With much urgency, I pushed Leo out the door and called for Jessa to follow. Her and mom were in the living area, giggling together no doubt at my expense. I didn't want to subject Leo to the two of them when they were all high on gossip. He laughed as I shut the door behind us.
"Don't want me to meet mom?" he asked in a joking tone.
"Not tonight," I answered back, letting out a sigh. "Hi," I said, finally relaxing a bit.
"You look beautiful," he said, stepping toward me and putting his hand on my hip. I leaned into it, loving the warmth of his body near mine. All of my worry from the day vanished in just a moment in his presence.
He licked his lips and leaned down to reach my high. I pressed onto my tiptoes and met him half way. Our lips connected for just a moment before Jessa stormed out of the house, making a clammer.
"Let's go!" she shouted, grabbing me by the arm and dragging me away from Leo. I glanced over my shoulder and mouthed a sorry. He looked frustrated, his eyes pinched together and his lips no longer teasing. Was he actually upset?
I climbed into the front seat while Jessa climbed into the back. Leo got in wordlessly and started the car. It was completely silent, an awkward, heavy tension swarmed the air surrounding me. Again, he'd gotten upset over something I didn't do. Maybe he'd get over it just as fast as last time. I had no idea.
"So, Carley, Meghan said she's coming but she's not going to drink so we can use her as our ride home in case other people get drunk and can't get us home. Cami's coming but she's totally going to hook up with Derek and I bet we lose her within the first ten minutes..." she kept talking, but I tuned her babbling out.
I reached between us while he drove down Main Street and put my hand on his knee. He flinched, so I pulled my hand back. He caught it with his and replaced it on his knee, covering my hand with his as the other was firmly on the steering wheel. My brain was a pile of mush by now.
"And here we are," he said, parking to the left of a long line of cars in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. We were about 5 minutes from the school but way back away from town near the swamp lands.
"Let's find Cami first," Jessa said as she pushed open her door.
My heart started to race. I was torn. I wanted to stay with Leo but I knew Jessa was going to have a problem with me ditching her to spend time with Leo. But the fact was that he invited me to come. I invited Jessa. It was my first date with Leo and I wasn't ready to do the same old shit we did all the time.
I stayed sitting. Same with Leo. My hand still rested on his knee. Jessa's door shut and she knocked on my window, one hand on her hip and the other fixing her hair in the light reflection from the street lamps in the window.
"You coming?" she asked.
I rolled down the window. "I think I'll meet up with you all later. I want to talk to Leo." I said it fast and she must've picked up on my nerves. I wasn't scared of being with Leo. I was more scared of going against her plan and her being upset with me. She was my best friend. This wasn't a bros before hoes situation. I just agreed to come with Leo and it would be rude to ditch him the first second we arrived.
"Text me," she snipped out, then spun on her heels and walked into the darkness where I couldn't see her anymore.
I turned back to Leo. Whatever bad mood he'd gotten into from before vanished and he was smiling now. I sighed in relief. One crisis managed. Without muttering a single world, I leaned across the center console and kissed him. My hand lifted from his knee to his neck and I held him against my mouth.
"You taste good," he said, pulling back and pressing his forehead against mine.
"I brushed my teeth," I said with a shrug, half cringing that I just said that aloud.
"Let's join the group," he said, grabbing his pack of cigarettes from the center console and shoving his keys into his dark jeans pocket. He climbed out of the car and I followed out of my own side, fixing my flannel top so it didn't bunch in the back. Leo threw on his leather jacket and popped a cigarette into his mouth.
I walked around the back of the car and stood next to Leo. Noises from the party floated toward us. There was laughter and the faint smell of smoke mixed with screaming, drunk cries, and talking over and over.
Leo threw his arm over my shoulder and led me toward the party. My feet slushed in the damp grounds, but it didn't bother me. I wrapped my hand around his lower back and let him take me to the group.
A massive bonfire that must have gone up ten feet roared in the middle of the crowds of people. From my view it looked like the entire school was here, at least a hundred people all huddled with red cups in their hands and glazed over eyes.
Leo brought me around the main ring of people to a large banquet style table with soda and alcohol on it. His arm left me as he mixed rum with coke in two cups. He circled the cup in his hand, mixing the two liquids and then handed me one.
"Oh, I don't really drink," I told him, not taking it from him.
"Carely, it's less than half rum. Just take it. Drink what you want."
I took it, even though I didn't want it. He grabbed his own cup and took a long sip. I took a tiny sip and instantly regretted it. The cup was nearly all rum and as it went down my throat it left a burning trail. I was just going to hold the cup the rest of the night and dump it when nobody was looking. I was definitely not going to get drunk tonight.
"Oh there's Derek!" Leo grabbed my hand and jogged to Derek who was sitting in a camping chair with one girl on one leg and Cami on the other. Jessa was just a little ways into the crowd of people with Jason, of all people.
"Oh god," I groaned. Already, I bet I had to do damage control. "Let me go see how Jessa's doing." I pulled to get away from Leo to check on Jessa, but his grip on me tightened.
"You just saw her," he complained, turning me so we were face to face, my stomach pressed against his like we were going to make out. "I want you to stay with me." He smiled and bent down, kissing me on the lips and releasing me.
I want you to stay with me. My stomach fluttered at the thought that this extremely attractive man wanted to spend more time with me. I glanced over at Jessa, whose hands were all over Jason's back, one even resting in the back of his jeans pocket. I could watch her from here, get an idea of when she really needed me.
"Fine," I muttered, kissing him on his scruffy cheek. I leaned against him, my cup in my hand and other one on Leo's lower back. We fit together like me and my camera. I felt like our bodies molded together with ease. He was comfortable, not scary like I originally thought.
"Leo, you hear coach wants us to meet up with the freshies next week during free period?" Derek asked as we sat down in a black camping chair, covered in ashes from the fire not more than ten feet away. I sat down on his lap, straddling his right leg. He pulled me back so his chest was against my back. It was much more comfortable like this.
"Yeah, it'll be an hour, tops. We'll head down to the fields after and work on some formations."
"This Carely?" Derek asked, nodding toward me.
"Yep. In the flesh." Leo kissed me on the back of my shoulder since I was sitting higher than him. His arm snaked around my side and settled on my waist.
"It's nice to meet you," I told him.
"You're the camera girl, huh?" Derek asked, judging me. This was the reaction that I thought Leo would have to me. Uncaring, judgmental. It felt like Derek was looking down on me as he stared from his chair at me. I shrank back against Leo.
"Give her a break," Leo said, a hint of threat in his voice.
"Fine, fine." Derek brushed me off and quickly changed his focus to the girl on his left knee, not Cami. Cami caught eyes with me and widened hers. I could tell from her shocked look that she had no idea Leo and I had a thing. That was good though. Monday it was going to get out since we came here together.
"You okay?" Leo whispered in my ear.
Right in front of me and Leo, Derek started making out with the girl on his left knee while Cami was left there to watch. It was sickening. I turned my body so I didn't have to look at the seriously public display of affection that left my stomach in knots.
"Let's go walk." Leo helped me up from his lap and grabbed my hand, pulling me away from Derek and his douchey ways. Ugh. I hated that guy, now more than ever. We walked through the main crowd when someone grabbed my arm and tugged me. I yelped as I caught myself before falling over.
Mike pulled me against his chest and gave me a massive hug, one I'd never gotten from him before. I instantly smelled the acidic smell of his vodka breath. I laughed as I held him at an arm's length.
"I missed you so much, Carls!" he said way too loudly.
I laughed. His poor eyes were little slits and he could barely stand on his own two feet. "I think maybe you need to sit down," I told him, helping him to the damp grassy ground.
"Oh this is nice," he said as he pretended to make snow angels on the ground, flapping his legs and arms up and down. I snorted I was laughing so hard. I reached up for Jessa, who was watching the entire display, along with all of our friends, plus some extras. Mike was seriously going to regret this.
"Someone needs to take him home," I told Jessa.
"Not it!" Jason yelled, putting his finger to his nose.
"Carley, I love you so much!" Mike said, reaching for me. I leaned back so he couldn't make contact. He was a mess.
I glanced over my shoulder, looking to Leo for help, but he was gone. I looked left to right and spotted Leo back over by the drink table, smoking a cigarette. Without thinking, I got up and speed-walked to him.
"I didn't know where you went," I said as I stopped in front of him. He blew smoke in my general direction. I coughed.
"Didn't seem to notice," he snipped.
"What are you mad at now?" I asked before I could find nicer words to put it into.
"You like that guy?" Leo asked, nodding at Mike who was still doing his snow angels. "He clearly loves you Carley."
"Why are you smiling?" he asked, confusion coating his face in wrinkles and anger. "What?" he asked again, stepping toward me and taking a drag.
"You're jealous," I said, tilting my head and raising my brows. I liked it. I liked that he didn't want me to be with anyone else because I would be crushed to find out he was with someone else. I wanted Leo to be my boyfriend and the fact that he was jealous told me he had some similar feelings.
"I'm not jealous, Carley. Come on," he groaned, taking a final drag and dropping the cigarette in a water filled cup on the table. His body was tense.
I stepped toward him and put both of my arms around his waist. "You're definitely jealous."
He put down his cup and put his arms around me. "I'm." He kissed me. "Not." Peck. "Jealous."
"Whatever you say," I sang, kissing his neck.
He moaned and I felt the vibration in my lips where they rested on his neck. His arms squeezed me hard and lifted me off the ground. I reached around his neck to gain balance as he kissed my lips, his tongue diving into my mouth. He squeezed my butt so hard it hurt and I yelped. I broke the kiss.
"Um, ouch," I said, rubbing my butt when I was replaced on the ground.
'Too rough?" he asked, laughing as he wiped his mouth.
"Definitely," I said back, kissing his lips in a quick peck.
"Oh great," Leo groaned. I looked to where his eyes roamed and spotted Jessa, storming straight toward us. I grabbed Leo's hand so he couldn't run and squeezed it.
"We need to go now," Jessa said with urgency in her voice.
"What's wrong?" I asked her. Her eyes were red and puffy and she looked very drunk or like she'd been drying. I dropped Leo's hand and held onto her shoulders. This was a best friend moment.
"Jason and I...We just...I..." She was hiccuping she was in such hysteria.
"Come on." I grabbed her hand and dragged her past the crowds, past the fire, past the drink table, and into the woods where nobody could see us. It was also much quieter so I could listen to her.
"He tried to have sex with me," she panted. "But I said no. So he left."
"Good, Jessa. That's fine. What's wrong then?" I asked. She did the right thing for once and said no. I knew she wasn't ready to lose her virginity and the fact that she stood up for herself spoke volumes of who she was.
"He said he hated me and left!" she cried, covering her face with her hands and sulking.
"I'm sure he's just drunk. He'll talk to you tomorrow."
"He won't. I know he won't."
"Can we just go home?" she asked, her eyes droopy.
I nodded. I'd have to find Leo and ask him for a ride. Oh! I pulled out my phone and sent him a text, asking him where he was. I sat down on the grass beside Jessa and waited. But no text ever came back.
When Jessa was calm enough to rejoin the masses, we wandered back to where the party was still raging in full force. Everything was a little uglier. The fire was larger and harsher. The people were meaner or yelling or I don't know. Everything just seemed worse. I scanned the crowds for Leo, but I didn't see him anywhere.
With our arms linked, Jessa and I walked toward the parking area. Leo's car was still parked all the way to the left of the main parking area. But he was nowhere to be found. My heart sank. Was he with another girl or hooking up in the woods? Where could he have gone? He wasn't drunk or anything. At least when I had left him, he wasn't.
"Well, look who it is," Derek sneered as he walked up to Jessa and me.
"Have you seen Leo lately?" I asked him, not happy to be having a conversation with him. He rubbed me the wrong way too many times. He seemed like a dick and not a good friend to Leo. I didn't know why I felt that later part, but it was my gut feeling.
"He went off with a few ladies." Derek shrugged. My heart pinged, a sharp pain, but I wouldn't take Derek's word on it. I trusted Leo for some reason.
I rolled my eyes. "Thanks for the help," I said.
"Let's go, Cami." Derek grabbed Cami around the waist and hopped into his car. This might have been our only shot to get home.
I tapped on his window. "Can you possibly drive us home? We live right near town." I prayed in my head that he'd say yes.
"Guess so. Hurry up." He shut the window before I could even say thanks. I climbed into the back seat and scooted into the middle so that Jessa could get in. She slammed the door shut, still quiet, and leaned her head on my shoulder as Derek drove.
With me reciting off the directions to my house, we made it there in five minutes, all while Cami was stroking Derek in the front seat. Why was she with him? She'd been forced to sit on his lap and watch him make out wit another girl, and yet here she was, going home with him. It was gross.
"Thanks for the ride," I told him as I helped Jessa out and leaned her against my shoulder.
"Don't worry. I'll let Leo know you got home safe," he said with a smile that seemed more teasing than real.
"Uh, thanks," I muttered as I shut the back door and watched Derek drive off in his silver, shiny Mercedes. He was gross and each interaction I had with him affirmed that.
My parents were cool and understood that we were sixteen and would do some crazy things. And by we I meant Jessa. But I didn't want to go back to my house with her in this condition. She didn't seem too drunk, but she was a mess. Her eyes were puffy, her body slumped. She didn't look good and I didn't want my mom to see her like this.
In silence, we walked together to her house and went straight up to her room. She changed into black leggings and a long tee and climbed into bed. In my damp clothes that smelled like a campfire, I climbed in too.
"It's going to be okay," I told her as I brushed her hair back from her face.
"It just sucks," she muttered, holding in tears. "I just want a boyfriend."
I rubbed her head as she fell asleep. It was only two minutes before her faint snoring told me so. From the kitchen, I got two asprin and a bottle of water and put them on her bedside table. She didn't seem too drunk, but asprin never hurt and I was sure all the crying would leave her dehydrated.
After I locked up her house, I spotted his car. It was parked near the curb outside of my house. The lamp on our street had been out for two months so I couldn't tell if he was inside of it or not. I took a deep breath and walked to it.
"Hey," I said as I stopped just outside of the door. His window was rolled down and he was flipping around with the radio. He jumped at the sound of my voice and hit the radio, making it blare through his crappy speakers.
"Sorry," he muttered. He looked up, dark bags under his bloodshot eyes. "Where were you?" he asked.
"I was waiting for you. Then I got a call from Derek saying he took you home."
"You left me and I couldn't find you. Jessa needed to get home."
"So you let Derek drive you?" he asked, his eyes dark and angry.
"Yes, Leo. You weren't there."
"You left me to go be with Jessa," he snarled, pushing open his car door, nearly hitting me with it. he stood in front of me, his chest panting and anger flooding from him.
"She was having a crisis. It would've been wrong to just leave her when she was clearly upset. You saw her crying, Leo. What's your problem?" I asked, not letting him be angry with me for absolutely nothing.
"So what? You fucked him?" he asked, stepping over me, getting too close.
"Of course not! You're being insane."
"I'm not insane. You're being a--a--" He cut himself off and ran his hand through his dark hair. He turned so his back was to me and then spun around, his face transformed from furious to somewhat smooth.
"What?" I dared him.
"I don't like it," he said in a whisper.
"Well, I'm sorry. I didn't have any other way to get home."
"Fine," he snipped, his voice still quiet. He wrapped his arms around me and rested his head on my shoulder, hugging me. I smiled and returned the hug. "I needed it," he said as he released me.
"I like you, Leo," I said.
"I'm not used to this," he said, pinching his eyebrows with his fingers and groaning.
"So now what?" he asked, shrugging.
I fell in love with Leo Daniels faster than you could say Leo Daniels. September 2016, I remember when it happened like it was yesterday. He was the seventeen-year-old, unattainable, lacrosse player who was way out of my league, but one day in the hall, he saw me.
I was fascinated with him, wanting to know why he pushed people away and why he acted so distant at certain times. He was strange and mysterious— and before long, he was mine.
Then we changed. Leo had a life that was foreign to me. In the town of Ridgebury, I was sheltered and accepted, and my family surrounded me with love. But Leo’s life was toxic. And his poison burned into me.
What was I supposed to do? Leave him to avoid what was sure to be a terrible ending, or stay by his side? I deserved better, but so did he. If I stayed, would we lose everything? What was the price of our love?
© Taylor Lavati 2017
What Readers Have to Say...
"An absolutely heart wrenching read that shows us that at times no matter how much we hope, darkness will find its way to win. "
-Blogger's From Down Under for A Reliant Love
"So this book is the ultimate love story. I like how two ordinary people who is so different and still so alike in so many ways can overcome everything together."
-Angelica Berglund for For The Love of Hockey
"I never thought I would read a "zombie book", much less love one. The Last Legacy really surprised me. Even with the whole people-eating-people thing, it was a fantastic book"
-Melannie S for The Last Legacy
"I could not wait to start book two. If this book was as good as book one, then I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. It wasn't as good as book one...it was better. "
-Keely Retchloff for Finding Sam
"The powers, the love, the excitement, the drama kept me so enthralled. If you are looking for a GREAT series about true love and mythology, look no further... I wish I could rate 10 stars! Definitely recommend this whole series to all my book loving friends!"
-The Book Blog for A Curse Books Trilogy
"For the Love of Ash" by Taylor Lavati was a rare 5-star read for me. I honestly find many typical romances rather dull and predictable. This was not the case at all here; there was nothing average about the romance, overall storyline, and the long list of supporting characters."
-Summer's Book Blog for For The Love of Ash
"Wingless isn't what I would normally pick up and read, but thought I'd try it out and I am so glad I did. The characters and "worlds" she creates are done so well that you can actually picture them and feel like you are there right along with the characters."
-JLH for Wingless
For The Love of Hockey | January 2016
The Price of Love | 2017