The second I walked into my house, I knew it'd be an ambush. Mom was sitting on the couch with a cup of something steaming on her lap and Jessa by her side. The two were gossiping about who knew what and the moment I walked in, the room silenced. For some reason, this familiar scene annoyed me today.
"Yes?" I asked, dropping my bag near the door. I didn't want to share my very private moment with Leo with my mom and Jessa. It was weird. It felt like they were trying to pry into the relationship that wasn't even a relationship yet. I didn't want to jinx anything.
"Her lips definitely look plumped," Jessa whispered to my mom. She never was a quiet whisperer.
"We kissed, it wasn't a big deal." I shrugged it off and walked past them into the kitchen. I poured myself a mug of the boiling water on the stove and added two spoonfuls of hot cocoa mix. I slow walked back into the family room where I expected more questioning to take place.
"Should I leave?" Mom asked when I returned.
"I guess not. It doesn't really matter. We just kissed and it wasn't a big thing," I said, trying to downplay the most intense encounter I'd ever experienced. I didn't have anything to compare it to, but whatever. I knew Leo was something special.
"Was the kiss good?" Mom asked at the same time Jessa asked, "did he use tongue?"
"My cue to go," Mom said. "Please be safe and fill me in later. Why don't you two go upstairs?"
"Good idea," Jessa said as she leapt from the couch and darted up the stairs. I groaned which made Mom laugh at me. I followed in Jessa's floral wake and met her in my room. She was waiting on my bed. When I stepped in, she nodded to the door, urging me to shut it behind myself.
"Spill it all. Now." She demanded.
"We kissed. Seriously, it was nothing major. That was it. He caught me taking a picture of him and basically told me to stop. He valued his privacy or something." This was one of the only times I'd lied to my best friend. The words just poured out of me without even thinking of it. I didn't mean to lie but once it came out I couldn't stop.
"He probably thinks you're a stalker," she said, rolling her eyes. "We can fix this image. Now that you've kissed, you can use it to your advantage. We can get you boyfriend-girlfriend status in a month, tops."
"Wait, Jessa." I held up my hand and sat in my swivel desk chair, putting my camera down where it belonged and was safe. "I don't want to force anything and if he doesn't wany anything to do with me after today, then so be it. He's not that great anyway."
"He's not that great?" She mimicked me with her face telling me she hardly believed it. I guess that little white lie was unbelievable. It even made me laugh. "Seriously. Why are you being so reserved? You've liked him for years."
"I've had a crush on him because he's so good looking. Liking him is different."
"What are you not telling me?" Jessa asked, flipping onto her stomach and putting her feet in the air. She pulled out a notebook from her bag and started to doodle in it while she waited on my answer.
"First off, he's way older than me. Second off, he probably isn't interested." I definitely thought he was interested, but still. It was hard to believe that he'd like a junior girl no-name like me over someone like Tinsley who he could get with in a second. "Third, I'm not really looking to date someone like him."
"You haven't dated anyone yet, Carls. How do you know?" She raised a good point. Did I even have a type or person that I liked? Was I into the bad guys? Maybe Leo was exactly my type. My lack of any experience lended her statement credibility.
"True. I just...I don't know. I'm not really ready for a Leo Daniels."
"Hmm..." She drew a big heart on the place with a C and L in the middle. She was already romantisizing the lack of relationship between Leo and me.
"I'm not going to hype it up. When I see him tomorrow I'll just play it cool and--"
"See him tomorrow?" she asked, raising her brow.
"We're meeting after school again. I have to show him my favorite picture apparently."
"What the hell!" She leapt up from the bed and reached underneath my bed and pulled out a box, which I knew held a few of my favorite albums. "Where do we start?" she asked, pulling out a green folder.
"I have absolutely no idea." Truth was, I knew he was going to read into whatever picture I brought him tomorrow. This was what was going to make or break our relationship. If I brought a lame picture, he'd think I was a lame person. And the truth of the matter was that I wanted to give him a peak into my life. I wanted the picture to mean something to me and I wanted him to find the meaning.
The word click was bouncing around on repeat in my mind. I hopped off the chair and sat down on the floor, laying out some of my newer albums on the ground side by side. I was looking for something specific, something that screamed me. I just didn't know what it was.
Sometime around six, my mom brought up a cheese platter and bread. Jessa and I munched as we rifled through book after book of my photographs. I really needed to go through them and thin out my favorites. But each picture was like my baby. I couldn't just throw it away when at the time I had loved it so much.
They all meaned something to me. In a purple album with thick pages, I found some of my very first photographs. They were still life's and black and white shots of mom and dad and Harry. The one's of Harry were humorous. The cat's black fur was sticking up, his tail a thick matted mess, but his eyes were wide and looked as if he were laughing. This was one I could never let go.
My eyes were burning by the time Jessa left. She looked defeated, all hunched over and dissapointed that we couldn't agree on one photo. She promised to text me if she had an epifany, which I doubted would ever come. I felt defeated, too.
I had about ten that I put on the side of my bed that I liked and would do, but none of them screamed me. I wanted one that was who I was, that told a story of what I looked for. And I just hadn't found it yet.
I woke up with things stuck to me. I sat up and peeled a photograph from my face, the ink smudged. Something buzzed beside me and I reached for my phone. I glanced at it and saw that it was already 7:30 am! School was starting right now and I wasn't ready. Not only had I just woke up, but I didn't have a picture for Leo.
"Mom!" I yelled down the stairs.
"What's wrong?" she called back up.
"I'm running late. Can you drive me in?"
"Sure! I'll make a to-go breakfast."
"Thanks!" I yelled back down as I stripped and hopped in the shower. I quickly rinsed off and washed my hair and the ink from my face thanks to the photographs I slept on all night. I threw on whatever I could find and didn't care about what I looked like. My phone beeped again, but I didn't have time to check it.
Randomly, I picked up a black binder of photographs, the ten I picked out that I liked most, my camera, and backpack and ran down the stairs. Mom was waiting at the door was a sandwich bag of food and a hurried look on her face.
"Thanks," I said as I grabbed the bag and followed her out to her black mini Cooper. I got into the passenger side and waited as she started the car and pulled out. I finally took a breath and a bite of the maple scone my mom had packed me.
"This wouldn't have anything to do with a certain boy, now, would it?" Mom asked as I scarfed down my second scone.
"He asked me to show him my favorite picture I've ever taken. I spent all night trying to find one that screamed me but failed misterably. I can't find a single one!" I was starting to panic for no reason because who really cared. Though for some reason, I did. I wanted to find the perfect one for him. It mattered.
"What about one off your wall?"
I didn't even think of looking at those. How dumb was I? "The one of Howler's Hill..." I muttered to myself. It was my favorite, and best photograph. It was depressing and sad, but the tree on the hill with the flowerbed underneath were uplifting in a way. It depended on the day how you felt about the images. That was it.
In one swift whip of the steering wheel, Mom spun the car around. "What?" I started to ask, but had to grab onto the bar near the door to hold on.
"You need to go get it. This matters, right?" she asked, pulling a U-turn in the middle of the road. I was laughing now. Crazy laughing. And so was my mom. She was the absolute best for doing this for me and I wanted to cry. She knew me. She got me.
She pulled up to the house and I jumped out, leaping over the small curb and darting inside. I blew past dad who I hadn't even noticed was home prior to this. I pulled the image off my wall and took it out of the frame. I didn't want to harm it so I rolled it up and cradled it in both hands.
I rejoined my mom in the car and she drove the way we'd just been going back to school. I was now a full period late for school but it didn't matter. I had found the picture I'd been looking for.
Still. My battle hadn't been won yet. The most nerve wracking part was still coming toward me. I'd have to show Leo the picture and deal with his reaction.
Whatd he even care for? Maybe I was the one reading too much into this picture business. Maybe he didn't care too much and asked me about it in an off hand way. Had I been overreacting this entire time?
I didn't think so.
After muttering a quick goodbye to Mom I darted into the school and stopped dead in my tracks when I got to the hallway that housed my locker. Slumped down in front of it was a dark mass of a body.
"What are you doing?" I asked as I slowly walked up to him , my palms starting to sweat profusely.
"You weren't there..." he said as he looked up. The eye that was just black this past weekend was darkened yet again, looking red around the edges like he'd gotten a fresh hit.
Without thinking, I ran to him and brushed my fingers against his face. He hissed in response. I pulled back, apologizing under my breath.
"What happened?" I asked in a whisper. The halls were dead quiet, faint murmurering from within the closed classroom doors was barely audible. I glanced from left to right, not a soul in sight.
"It's nothing," he said as he pushed back a bit and stood. He reached down for me and I took his hand, standing from where I had just crouched down. The height of him really hit me, at least a head taller than me, he was monstrous.
"Someone hurt you. Why?" I asked, fishing for a piece of him.
"Doesn't matter." His dark face didn't tell me much at all. For some reason, and I'm sure he did this for a purpose, I couldn't read him. His eyes were clouded and hollow. "Come on."
He took my hand again and lead me down the hall in the direction I just came from. I had class to go to. I couldn't just wander off with Leo Daniels. I had commitments.
When we got to the front doors of the school, I paused. "I can't leave."
"Why not?" he asked.
"I've never skipped before," I told him, my face heating. It wasn't like I didn't want to skip. I did. But I had a pretty decent attendance and my mom already let me go in late. I didn't want to push it. She trusted me and I'd never done anything against rules before. Skipping to the cafeteria was one thing. Ditching school was another.
"Please," he begged in a voice that sounded tortured. His usual snarky monotone voice was gone. Something was wrong.
I didnt say the words but I nodded. He smiled, a half smile that felt fake to me. I clung to his hand as he pulled me out the doors through the parking lot and into his beat up car.
As both of our doors shut, he let out a sigh. "I hate that place sometimes," he muttered.
"How can you hate it?" I asked, bewildered and losing my filter between mouth and brain. "I mean, you're the king of the tigers. What's there to hate?"
"Nothing, Carley. You wouldn't get it." He shook his head making the near black pieces of hair near his forehead shake.
"Try me," I challenged him.
He smiled, this time authentic. "Show me."
My heart dropped and whatever semblance of cool I had left vanished. I was a shaking ten year old going to a birthday party all alone. I glanced down at myself and groaned. The clothes I threw on didn't match and were lame. Oh well.
I unrolled the photograph and layed it out on the steering wheel in front of him. I held the right side while he pushed the left against it to flatten it out. He frowned. Then straightened his face. Then frowned again.
"You said you liked pictures of people," he said, loooking away from the photo and to me.
"True. I do. But this one just says me. I can't really explain it."
"I can," he said, nodding.
"Do you like art?" I asked him, searching for more conversation. I wanted to know him, and not just know the inside of his mouth when he chose to kiss me. What made him him and why did he put off this anger vibe all of the time.
He scoffed. "No. I hate art."
"Then why'd you want to see my picture?"
"A look into that pretty head."
"Well, did you get it?" I asked.
"Time will tell." He handed me back the photograph of Hollow Hill and I wrapped it nicely and stuck it into my backpack. My head hurt because I wasn't sure what to make of Leo and this conversation. I got myself worked up for time will tell?
"Well I should get back..." I put my hand on the door but he grabbed it and stopped me. I glanced back at him.
"Don't," he said, widening his light eyes at me convincing me not to move.
"Why should I stay?" I asked.
"Because I want you to."
"Do you always get what you want?" I asked playfully but the look on his face changed. While I laughed, he hardened and his lips drew into a straight line.
"Don't pretend to know me," he said in a clipped tone.
"I didn't mean anything bad," I said backtracking. "Really."
"Go to class then. If you want. I won't force you to stay," he said, letting go of my arm and sitting back in his front chair. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked out the window, purposely not making eye contact with me.
"Leo..." I touched his bare arm but he pulled back making my hand fall to the console between the seats.
"Carley, just go."
"Fine," I muttered, hurt by how he was treating me. "You can keep this," I said as I put the photograph in the console and climbed out of the car. He still didn't say a word or move a muscle.
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