This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, business establishments or events is entirely coincidental. Comments and feedback are highly appreciated, send to

Raw, Chapter 9 (Beginning of Part II)

The hot veggie soup scolds my mouth as Derick continues complaining about the awful day he had at work. His complaining does not bother me in the least, in fact it's kind of a pleasant distraction. He doesn't complain in the incessant way other people tend to. He does it with good humor and a touch sarcasm. Everything Derick says, even if it involves complaining, has no malice in it. He's never negative, never overwhelming with his problems, only sharing.

I proceed nodding my head as my boyfriend of three years gently bashes yet another horrible customer that he had to serve at his job. We don't usually eat at this fancy restaurant but since we didn't have time to celebrate my birthday Derick decided we should have dinner here. I met Derick my first year of college in a literature class. He smiled at me and asked to borrow a pen and we've been friends ever since. He kept asking me out, and I kept saying no, well aware of the fact that I would never be able to love anyone the way I loved him. That it would be simply unfair to anyone. But he finally convinced me to give him a chance, and we've been going out since then. From day one I told him that I come with a lot of baggage, but he's been nothing but supportive, loving, and caring.

I smile watching the way his pale mouth moves when he speaks. I especially love the way his brown eyes warm up whenever he mentions kids, knowing his most personal dream--which he thinks I'm clueless about--is to have a big family. Derick was born to be a dad. He's patient, kind, understanding, fun, loving, warm. He's everything anyone would want in a father, in a friend, in a brother, in a son, in a partner. I smile and remind myself how lucky I am. I have to remind myself, otherwise I fall into the old fog where I'm oppressed with the feeling of raw emotion that I cannot handle. The fog where my mind paces back and forth, and dangerously remembers him. Was it all a dream? Or was it a nightmare? Because I haven't seen him in so long sometimes I feel like I made him up to get through the difficult years of high school. But when I'm back in town, visiting my parents, I drive by the big house and see Joanna and her perfectly styled red hair walking out through the large mahogany door, and then I remember that he actually existed, and that it all happened.

"You're on another planet. I'm boring you with this work crap aren't I?" Derick asks with an apologetic smile, waking me up from my insufferable thoughts.

"No, I'm happy. Keep going," I reply smiling back. He laughs and proceeds with the story. I watch as he plays with the yellow sugar packet; a habitual tendency of his. He has many of these. In fact I'm convinced he has OCD or something, but I don't mention it because it's kind of endearing.

A waitress makes her way towards our table and places a crazy looking dessert in the middle, one that you can only get in the most pretentious restaurants. The type of dessert you're scared to dig into. Derick scratches his ear as she walks away and we both burst out laughing.

"What is that?" I ask, still laughing

"I have no idea, I think I can see fish eggs in it though. You go first," he replies. I take a bite of the creative looking dessert and nod my head in approval. Surprisingly the thing tastes quite delicious.

"Not that this original cake isn't worth it but do we really have the money for this?" I ask Derick, even though it's not like I can un-eat our dinner.

"Hey, it's your birthday, of course we have the money for this," he replies reassuringly. Derick is a hard worker. Nothing's ever been handed down to him, he knows the real value of money, so it's in moments like these when I can truly appreciate how much he cares for me. With both of us working minimum wage life is not easy, but we get by.

Finally I leave Derick with the dessert and excuse myself to go to the bathroom. On my way I check my phone and smile at the text message from Lena asking how my "romantic dinner" is going. I shake my head at her phrasing and realize how much I miss her. We still talk all the time and see each other as frequently as our schedules allow, but I miss being able to confide in her on a daily basis. I know she's still dating Taylor, and that makes me happy. Feeling like I played a small part in getting those two love birds together is a good though. Even though thoughts of Lena make me melancholic I realize that overall I'm feeling happy, today has been a good day. Things have been solid for me, and solid is good. I wash my hands and look at myself in the fancy mirror. I've changed. My hair is shorter and I'm thinner than I used to be now that I no longer have my mom feeding me five times a day. And my eyes...even I know that something's changed in them. There's a vacancy. I quickly look away. I proceed to exit the restroom. And then, a second before it happens, I know, I just know.

"Jeremy," I hear the voice state my name. A voice so familiar and yet so long not heard that it feels foreign. My heart immediately jumps into my throat, and I think it stops beating for a minute. I turn around shocked, and there he is, just standing there, looking the same, yet completely different. He appears to be as shocked as me, but recovers much quicker. That's the thing about Mark, he is always trying to control the situation. His face falls into a smooth unreadable mask. His gaze as usual is hard to read. He's wearing a crisp dark grey suit, his hair shiny black slicked with gel. A dark blue tie perfectly sitting around his tan neck. Ever the perfectionist. I stand there stunned as he looks me up and down, some strange expression in his eyes. Nervously I tug at the bottom of my blue shirt, feeling just as self conscious as I did the first day of high school. Somehow I feel inadequate compared to him.

"You cut your hair," he simply states, sounding somewhat disappointed or...sad? Before I have a chance to recover a skinny tall woman with long brown wavy hair walks up to Mark and puts her hand on his arm. She is simply beautiful to say the least. The kind of girl you see on magazine covers.

"There you are, my father's waiting," she says to Mark while simultaneously throwing a questioning glance in my direction.

"Elisabeth, this is my high school friend Jeremy. Jeremy, Elisabeth Hightower," he says, adding quietly, "my fiancé." My mouth pops into on "ohh."

"Oh!" the beautiful woman blurts out surprised, "Pleasure to meet you. This is so rare. Mark never introduces me to any of his old friends." Mark stiffens at her hand touching his arm. I slowly manage to smile at her. My head spinning with a million memories of a boy who I loved in high school.

"Wow, it's been so long," I finally say. "What do you do now?" I ask Mark, once again taking his professional appearance, and not being able to think of anything else to say.

"Law," he replies a little abashed. Elisabeth beams at his reply.

"Really?" I ask shocked and disappointed. All Mark wanted to do was be different from his father, yet somehow he turned into an exact copy.

"Jer," I hear a soothing voice and feel a hand on my shoulder. I weakly smile at Derick. Can this situation be anymore uncomfortable? I notice the blaze in Mark's eyes when he takes in Derick's hand on my shoulder. Possessive even after all this time, I think to myself.

"Hi, I'm Derick," he holds out his hand. Mark returns the gesture in his typical self-assured manner.

"Mark, Jeremy's friend from high school," he replies. Derick's eyes sparkle with recognition. Of course I told him all about Mark. He deserved to know the truth.

"Elisabeth Hightower, Mark's fiance," the pretty woman chimes in. Derick hides his surprise quite well. Better than I did.

"Pleasure to meet you. How long are you guys in town? I remember Jeremy told me you live in New York," Derick easily starts the conversation.

"Just for the week," Mark replies coldly, but I can tell he's surprised that Derick knows about him.

"Well we'd love to have you over for dinner," Derick says with a smile as my jaw drops. No, no, no, what is he trying to do.

"Oh that would be great!" Elisabeth exclaims excitedly. I just stand there. Mark's face stays impassive. But I can tell he's having an inner battle. "Great. Are you free on Sunday?"

"Yes, perfect," she replies.

"3 sound good?"

"Sounds great"

"Okay then, well we'll let you get back to your lunch. It was a pleasure meeting you both," Derick says smoothly and Mark nods rigidly while looking at me. I'm speechless so I just start walking away. "What did you do?" I hiss at Derick when we're out of earshot. It's hard to be mad at him since he's one of the nicest people I know, but right now I'm pissed off. He just gives me a small knowing smile.

"Jeremy when we're in high school we tend to hold people up on a pedestal. You think way too much of that guy. I just want you to meet him now and realize he's not as great as you remember him. I want us to move on with our relationship without his shadow following us every step of the way." I want to scream at him but I just end up pouting. I know exactly what Derick means. I've let Mark's memory plague our relationship all this time. Never quit giving up on the boy from high school. Never forgetting everything that's happened. Never giving me and Derick a real shot. But this, how the hell am I supposed to deal with this?

We get back to our small one bedroom apartment and I am mortified at imagining Mark and his fancy fiancé dining here in two days. Right away I start religiously cleaning, as Derick just stands and looks on amused.

"This isn't funny, you got us into this mess now help me clean!" I yell at him. He shakes his head but finally moves to pick up his shirt from the floor.

The dead cold eyes stare at me, making me wish I was never born. Making me wish I never loved, never cared, never felt. Mark's dead cold empty eyes. "I can't do this. I...I just can't," I hear him say. I hear it, but I can't process it. What I process are his eyes. Cold, like in the picture of him and Luke. My insides drop as I realize this is exactly what Luke must have felt like, and for a second how he chose to deal with his pain seems completely rational. The pain burns, the pain buries itself so deep and screams so loud that I think I'm going out of my mind.

I shake off my troubled thoughts and take a deep breath. This is all the past. I need to let go or I'll never be able to move on. I have let this go. I'm in a happy, healthy normal relationship and I can't go back to thinking about high school. I take another deep breath and find my resolve. I'm not going to freak out over this. I'll have lunch with him, I'll get through it, and then I'll go back to my normal life.

Finally Sunday comes around. I wake up hours before it's even light outside. I lay in bed with a dreadful heaviness in my stomach, unable to move or speak or sleep. So I just lay there until Derick wakes up. I look at him with terror in my eyes and he smiles at me looking at least a tiny bit remorseful for his reckless invitation.

"It's going to be okay. He's just a guy Jer, he's just a guy."

"I know that," I reply matter of factly, attempting to put Derick at ease. Rationally I understand that Mark is just a human being made out of cells and organs and red hot blood. But science has nothing on my imagination and my heart, so he might as well be the pope or Jesus Christ because I don't think I'll ever feel like I'm next to "just a guy" when he's around. I sigh trying to rid the frustrating thoughts from my body.

"I'm not making lunch," I state getting out of bed.

"That's fine, we'll just order something. Pizza?" He asks. I give him a pointed look.

"They live in a penthouse in New York Derick, we can't order them a pizza for lunch," I reply.

"Sushi?" he asks making an unhappy face.

"Sushi's better," I reply after a moment of thought. "She seems like the kind of person that eats sushi...daily," I add and we both start laughing. All this time I've been so busy thinking about Mark that I never really thought about the fact that he has a fiancé, I realize as a pang of jealousy runs through my body. She must be the happiest woman in the world, I imagine with sadness. But I quickly shake off my self loathing. I'm lucky, I remind myself over and over again. I am very lucky. Still I can't beat the curiosity away, so when Derick is showering I type the name "Elisabeth Hightower" into Google search. I'm a little surprised at how many results I get. First I click at the images, and sigh realizing that not only is she pretty in person but she's also extremely photogenic. Her pictures are at variety of social parties and events. And then my heart skips a beat when I finally find one picture of her with Mark. It was taken at a charity event. I click it and go the the actual page. The article is a short announcement mostly about Elisabeth's father, who apparently owns a lucrative law firm. I read the article over and over trying to make sense of things. But I realize that it's not my place to do that anymore. It doesn't matter why Mark is with her. Or at least it shouldn't matter. I shake my head and close the laptop. I look around, in a few hours Mark Norton will be standing in my living room. I cringe remembering the first time he saw my old room and feel the same old fear rising in my throat telling me I am not good enough and will never be good enough.

The doorbell rings and I freeze. My heart jumps into my throat. I look to Derick for help.

"Remember, he's just a guy," he says trying to calm me down and then heading to open the door. I panic and run to the kitchen to hide like a little child. I'm so nervous I start shaking. I take ten fast breaths and decide to not be a coward anymore. I walk out into the living room as Derick is introducing Elisabeth to our cat, Idaho. Mark sees me first. Our eyes lock and a million emotions pass. I could look into those green eyes forever. Instead I look away and walk over to Derick. Elisabeth moves her gaze from the cat to me, "Hi Jeremy."

"Hi Elisabeth, how are you?"

"I'm great, thank you. Thanks so much for having us over."

"Of course, sorry this place is so messy," I reply scratching my head.

"Oh no, it's very nice."

"So how does Sushi sound you guys?" Derick asks and as we predicted Elisabeth beams at the idea.

"Well go ahead and have a seat, I'll order." Mark makes his way over to our couch and sits down.

Derick's head pops out from the kitchen, "What are you drinking?"

"I'll just have water," Elisabeth replies.

"You got any beer?" Mark asks.

"Yeah, Pilsner okay?"

"Yeah," Mark replies. I sit as far away from them as possible, on a chair adjacent to the couch. The awkward silence drags on. Finally Elisabeth speaks

"So what do you do Jeremy?"

"I work at a book store right now and take a few classes."

"Oh how nice," she replies.

"And you? Are you in law too?"

"Oh no!" she replies dramatically laughing. "I have enough lawyers around me," she says looking at Mark who barely raises a smile. "No, I help out at my fathers firm, I'm the chief executive of one of his charities."

"Oh, wow that sounds great," I reply not knowing what else to say. Derick finally comes back from the kitchen and hands our guests their drinks. I excuse myself and go into the kitchen, while they make small talk. All of a sudden I feel a presence behind me.

"Were you planning to avoid me forever?" he asks sounding irritated.

"What are you doing here?" I ask annoyed.

"I came in to talk to you," he replies.

"No what are you doing here, in my apartment, drinking my beer? What are you doing?" I ask enraged.

"If I remember correctly I was invited here," he replies and stiffly adds, "by your boyfriend." The word sounds wooden in his mouth.

"Yeah, well you should have declined," I answer and try to push past him back into the living room. His arm stops me.

"Why are you so mad?" he asks me.

"Why am I mad?" I ask surprised, "Sorry I didn't know that my first real boyfriend, the only person I've loved and trusted with everything," I say emotionally, "was going to dump me after he found out I was molested as a kid." The accusation is like a slap in his face.

"You know that's not what happened," he says trying to sound calm.

"No, that's exactly what happened Mark," I reply angry and at the verge of tears. His jaw tenses and he looks away. I know he hates seeing me upset, and knowing that he's the cause of it leaves him feeling vulnerable since he can't beat anyone up and make it all better.

"I wasn't thinking Jeremy. I just felt so angry, and I wasn't thinking about what you've gone through. I was being self righteous. And how I acted...I know there's no excuse for it. So I won't give you one. I just want you to know that I'm very sorry. I'm sorry I put you through that additional pain. I always wanted to protect you from being hurt, I never knew I'd end up being the one hurting you. I understand that seeing me is a little painful," he starts, but I stop him.

"Painful?" I ask, in the steadiest voice. I am furious inside, but my voice does not quiver. It's as if I'm holding the most mundane conversation about grocery shopping, and not about my heart tearing in half. "No, Mark, it is not painful. I walk around and do my best to do everything other people are doing, to be normal. But at least once a day something will remind me of you. And even that is not painful, at this point it's such a part of my life that I simply find it slightly bittersweet. I kiss Derick and I think of you, and that is also not painful. Just slightly embarrassing because I'm hoping he won't notice. But seeing you here, in my own place, where I've spent years trying to heal myself from you, and knowing that everything in here will now forever remind me of you, that's not painful. That's unbearable. It is unbearable. So please, leave," I finish and look at Mark one last time. For once he seems like he's at a loss for words. Before he recovers I leave the kitchen and go into bedroom. A few minutes later there are voices talking in the living room, but my mind can't hear anything. My outside is steady, but my inside is crumbling. Soon I hear the main door open and close, and I know he's gone. Derick reappears in the doorway and leans on the door. He smiles gently.

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah," I reply forcing a small smile back.

"I'll give you some space," he says realizing I'm not in a social mood. Memories flood my mind, back to that day, back to the day everything changed. I remember running downstairs and looking for him. And finding a frantic Joanna saying, "Mark did something...something really bad."