns, and sausage. I turn on the stove and get out everything I need. This should be enough for all of us.
When I finish, I unplug my iPod and carry the food out to my stepfather, still entranced by that stupid show. I will never understand why it's appealing to him. I set the food in front of him on the coffee table and step back, waiting for him to take the first bite.
"This is rubbish!" He says through a full mouth of food. "Can't you do anything right?" He says. I put my head down and walk back into the kitchen to clean up. As soon as I'm out of view he really digs in. I sigh in annoyance. Why does he hate me so much?
I brush it off and continue cleaning the kitchen. I wipe down the counters, wash dishes, clean out the fridge, sweep and mop the floor, and even wipe down the inside of the microwave and oven. When I'm finished, I move on to the next room, the laundry room. 
After a few hours, the only room I have left to clean is mine. I check the clock next to my bed and see it's only 3 pm. I take my time cleaning my room and when I'm finished lay back on my bed. I think about texting my best friend Tasha but decide against it. She's probably with her boyfriend and won't have time to reply. She's been doing that a lot lately, ditching me.
I set my phone on my bedside table and plug my iPod into my dock. "I'm Gonna Show You Crazy" by Bebe Rexa starts blasting through the speakers and I smile, dancing around my room to the beat with my hairbrush as a microphone. 
It isn't long before a muffled conversation catches my attention and I turn down the volume of my music. From what I can tell, mom has been using again. I roll my eyes, not even a bit surprised. "How much?" He yells at her. I can't make out her reply but I can almost feel his anger. "HOW MUCH DID YOU TAKE?!" I hear a crash and make a beeline for the stairs. 
I reach the bottom to see mom collapsed on the floor. "Dial 9-1-1!" He yells at me. Before I know it, the phone is to my ear and I'm talking to the operator. I don't even retain half the information she gives me but listen when she says an ambulance is 3 blocks away.
I hang up, not wanting to talk to her anymore and walk out the door and onto my front lawn. I hear the ambulance before I see it and soon there are bright lights everywhere and it's more than I can handle. 
Before my mind can process what's happening, my feet are moving beneath me and I'm running without a destination in mind. I stop, bent over trying to catch my breath and find myself at the town's water tower. Before my mind can talk me out of it, I'm climbing up the ladder. I don't look down, determined to reach my destination and am soon at the top. I carefully climb off the ladder and stand up, admiring the view. It's truly beautiful up here. I can see most of the town. I focus on the library and then the town hall before glancing over at the dance studios I took classes at as a kid. My dad would take me to them. He appreciated my love for dance and always said I got that from him.
I smile at the memory, but that smile soon fades as I am distracted by the red and blue flashing lights coming from my street. The neighbors are coming out of their houses to see what happened. Nosey people. 
I shake my head and watch as a stretcher brings my mother out of the house. Tears come to my eyes as I watch the paramedics put her in the ambulance. It's moments like these when I find myself wishing my dad was around. 
After a while, the excitement dies down and the neighbors go back to their houses. I watch them as they walk across the street and notice how small they look from up here. In a way, it's reassuring. It reminds me that this world is so much bigger than all of us and the universe is so much bigger than the problems I am facing now. It makes them seem meaningless. 
I lean back and stare at the sky. There are no clouds in sight and at the moment the sky is a nice, well, sky blue for lack of a better description. Suddenly, I feel very tired. Without a clue where the exhaustion came from, I slowly close my eyes, listening to the sounds around me. 
A rustling in the bushes causes me to open my eyes even though my tired mind is against it. A silhouette makes its way out of the brush and stands at the bottom of the ladder. Because of the sun, I can't make out their face so I just decide to wait until they reach the top.
I should be on my guard in case the silhouette turns out to be an axe murderer or a cannibal or something but I just don't care enough to. My energy is nonexistent and I'm numb. Too much has happened today. 
The silhouette reaches the top and I face my feet, watching as they dangle over the ground hundreds of feet below. I close my eyes as a gust of wind blows my long brown hair off my shoulders. I inhale the scent of the flowers scattered across the field next to this one and listen as the person takes a seat next to me. They are close enough that I am able to feel their body heat and I open my eyes, a bit curious to see who it is.
It is a boy who looks to be my age, although I have no recollection of seeing him in school. His chocolate brown hair is longer than it should be and tousled as if he just rolled out of bed. He has a tan that looks natural and blue eyes that remind me of the ocean. The longer I stare at them, the more I notice the gold flecks that appear in them as he refuses to break eye contact. I look at his nose and notice that it is long and pointed but fits his face and doesn't stand out. His cheek bones are defined along with his jawline and his lips are curved rather nicely. I watch as he takes his bottom lip in between his teeth, examining me as well. 
His neck is long but not too long and his shoulders are broad. Through his shirt, it is obvious he is toned. Especially his arms. He is wearing a navy blue tank top which makes him look tanner than he is. His jeans are light wash and ripped and he's wearing red converse. I look back up at him to find him still watching me. "What's your name?" He asks and his voice is soft, considerate. He knows who I am.
I look ahead, not wanting to answer. Not wanting to say anything or even think about who I am or where I came from. The image of my mom lying on the floor makes tears come to my eyes and I don't try to blink them away. I don't care if this stranger sees. I scream until all of the air is torn from my lungs, inhale, and scream again. I scream until my voice is hoarse. He screams too. In that moment it's like both of us are casting out our inner demons. I watch the leaves fall off the oaks and make themselves at home on the ground. I wonder for a moment if they know they're dead and then laugh at myself and the idea of a leaf knowing anything. It sounds more like croaking due to my hoarse voice, but that doesn't bother me. I look over and knit my eyebrows together when I hear the boy laughing with me.
Our eyes meet and I feel moisture once again on my face. I wipe them away this time as the boy watches me. "What's your name?" He asks again and this time I decide to answer the strange boy. 
"Alex, yours?" He smiles, processing my name as he glances over my face. 
"Noah." I immediately think of something to say and can't resist. I put on my armor and hide any emotion I'm feeling from the events of today, afraid that he's already seen too much. 
"You don't happen to be afraid of water do you?" He doesn't laugh. I do. 
"Why do you do that?" He asks and I find myself not knowing what he means. "Why do you put up a wall?" It feels like a punch in my gut and I quickly turn away. I stare straight ahead once again, refusing to answer. I was right, he's seen too much.
He moves closer and every muscle in my body tenses up. I let my hair fall in my face, obscuring it from view, I swallow hard and he reaches and brushes my hair behind my ear. "I know to you I'm a stranger, but you don't have to pretend around me. Look around, there's no one here but us so let it out. Scream and cry and curse and pray and just let it all out because I'm not gonna judge you. I'm gonna put you back together." I look at him warily but the intense look he's giving me tells me he's serious. I sigh before letting my walls down. Before I know it, his arms are around me and I'm crying into his chest.
Once I let it all out I was calmer. I was past being numb and was doing okay. Or at least as okay as I could be. Since then we've just been talking about anything and everything. He's even managed to make me smile. Apparently he's starting school tomorrow at my high school. That knowledge causes butterflies to erupt in my stomach. It was easier pouring my heart out to him when I didn't think I was going to see him every day. 
He reassures me and I watch as he moves so we're sitting shoulder to shoulder. I tense up but he promises that he's not going to hurt me and I believe him. He tells me to lay down and points out the different constellations. It's so beautiful up here at night and before I know it, my eyelids are heavy and closing. I fall asleep to the sound of his voice telling me the story behind Orion's Belt.
Most people don't believe in love at first sight, but that's exactly what happened. Noah swept me off my feet the moment he tucked my hair behind my ear. Such a simple gesture, but at the same time no one had done that for me before and it meant more than he could ever imagine. Little did I know that a future with him led to more of those surprises.

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Chapter 2

I open my eyes to sunlight shining through the trees. It takes me a moment to remember where I am, but when I do I look to my right and see Noah immediately. He's sprawled out on his stomach with his head on his arms and his feet hanging over the edge. I smile when I see this. In his sleep he looks so much younger and I can't help but imagine what he was like as a child. How many limbs did he break? What kind of trouble did he get himself into? 
His eyelids flutter before they open and automatically settle on me. He yawns and when he does I can see the smile wrinkles by his eyes and mouth. He must have been a happy child. Once again I smile at the thought of a little Noah running around probably only half clothed. I chuckle a bit, imagining his mother or father chasing after him, trying to finish putting on his shirt. 
"Why are you looking at me like that?" He asks as he stretches, yawning again. 
I smile. "You look younger when you sleep. I was just imagining what a younger version of you was like." Now he smiles.
"I was a horrible child just so you know. I had a knack for finding trouble and it almost always had to do with fire." I laugh imagining this. 
"I bet you were an adorable child. Probably really popular right? Not because you liked those people but because they all wanted to be you." He doesn't respond. He looks away instead but I saw the answer written on his face. That's exactly what it was like, but something happened and changed that. "You battle your demons everyday too don't you?" His eyes close and I know I've hit a sore spot. "You can't be there for everyone else and not let anyone be there for you. Let me save you."
He looks at me, his face unreadable. "What if there's nothing left to save? What if I'm too far gone? There's too much pain and I've gotten so used to it I don't even know if I want anything else." I smile sadly. I know exactly how he feels. I feel the same way everyday. 
"You want to put my pieces back together right?" He nods. "Let me help you too. We can save each other. And I'm not asking for your permission. You're stuck with me starting now and I'm not going anywhere." I look him straight in the eye when I say this and feel tears coming fast. "I promise you that I won't leave you." My eyes never leave his and that simple sentence is laced with everything I have. It means more to me than he could possibly know even though as his eyes fill with tears I know he understands at least some of it. 
Our hands meet each other at the same time, intertwining our fingers. That's the most voluntary contact I've made with anyone in a long time. I rub my thumb along the back of his hand, averting my eyes from him. I focus instead on the oak trees below and how the lean to the side when the wind blows. Their leaves flutter and it reminds me of a dance. As if the leaves were jazz hands. I smile imagining it. I close my eyes watching the dance play out. The wind moving something so still, making them come to life. I hear the music and slightly turn my head, wanting to hear more of it. 
When it ends I open my eyes and Noah is looking at me. "What is it?" He asks me. I smile, vaguely remembering the music in my head. Beautiful string instruments so lightly being plucked, as if they were heartstrings belonging to the player himself. 
"The trees are dancing." I say. He smiles closing his eyes and breathing in the moment. I smile knowing he understands and is seeing it himself.
"You see things most people don't." He says it more like a statement than a question and I nod even though he can't see me. With his eyes still closed I release his hand and stand up. He opens his eyes, watching me. I reach my hand out to him and he takes it, standing up. For the first time, I realize how tall he really is. He towers over me by at least a foot and by the look on my face, he's noticing this for the first time too. I smile and walk over to the ladder, carefully climbing onto it. 
"Follow me. I have something I want to show you." He obliges and we climb down the ladder together. When we reach the bottom, I lead him to my favorite spot. It's a bit of a walk due to the terrain although it isn't that far distance wise. We reach it and I smile. It's a meadow with trees surrounding it. Their fingers reach above us and intertwine, creating a canopy. The light finds its way through the holes and illuminates the flowers that litter this secluded spot. The trees make an almost perfect circle surrounding it, as if this is a sacred place. I smile, feeling at peace. I release Noah's hand and walk into the center, careful not to step on the flowers. Once there, I lie down, soaking in the sunlight. I close my eyes and feel Noah lay down beside me. 
"This place is beautiful." He says, his tone one of awe. I smile. The sounds of the birds and the feeling of the sun on my skin gives me a warmth that I feel to my very bones. The warmth pulls all of the negative feelings out of my body. I breath in the scent of spring, the sunlight, the sounds of the birds singing. All of it. A warm hand intertwines with mine, anchoring me to the ground. Without that warmth it feels like I could float away. 
"What is so bad about dying?" I ask, feeling like I'm floating on air. I wonder if this is what heaven feels like.
"Don't think about that. This is a safe place. Don't taint it." I open my eyes and look at him. "You promised not to leave me." I think about that and know I did and that I can't break it. You go I go are the unspoken words that pass between us. At that moment on the tower when I told him to let me save him, or maybe even the moment we met each other, we made each other our reason to live.
"Okay. Okay." I surrender. He squeezes my hand before releasing it, rolling over to face me. I look into is blue eyes that remind me so much of the ocean, watching as the golden flecks appear. In this moment, I realize that this boy is going to be a big part of my life. 
"Now it's your turn to come with me." He says as he gets up, not even hesitating before pulling me to my feet. 
"Where are we going?" I ask, following him back the way we came. 
"It's a surprise." He says and soon enough we're back at the water tower. From there, we cut back through town and take several twists and turns. At this point I am relying completely in Noah, crossing my fingers and hoping that he knows where we are. He turns into a street I am unfamiliar with but follow him anyway as he comes to a stop in front of the third house on the right. He walks up the path and doesn't stop until he reaches the front door. I am standing right outside the gate when he turns around. His eyebrows knit together and I watch as a look of understanding crosses his face.
I examine the house in front of me, finding beauty in how homey it is. It is a white two story house with blue trim. There is a garden in front and a window on the top story that must open into the attic. I look back at him as he waves me over. I hesitantly walk towards him, making my way down the path. He opens the front door as I reach the bottom of the steps and I reluctantly follow him in. He closes the door behind me, taking my hand in his before pulling me down the hall. There is an ornate rug beneath or feet and I find myself admiring it we make our way down the hall. Noah makes a right and pulls me with him into a beautiful kitchen. The cabinets are white and they wrap around the entire kitchen. The counters do the same. They are thick, allowing plenty of counter space. The oven is at the end of one of the counters, the dishwasher on the other side. The sink is in the middle with a window overlooking the family room and in the middle of the kitchen is an island with stools along all four sides. 
Noah leads me over to one and pulls out the chair for me. I thank him and sit, focusing on my hands. "Where are we?" I say timidly, unable to meet his eyes. This is the kind of house I dreamed of growing up in. I always told myself if I had grown up in one like this everything would have been different. My mother wouldn't have turned to using, my dad wouldn't have left, and I wouldn't have had to deal with my step father. Everything would have been different. 
The sound of footsteps catches my attention and I look up, terror filling my eyes. Noah notices and is immediately by my side, holding my hand in his. The truth is, I've never been in a house this nice. A woman enters the kitchen and she has the same brown hair as her son. The resemblance is obvious and I automatically know where we are. My stomach clenches as I try not to imagine what I must look like to her. 
"Who's this?" She asks Noah as he kisses her cheek. She looks me over and I see the pity in her eyes. I look away, trying not to get angry. I don't want her sympathy. I look at my fingers as I play with them, trying to distract myself from the mixed emotions running through me. 
"This is Alex. She's a friend." I feel his mothers eyes on me and I raise mine to meet hers. I stick out my hand for her to shake but she smiles warmly and hugs me instead. I freeze, definitely not expecting this. It takes s moment for me to register what his happening and when I do I hug her back. She pulls back with that same warm smile lighting up her face. 
"Noah, start making breakfast, I'll take this girl up the stairs and get her something to wear and a bath. Please don't burn down the house while I'm gone." I chuckle at her words and follow her out of the kitchen and up the stairs. She leads me into the first room we come across and I notice that is is neatly kept. The bed is made and the floor looks as though it was recently vacuumed. She leads me over to a beautiful wardrobe and opens the doors. The wood looks like chestnut and I run my hand across it, tracing the designs with my fingers. I close my eyes, feeling the texture. It's incredible. 
His mother catches my attention and I look at the piece of clothing in her arms. It is a beautiful white sundress with teal flowers and a blue ribbon. She hands it to me and I just look at it. I've never worn anything this nice before. 
"Go ahead and try it on. It should be your size." I look at her doubtfully.
"Are you sure?" I ask, afraid to taint it.
"Yes. Someone needs to get some use out of this. It isn't being worn around here. As a matter of fact there are a bunch of clothes in here that are just sitting on hangers waiting to be worn if you want them." My jaw drops open and I can't imagine myself wearing these clothes. I really can't.
"Whose were they?" I ask timidly.
"They belonged to Noah's sister. Unfortunately we lost her last year." Now I know where at least some of his demons come from. "Don't worry, he won't mind you wearing her clothes." I nod, relieved. I think back to the way she talked about her daughter and find it strange. She doesn't say that her daughter died or was taken from her, she says that they lost her. Meaning she still hasn't come to terms with it. I understand that and don't push any farther on the subject.
"I'm sorry for your loss." I say. She smiles at me sadly but doesn't say anything else. Instead, she walks out into the hall and leads me to a bathroom to change and bathe. She starts a warm bath and brings me a towel, leaving me to do my own thing. 
I take my time, enjoying the feeling of being in the warm water. All too soon, I am ready to get out. I do so and change into the dress, avoiding the mirror. A dress won't do anything to change the person staring back at me. 
I make my way out of the bathroom and find the kitchen. The end of my hair is a bit damp and I wring it out the best I can with the towel she gave me. I enter to kitchen to find Noah speaking to his mother. Breakfast is on the table and they are sitting on the stools waiting for me. I clear my throat, unsure of what to say. Noah and his mother look up at me, his mother with a warm smile and Noah with his eyes wide. I worry for a moment that I have offended him by wearing his sister's dress until his face breaks into a wide smile. 
His mother stands up and takes my towel from me before pulling out the stool next to Noah's and across from hers. I sit gingerly and look over at Noah. "You look beautiful." He says honestly and I smile.
"Thank you, Noah." His mother walks back into the kitchen and smiles at me before sitting down across from us. We hold hands and bless the food before digging in. I didn't realize how hungry I was until I saw all the delicious food. He made us omelets and chopped some fruit and cheese for us on the side. I dig in, savoring every bite. 
"This is delicious." I say between bites and he smiles at me. We finish up eating and I help clear the table despite his mother's arguments. When the table is cleared and the dishes are washed, Noah leads me up to his bedroom. His room is clean for a teenage boy and his walls are covered in art I assume is done by him, photography, which I also assume is his work, and band posters. I recognize all of them and smile. He has great taste in music. From what I can tell very similar to mine.
I look over at him and already find him watching me. "You have a good taste in music." I say in a nonchalant sort of way. There's no need to add to whatever ego he already has.
"Good? They're fantastic." I smile as he starts rambling about the shows he's gone to and I smile. Part of me is jealous since I've never been to one and he's been to so many but he seems so passionate about them and his excitement is contagious. I smile at him as he rambles on about all of them, spouting off random facts like when they formed, who was in it originally, things like that. He realizes he's rambling and blushes uncontrollably, scratching the back of his neck in embarrassment. I chuckle at his expense and follow him farther into his gigantic room. Farther in I notice that he has a collection of Harry Potter merchandise along with some Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings/the Hobbit, Star Wars, and even Star Trek merch. That's it. I've died and gone to heaven.
Noah starts laughing and pointing at my face and I realize that I'm drooling. Literally drooling. I smack his arm and realize how happy I am. I know eventually that I will have to go home, but that time doesn't have to be now. We spend the rest of the day lying on his bed playing video games. 
My life is still nothing close to perfect, but the day I met Noah Sana Roberts, I began to heal and I owe him for that. I will never stop owing him for that because despite everything that happened, he saved me. I just wish I had been able to save him. Unfortunately, not all promises can be kept.

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