I Survived A YA Romance

I’d never been so certain of anything as I was in that moment.

The first bell hadn’t rung yet and I was standing at my locker with Jade. I was still new to the school, an unfortunate position to be in for your senior year, and she was the only friend I’d managed to make. We shared a lot of interests, both being somewhat introverted with an artistic streak. We’d bonded over having no one else to sit with at lunch and things had clicked from there.

But that morning, something felt off.

I was trying to pay attention to Jade’s detailed analysis of a show we’d started watching together, but a prickling sensation was crawling across the back of my neck. The leftover lizard-brain instinct of a creature being watched. While Jade went on about symbolism, I scanned the halls around us. Unfamiliar faces streamed by, none of which spared us more than a passing glance.

Until I saw him.

He was standing down the hall, leaning against the lockers with his arms folded across his chest and one foot kicked up behind him. Objectively speaking, he was handsome, I supposed. Tanned, high-cut features, tall and lean. Even if I had been interested in guys, however, the way he was staring at me, so openly through narrowed eyes and a slight frown, would have been an immediate turn-off.

I shifted uncomfortably and nudged Jade. “Hey, the bell’s about to ring. Let’s get to class.”

She nodded, hardly pausing in her synopsis, and started walking down the hall. I stuck close to her side, but when I looked back, that guy’s gaze continued to trail after us.

It took a few class periods, but I almost managed to shake off the creepy intensity of his stare. It was possible I’d just reminded him of someone and he was trying to figure out if he knew me. Or he’d forgotten his glasses and was simply trying to see. I knew what that was like. If one of my contacts popped out, I would be left half blind and probably look similar to him while I stumbled through my day.

It was hard to keep coming up with excuses when I exited my last class and bumped into someone almost as soon as I turned the corner. I backed up quickly, mumbling apologies, and glanced up. The guy from earlier, still frowning, was standing in front of me.

I hugged my books tighter against my chest. He watched me, still and tense.

“You should stay away from me,” he said softly.

I didn’t know what to say to that. It was such a bizarre, unwarranted statement that it caught me off guard. He took a step forward. I became acutely aware of just how much shorter than him I was and the feeling of smallness it evoked was a cold one.

“If you know what’s good for you,” he finished.

It came off a bit lamely, like he’d been rehearsing some kind of script and I’d missed my line. His expression had become expectant. Apparently I was missing my cue again.

Without knowing what else to do, I put some distance between us with another rushed apology and hurried away.

Any hope that I had that this might’ve been a one-off situation was quickly dashed. The next day, he was back at the lockers, staring again. I pointedly kept my back to him, but I was sure I could still feel his gaze. It made me fidget with discomfort enough that Jade noticed.

“You eat a bad burrito or something?” She asked with her usual candidness. “You look like you’re going to shit yourself.”

“No,” I whispered despite the fact the crowded hallway was noisy and the creeper probably wouldn’t have been able to hear me even if I spoke normally. “Look across the hall. Do you see a dude looking at us?”

Jade, not one known for her subtlety, poked her head around my shoulder and inhaled sharply. “That’s Grier Laurel!”

She said it like the name should mean something to me.

“Who?” I asked.

“He’s one of the hottest guys in school! He’s on the soccer team and the debate team. Brains and a body,” she sighed dreamily. “But why is he looking over here?”

She paused and turned to me, eyes wide. “Is he into you?”

“I don’t know,” I replied uneasily. Her infatuation with him was off-putting given our recent run-in. “I never met him before yesterday, when I bumped into him outside of class. He was…weird.”

Jade’s excited grin faded around the edges. “Weird how?”

“He said something like I should stay away from him. It was just uncomfortable.”

“Huh,” Jade peeked over my shoulder again and then shrugged. “I’m sure it’s not anything to worry about. He’s an intense guy. Everyone says so.”

I didn’t want to keep talking about Grier, so I let the matter drop with a muttered agreement. Jade wasn’t at all bothered by his blatant staring and even fluffed up her hair a bit with a girlish giggle. If she wanted him so bad, she was more than welcome to try and take him.

I just wanted to be left alone.

Seeing Grier around, however, started to become a regular thing. Outside of my classes, in the halls, in the outdoor courtyard. I couldn’t prove he was following me, it wasn’t exactly a huge school so run-ins were bound to happen. But I could feel it. I knew in my gut that it was too frequent to be coincidence.

At first, he stayed at a distance, content just to watch, I guess. I started changing up the paths I took the class and asked Jade to meet me in different spots than our usual ones. We ate lunch in the cafeteria instead of in the quad, we met by the library instead of the lockers, we walked the long way around the school to get to the parking lot. None of it shook him very long. He’d figure out my new route soon enough and start showing up wherever I’d be.

I pointed him out to Jade every time.

Initially she brushed it off. Even if he was intentionally seeking me out, it was just because of a silly crush.

“I’m gay, Jade,” I reminded her flatly. “Not interested.”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t know that. You have to admit, it’s kind of cute! Do you know how many girls would kill for a guy like him to be so interested in them?”

“You mean how many would kill for a stalker? Not many, I hope.”

Jade laughed. I didn’t.

After two weeks of trying and failing to avoid him, all while Jade insisted it was harmless, I decided enough was enough.

I’d just come out of a biology lecture and there he was, standing against the wall opposite the classroom door. I guess he thought his pose looked cool, a real devil-may-care bad boy. I had always tried to be a fairly passive person, but something about his stance made something snap in me. I stomped across the hall and shoved my finger in his face.

“Why the hell have you been following me?” I demanded, unconcerned with how loud my voice was.

He stared down at my finger and then lifted his gaze to my face. There was something in his expression, beneath the forced placidity. A spark of triumph, perhaps.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” he said in the same quiet tone he’d used when he told me to stay away. “I tried, but you…you’re different. You’ve gotten under my skin and I can’t shake you.”

I gaped at him. That had to be some of the stupidest drivel I’d ever heard come out of someone’s mouth.

He misconstrued my stunned silence for flattery and started to reach for my hand. “From the first moment I saw you —”

I jerked my arm back with a scowl. “Don’t touch me. And stop following me! It’s creeping me out.”

His cocksure smirk flickered. “I just feel something when I see you. Something I’ve never felt before, Erin.”

“I’m a lesbian. I like girls. Period. Even if I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be into you, so leave me alone!”

I stormed away before he could respond. That had to be the end of it, I told myself. I’d made myself clear: he was creeping me out after never having had a chance to begin with. There was nowhere left for him to go with his little fantasy.

Jade proved me wrong the next morning.

I could tell something was off right away. She wasn’t smiling when I came up to her and she was chewing her lower lip.

“Erin,” she took me by the arm and pulled me into an empty classroom. “I have to tell you something.”

I nodded uncertainly.

“There’s a rumor going around. It’s about you and Grier.”

“Ugh, so everyone knows I yelled at him?”

“Not exactly. People think the two of you are…dating.”

It took every ounce of self-control not to lose it then and there. Jade said she’d overheard some girls talking about it on her way to meet me. Apparently there was some jealousy going around. When I asked who’d started the rumor, she could only shrug.

“It had to have been him,” I seethed through clenched teeth.

“Just ignore it, ok? We’ll just tell anyone who asks that it’s not true. Come on, it’s not the worst thing ever. Just stupid gossip. It’ll die down soon.”

While I waited for that to happen, I had to endure a mix of curious and envious glances. Apparently there wasn’t much else coming out of the rumor mill so I felt like I was centerstage. Grier seemed to think that this added some kind of pressure on me to finally swoon at his feet and kept trying to come up to me between classes. I just skirted around him every time.

On my way to my final class, however, he wasn’t content to just let me go by. As I tried to slip past, he grabbed me by the upper arm and looked down with a pouty, brooding expression. It was almost enough to make me laugh in his face.

“Erin,” he said. He managed to pack a lot of smugness into a single word.

“Fuck off.”

“I can’t stop thinking about you.”

“Let me go.”

“You’re like…you’re like heroin to me. I don’t know what it is, but —”

I tore myself out of his grasp and shoved past him. I didn’t know what his problem was, but he was starting to freak me out more every day.

After the last bell rang, I waited for Jade inside my class and then ran with her to art club, where I remained until my dad came and picked me up an hour later. I was relieved to make it out to his car without any sign of Grier.

A large bouquet greeted me as soon as I opened the front door of my house. They’d been left on the front table, a colorful collection of flowers tied off with a ribbon.

“Oh, you’re home!” Mom called cheerfully from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” I replied, eyeing the flowers uneasily. “Did Dad get you these?”

“The flowers? No! Your handsome little friend dropped those off.”

My stomach sank into an icy pit. “Who?”

“Grier, I think? Unusual name, but such a polite kid. He seems very fond of you,” she teased in a singsong voice. “Too bad for him, huh?”

I didn’t answer, though. The only thought that kept running through my head was, How did he know where I live?

Mom’s sunny expressed clouded. “Everything ok, sweetie?”

I just nodded numbly and went upstairs as Dad came in behind me. I heard Mom explaining the flowers in a hushed voice tinged with concern. I should’ve told them right then about Grier, but it felt too surreal. Too frightening. I called down that I wasn’t feeling well and locked myself in my room for the remainder of the evening.

I was still quiet the next morning when Dad took me to school again.

“If something’s going on, you can tell us. You know that, right?” He asked seriously.

I told him I did and he didn’t say anything else about it. I was grateful for that. I still hadn’t processed it completely myself. It was one thing for Grier to follow me around school, but to show up at my house? Just thinking about it sent a shiver through me.

But I still didn’t say anything. What if I was overreacting? Making too much out of what others would probably see as a crush, like Jade had? It wasn’t like he’d hurt me or anything, and he was pretty popular to boot. Would anyone even believe me over him? I just had to keep telling him to leave me alone. It’d sink in eventually. It had to.

I didn’t even stop to talk to Jade when Dad dropped me off. I went straight to my first class, where I hid until the bell rang. I was sure at one point that I saw Grier out of the corner of my eye, peeking in through the small window on the door. I kept my gaze fixed on the book I was trying to read until I was certain he was gone.

Concentrating in class was equally as hard. We were paired up to complete a worksheet and I could barely focus enough to help my partner figure out the answers.

“Uh, did you hear me?” JT, my partner, had to ask more than once. “Do you think that’s the right answer?”

I’d force a smile and agree, but my mind would wander again almost immediately. To his credit, he hid his frustration well and we made it through the lesson.

“I’m sorry,” I caught up to him after class to say. “I’m just…going through stuff.”

“Sure,” JT said. “Don’t worry about it.”

He gave me a reassuring smile and headed for his next class. When I turned toward mine, I found my path blocked by Grier. His face was pulled into a dark scowl.

“You shouldn’t talk to him,” he said sharply, his eyes burning into JT’s back.

“Leave me alone!” It came out high pitched and plaintive.

“Guys like him only want one thing and you’ll just lead him on.”

I shouldered him aside, but her caught me by the wrist and forced me back around. His fingers remained locked tightly so I couldn’t pull away.

“I’m only telling you this for your own good,” he said more gently than before. “You don’t need him, Erin. Or anyone else. You have me now.”

The tightness in my throat made it hard to breathe and impossible to speak.

Grier stepped forward, emboldened by my silence. “It’s ok. I’ll look after you.”

He was so close. His grip was bordering on painful. I snapped out of my frightened daze and shoved him back with my free hand. He stumbled a few steps, shock splashed across his face.

“Stay away from me!” I screamed.

It was enough to draw some interested looks and I took advantage of his surprise to run down the hall. I yanked open the door to the girls’ bathroom and darted inside, tears burning in my eyes. I sank to the floor beside the sink, frustrated, afraid, and helpless.

Grier didn’t leave me alone, though. I still saw him at school, down every hall I went and outside all of my classes. Jade started walking me to my classes, which kept Grier at a distance, but more rumors circulated. I was being mean to him. I didn’t deserve him. What was wrong with me? A few girls even sent notes to harass me over mistreating him.

School quickly became hell, but I kept quiet. The doubtful voices in my head were too loud, too insistent: Don’t make waves. Just let it roll off. He’ll lose interest. He’ll move on. Just keep your head down and get through it. Who would believe you over him?

It got worse when I started seeing him outside of school.

The first time was at the mall. I was shopping with my mom and we stopped for lunch in the food court. I almost missed him, standing across the crowded area, staring. He didn’t try to approach, but I still hurried Mom away with excuse my stomach suddenly hurt. She didn’t look very convinced, but went all the same.

The next time was on my own street. I was walking my dog, Minx, alone. I had started carrying a stick, just in case, but I wasn’t sure how well I would have been able to use it. Minx saw him before I did. She was a friendly dog, but she still barked at strangers, and when she tugged at her leash and let out an excited, “Boof”, my hand clenched around my stick.

He was in his car, a black sporty little thing, at the stop sign at the end of my street. His window was down. Minx barked again, a bit louder, and her tail thumped against my leg. I yanked her backwards and ran as fast as I could all the way home again. Minx thought it was a fun game.

After we were safely locked inside, I looked through the front door’s peephole in time to see Grier driving by very slowly, peering intently at the house as he went.

Then the gifts started. Small things, like a card or chocolates, that were left on our doorstep when my parents weren’t home or taped to my locker. They each had a note saying things like we were meant to be, he just knew it, and that he had fallen in love with me.

I will never give up. You are my destiny.

We belong together. Like Bella and Edward.

I threw them all away, disgusted.

That disgust was overtaken by fear again with a note I found inside my locker. At first, I thought it was written in some kind of splotchy red marker. When I realized what it really was, I yelped and let it fall to the floor,

In blood, Grier had written: Together forever.

I left it lying in the hallway and went to the nurse’s office. I complained I wasn’t feeling well and called my dad to come get me.

“You really don’t look good, kiddo,” he said with concern when I got in the car. “You think you need to go to the doctor?”

“No,” I said, resting my forehead against the window. “Just home.”

“You sure you’re ok?” He glanced at me out of the corner of his eyes. “Your mom and I have both noticed you’ve been a bit…quiet, lately.”

“I’m fine,” I said, even though everything inside of me was screaming at me to tell him.

But I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to make trouble when I was sure everyone would see it as nothing more than puppy love and laugh at me for being too sensitive.

Even if it felt more like a dangerous dog about to break free from his leash.

Dad stayed home with me and we watched movies and made dinner together before Mom came home. Neither pressed for more details, they’d always been good about trusting me to come to them if I needed to, but I kept catching their worried looks.

After dinner, I got a glass of water and excused myself to go to bed early. I just wanted to sleep for days and days. Until Grier finally gave up on me.

I felt the bed dip beside me. It was enough to wake me. My room was pitch black.

My bed frame creaked.

“Minxsy?” I asked sleepily, blinking against the dark. “You come to bed, girl?”

I reached out to give the collie mix a pat on her head. My fingertips brushed against fabric. Like jeans. I jumped, but a hand closed over my mouth.

“Shh, shhh,” Grier’s soft voice pierced the darkness from the bed beside me. “It’s just me.”

As my eyes adjusted, I could make out his outline, lying in my bed beside me. Behind him, a breeze came in through my open window.

“I missed you today,” he whispered.

I screamed into his hand. He pressed down harder.

“Why are you being like this?” His whisper had become a hiss. “After all I’ve done for you! Presents, letters. I love you, Erin. Why are you fighting it?”

It was getting harder to breathe around his hand and I struggled to pull away, but he was starting to climb on top of me. Panic surged like a bolt of lightning through me.

“We’re meant to be,” his face was inches over mine.

Outside my door, I could hear Minx sniffing along the bottom of it.

Grier’s body pressed down on mine.

“I’ll show you,” he said. “I’ll show you how much I love you.”

He was struggling with his zipper, I realized. White flecks had started to burst along the edges of my vision. Minx whined.

“We’re meant to be.”

With what little remained of my breath, I screamed into his hand again. I managed to wriggle one arm free.

He kept muttering under his breath.

His jeans’ zipper slid down.

My hand groped along my nightstand.

“I’ll show you.”

Minx barked, an unusually aggressive sound from such a docile dog.

Grier tugged at his pants with one hand.

I brought the glass of water that had been on my bedside table down on the back of his head.

Grier yelped and instinctively grabbed at his head. I kept my eyes closed against the falling glass and kicked and shoved with all I had. The hand covering my mouth slid away and I gulped in air. He tried to cover it again, but I swung my fist as hard as I could. It cracked against his ear.

He swore.

I screamed.

Minx barked.

And my bedroom door flew open.

Light from the hall flooded in, illuminating Grier’s face long enough for me to see how twisted it was with rage and pain before my mom and dad were yanking him off of me. They were shouting and beating him with closed fists until he was curled up on the floor. Minx stood in the doorway, barking wildly.

Dad had to pull Mom off of Grier and practically throw her out into the hall so she’d go call the cops. He stood over the bloodied boy, daring him to try and move.

I could only sit in my bed and shake.

Grier was arrested that night, but it was the only one he spent in jail. At seventeen, he was still a minor and they released him into the custody of his parents.

I got a restraining order. We pressed charges. We went before a judge. Grier stated we’d been in a relationship and were in love, like something out of a romance novel. I told them he was insane. It was my word against his. His attorney blamed me. My window had been unlocked, after all. Clearly I’d been waiting for him and, when caught by my parents, I’d made up a story so they wouldn’t be angry I was having sex.

The judge believed Grier was a “good boy who made a mistake”. He was a good student, a good athlete, there was no point in ruining his future over miscommunication and teenage hormones.

He was let off with what amounted to a slap on the wrist. It was exactly the response I’d been afraid of.

I was ostracized at school. They called me a cock-tease and said I’d tricked Grier into loving me. They said I wanted to ruin his life. Only Jade stuck up for me. Only she and my parents believed me.

I was moved to a different school a month later.

I can’t prove that Grier ever tried to contact me again. I didn’t see him around anymore, he didn’t call or come to my house that I knew of.

But about six months later, just as I was beginning to be able to sleep in my room again, a fat manila envelope addressed to me was delivered to our door. I cut it open and pulled out a paperback book. A copy of Twilight. My heart quickened and, despite my better judgement, I opened it. Taped inside the front cover was a typed note.

Always my Bella.

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