Trashed and Scattered
Chapter Fifty-Eight: Take A Little Time to Level Out
To Peyton’s surprise, Brian didn’t resurface. She politely hung around with Crystal as the woman continuously filled her glass without permission. While the other female was distracted, Peyton was straining her eyes though the window in hopes of spotting a Haner. After an hour had ticked and tocked away, Peyton finally excused herself back indoors.
“No problem,” Crystal waved. “I should probably get Johnny on dinner anyway.”
The women were surprised to find Johnny already at work in the kitchen, tossing blobs of dough against the counter. He grinned over at them happily.
“I’ma making a pizza!” he laid out his thickest Italian accent for the occasion.
Zach spun around, visibly wincing at his friend’s poor attempt at humor. Call it the wine or perhaps mercy, Peyton let out a nervous laugh. Crystal rolled her eyes, planting herself next to her boyfriend with a childish grin.
“You’re ridiculous,” she told him.
Peyton noted a few common suspects were missing. Matt was all but missing, Jimmy and Natalie too. Not that Peyton was particularly displeased to find Natalie scarce, she figured she’d better find someone she belonged to. It was awkward and strange being severed from the two men she found solace within.
“Go tell Brian he’s gotta help!” Johnny called to a retreating Peyton. “The lazy German can’t get out of it this time!”
Peyton nodded, waving a hand over her head as she disappeared quietly down the hall. Her steps were shallow, as if the creaking floorboards might somehow disrupt whatever atmosphere this half of the cabin had bred. It was tense and admittedly hostile, which Peyton couldn’t quite work out the reason for. Nevertheless, she twisted the doorknob and cracked the door open.
Brian was seated in the corner of the bed, his knees pulled to his chest. His doe eyes had been firmly planted on the window pane but snapped furiously to the figure approaching through the doorway. Peyton was confused to find them rolling at her existence.
“Hey,” she said oddly, gesturing lazily over her shoulder with a thumb, “Um…Johnny’s making pizza.”
Brian raised his brows, his face blank, “Good for Johnny.”
Peyton narrowed her eyes at the guitarist, doing her best to work out his expression. If she had to guess, she’d land somewhere between frustration and anger. Sensing a force was at work bigger than her ability to comprehend from a silent standpoint, she pushed the door closed behind her.
“You okay?” she asked without a shred of confidence.
Brian pursed his lips, letting his hands fall away from his knees as his shoulders shrugged, “Not really.”
“Did…something happen?” Peyton asked cautiously, slowly approaching the bed.
“Peyton,” he huffed, “I know we don’t know each other well or anything…but I can’t fucking stand being lied to. I think that’s pretty well universal, though…so…”
Her face stiffened with confusion, her eyes squinting ever so subtly, “Okay?”
“You told me nothing was going on with Jimmy,” he stated flatly.
She begged him to continue, her expression void of all understanding. Whatever Brian had worked up in his mind eluded the poor innocent bystander. She wasn’t sure what had happened between the time he’d planted a kiss on her cheek and his arrival, dripping and bleeding. Something had to have happened, she assumed quickly.
“Right,” she offered.
“That’s obviously a fucking lie,” he growled, his eyes beating against her own.
She scowled, “You know what I don’t like, Brian? I don’t like being called a liar.”
He shrugged again.
“I’m not interested in having this argument every day,” she told him casually. “What I said was the truth. Jimmy and I are friends…If you could even call us that. When you asked me, I assumed you meant romantically?”
“I did,” Brian grunted.
She nodded her head subtly, “Right…So…Obviously Jimmy is dating Natalie, so…I’m sorry but I don’t see the issue here.”
“You wouldn’t, would you?” he challenged her impatiently. “You and Jimmy are just off in your own little fucking world.”
Peyton was at a complete and helpless loss.
“Brian,” she groaned. “What happened? Did Jimmy say something?”
He cocked an eyebrow, “What are we afraid he’d say?”
She let her head fall limply to its side as she assessed Brian’s apparent insanity.
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” she told him seriously. “But I’m already annoyed of this conversation. So, if you’re just going to be broody and fucking cryptic, then I’ll leave you to it.”
As she turned and firmly slipped her fingers around the same knob that she’d just turned to mistakenly enter the room, Brian growled from his place behind her.
“He’s in love with you.”
Peyton’s entire body seized up. Her muscles tensed with a viciousness as she swallowed hard. Pulling as much oxygen into her lungs as she could, she slowly turned around to face off against Brian.
“I beg your pardon?”
He nodded once distinctly, “You heard me.”
“I’m guessing you mean Jimmy,” she worked out aloud.
“Of fucking course I mean Jimmy,” Brian moaned. “Peyton, you aren’t fucking stupid. Stop playing dumb with me for two fucking seconds.”
Peyton grit her teeth, “I’m not playing, Brian. I don’t know what the fuck you’re on about.”
“Jimmy is very obviously not over whatever you guys had,” he informed her, leaning forward to better address his acoustics.
She sighed, “Brian, I swear—”
“He fucking hit me,” he grunted. “My best fucking friend fucking hit me. Because of you.”
“Forgive me for sounding cold,” Peyton replied callously. “But I fail to see how Jimmy hitting you is my fault.”
Brian shook his head, “You don’t get it.”
“I really don’t,” she laughed. “But I like you enough to try and get it.”
“You like me, huh?” he challenged her.
She nodded like it was obvious.
It was obvious. Why else would she have come? Did he seriously think she’d subjected herself to a weekend of Natalie just out of sheer boredom?
“Do you like me more than Jimmy?”
Peyton groaned loudly, flailing her hands around to emphasize the ridiculousness of the question.
“We’re done here,” she declared, turning on her heel to abandon Brian’s misery.
At no point in Peyton’s adult life was she willing to allow symmetry. She refused to beat dead beings; she found no value in rehashing old newspapers. Once the stories had run and Peyton had retained all she could, she moved on. If Brian was insistent on replaying the same old songs day in and day out, Peyton was keen to change the record.
She was tired of being held under the gun of Jimmy.
Peyton made it to the living room before Brian caught up, hot on her heels. He grabbed her arms to garner her attention, shocked when she wildly flinched away from him. He hadn’t been the catalyst for her hard-wired panic—it physically pained him to see her pull away with such agility.
“Don’t,” she warned him quietly.
Her eyes wandered over to the crowd gathered around the kitchen island, most of them peering up at the lovers. At some point in Brian’s quest for dominance, the missing members had resurfaced. Jimmy was watching Peyton’s hushed frustration with particular interest. Brian was still wearing the classic signs of a Haner enraged, something Jimmy refused to let Peyton be subjected to.
It wasn’t her fault Brian was on a rampage. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She’d sat through every awkward night and she’d smiled along with every nasty thing Natalie had said to her. And now, there she was, suffering through the consequences of Jimmy’s tempered adoration.
“I wasn’t done talking,” he told her awkwardly.
She furrowed her brows, “That’s nice. I was done listening though.”
“Peyton,” Brian tried bluntly.
“What?” she asked him, depleted of all energy. “I told you, I’m not fighting about this anymore.”
Brian’s eyes danced from Peyton’s greens to Jimmy’s blue. The look scrawled across Jimmy’s face was enough to reignite the anger building deep in Brian’s chest. The way Jimmy looked at Peyton was the same was Brian longed for Peyton to look at him.
But she was looking at Jimmy.
She was always looking at Jimmy.
“Why don’t you just go tell him?” Brian snarled. “Why don’t you just go tell everyone?”
“Tell them what, Brian?” Peyton breathed, turning her focus back to the irate guitarist.
“That you’re in love with him too,” Brian grunted quietly.
Her face fell into a blanket of frustration and resentment, “Would you fucking give it up?”
“Just tell me the truth!” Brian demanded, his voice climbing to the ceiling.
“I am!” Peyton shouted, finally losing her calm. “I’ve been telling you the fucking truth the whole time! If you don’t believe me, then that’s your fucking problem! Stop dragging me into this bullshit. I didn’t fucking ask for this shit.”
Natalie’s interest was caught as Peyton’s voice filled the empty air. The more polite fractions of the crowd averted their gaze, trying to make idle chit chat to drown out the feuding brunettes. Natalie, however, was in her glory.
“Peyton, it’s just Jimmy—” Brian tried but Peyton stopped him.
She threw her arms into the air, taking a step back, “Shut the fuck up! I don’t fucking care!”
Brian reached out for her once more, which earned a horrified shriek from the green eyed beauty.
“Don’t fucking touch me, Brian,” she warned shakily.
Her steps were now quick and humiliated as she scurried through the living room and out the back door. She quickly descended the steps, falling out of view from the curious cluster in the kitchen.
Jimmy took a step, instinctively, after her, which Brian caught immediately.
His eyes met his best friend’s as they engaged in a losing battle.
“Un-fucking-believable,” Brian growled under his breath.
“Is everything okay, Bri?” Natalie squeaked.
He scowled at her, “Shut the fuck up, Natalie.”
“Brian!” she gasped, appalled by his gutted exuberance.
“Seriously,” he shouted. “Shut the fuck up! I think you’ve done enough this weekend, don’t you?”
She let her jaw fall to the floor, “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You know exactly what it means,” he insisted, his tone dripping in venom. “This is partly your fucking fault.”
“I’m sorry you’re fighting with your stupid girlfriend,” Natalie hissed. “But it isn’t my fucking fault, Brian. You’ve obviously laid on your Haner Charm.”
He laughed pointedly, “It’s got nothing to do with me, Nat. Just ask your fucking boyfriend.”
Brian turned on his heel, disappearing back down the hall he’d torn down only a moment before. He slammed the bedroom door and collapsed into the pillows. He cursed the day he’d met Peyton and the day he’d been blind enough not to see the connection he was actively severing.
Natalie snapped her neck to look at Jimmy, her mouth practically foaming.
“What the fuck is he talking about?” she asked angrily.
Jimmy shrugged, “I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do!” she insisted. “Tell me!”
Matt made a move to remove himself from the situation, feeling overwhelming sympathy for the refuge retreating from his friends. If Brian wasn’t going to go after Peyton, he figured why not him. Someone should.
“Don’t you fucking move!” Natalie screeched, pointing a warning finger at the hunky singer.
“What did he mean, Jimmy?” she continued on her berate fest.
“Fuck this,” Jimmy grunted, rolling his eyes as he pushed passed Natalie and headed for the door.
Natalie fought back frustrated tears as she offered up the last ultimatum, “If you go after her, you and I are done.”
“Natalie,” Jimmy sighed. “Why are you acting like this?”
“Just tell me what Brian meant,” she pleaded flatly. “Just fucking tell me.”
Jimmy clammed up, letting his fingers fall against the door handle. He was never one for ultimatums.
“Fuck you!” she hissed, practically sprinting passed Jimmy as she hurled the door open and made her way down the stairs.
Natalie spotted Peyton immediately. She hadn’t gone far—there wasn’t really anywhere to go. By time Jimmy had stepped foot onto the solid boards of the deck, Natalie was already far too close to Peyton.
“Who the fuck are you?” Natalie screamed at the cornered beauty.
Peyton eyed her strangely, turning away from the water to get a better look at the psychopath berating her.
“Are you fucking my boyfriend?” Natalie demanded.
Peyton let her lips part, unsure how to properly respond to crazy.
“I already fucking know, Peyton!” Natalie screeched, pacing frantically to work out some of the building adrenaline. “You may as well come clean! I’m not fucking stupid!”
“No,” Peyton finally spoke. “Just loud.”
Natalie tightened up, “You stupid bitch! Listen to me! I know who you are! I fucking know!”
“You don’t know anything,” Peyton grumbled, rolling her piercing eyes.
A crowd gathered atop the sheltered deck, the men tensely looking down at the rampage that had ensued. Jimmy’s breathing was labored, his heart torn. If Peyton outed him right then and there, Jimmy thought he might just thank her. He could see Natalie for exactly who she was in that moment; in all her ugly, jealously poised brilliance.
“Fuck you!” Natalie spat.
Peyton exhaled loudly, “I’ve about reached my quota for theatrics today. Thank you, though. This has been lovely.”
As she tried to step around Natalie, seething and raging as she was, Natalie wrapped her fingers around Peyton’s arm. There was no flinching. There was no fear. Peyton slowly turned to face the woman, letting her eyes fall against her curled fingers before climbing up to her reddened gaze.
“You weren’t good enough for him then and you’re not good enough for him now,” Natalie stated venomously. “You’ll never be anything more than a fucking story to tell to people for a laugh, Peyton. That’s all you are. He doesn’t care about you. He felt sorry for you. Your life is one fucking joke after another. Boo hoo, my mommy doesn’t love me. My daddy let my mother beat me to death. And the little boy next door that I thought loved me doesn’t. My mommy doesn’t love me. My daddy doesn’t love me.”
Jimmy caught Natalie’s speech lingering against the wind. Her word vomit was enough to have Jimmy physically ill—his stomach tightened and wound as Peyton’s face changed.
Natalie growled loudly, “Welcome to the real world, Lexi. No one loves you.”
Peyton blinked exactly one time before abandoning her composure. With the force of the world’s duality, Peyton forced her white-knuckled fist straight into the bridge of Natalie’s nose. Despite the shrill cry that escaped from Natalie’s throat, Peyton found no use resisting the urge to really make a point. She tackled the frail woman to the soil, burying her fists into Natalie’s sobs.
Natalie scratched and clawed upward, struggling to see through the tears.
It took twelve seconds for the men to file down the stairs in a panic and pull the women apart. Jimmy locked his arms around Natalie as she fought to get to Peyton. Matt held Peyton’s back against his chest as she immediately slipped back into self-control mode. Her chest rose and fell with rapidity as she fought to ease her flustered nerves.
Natalie screeched and writhed, “Fuck you!”
Zach and Johnny lingered against the deck rail, Crystal sipping at her wine. The tension was nearly enough to collapse the building to rubble.
“I’m fine,” Peyton said to Matt, setting her hand delicately against her arm. “I’m sorry. I’m fine.”
Jimmy’s eyes beat against Peyton’s for forgiveness. She quickly averted her gaze. Matt slowly released his grip, allowing Peyton to slip out from his arms.
“Note who he fucking helped, Lexi,” Natalie screamed as Matt released the brunette and she took a step away. “Me.”
Peyton didn’t bother acknowledging a single other word this creature had to spare. She climbed the stairs without looking back, marching straight passed the spectators and down into the back bedroom. Brian jumped as Peyton stormed inside the small room and quickly gathered her bags.
“What happened?” Brian asked hurriedly, eying the long series of scratches stretching across Peyton’s cheek.
“You happened,” Peyton grunted quietly, stringing her bag over her shoulder.
Brian softened, realizing in an instant what was happening, “Peyton—”
“Thank you for an…interesting weekend,” she said awkwardly, desperate to get away before he could see her cry. “I’m going to go.”
“Peyton!” he called after her.
She stopped, wincing as she let her eyes fall upon him once more, “For the record, Brian, I didn’t fucking lie. I did like you…I do…But right now, I want to be as far away as fucking possible from you.”
“Peyton,” he sighed, desperate to have her listen.
The look on her face suggested she’d slowly grown deaf.
“Don’t fucking follow me,” she instructed him callously before trotting through the house and out the front door.
It occurred to Peyton quickly that she was hours from Huntington. She refused to sit with Brian—she refused to ask him for a favor. She didn’t want anything from anyone.
All she wanted was to go home. To go home.
She’d made it down the dusty road before the distinct sound of engine cut through the silent trees. Closing her eyes, she pleaded with every and any deity for that not to be Brian. Or Jimmy. She wasn’t ready to face him either.
A car kicked up gravel, barreling toward her with an urgency that echoed against the trunks of each tree. It slowed as it neared her and she held her breath as the window rolled with a mechanical hum.
“Need a ride?” Matt smiled sympathetically.
Peyton sighed, letting herself smile pathetically as she dropped her bags to the ground. Matt quickly threw the car into park and pushed himself outside. Peyton’s eyes begged him for something—anything.
So, he did the only thing he could think to do; he pulled the trembling woman into his arms and he held her until the emotions of the day worked themselves out against his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, Peyton,” Matt cooed, rubbing her back lightly.
“Everything is so fucked,” Peyton sniffled, pulling herself together in an instant.
She’d cry on her own time. Privately. Maybe to Joanna’s ear with a pint of ice cream. But certainly not here, not now. She refused to give Natalie the unknown satisfaction. She refused to validate a single word that bitch had said.
“Let’s get you home,” Matt forced a smile, grabbing Peyton’s bags from the soil and tossing them into the back seat.
Peyton nodded, meandering slowly around the car and collapsing into the passenger seat.
As Matt lurched the car forward with a slow purpose, Peyton glanced over at him.
“Thanks for coming after me.”
He smirked, “Any time.”
“I’m so sorry,” she sighed, feeling the humiliation creeping in.
He laughed, leaning over and giving her thigh a quick squeeze, “Are you kidding? We all had bets on when you’d snap. You lasted way longer than we thought.”
Peyton chuckled nervously.
“Still,” she sighed.
“I know,” Matt nodded. “But here’s the cool thing about you and me, Peyton. We’re old friends. I kind of have to let the shit you do slide. It’s in the code or something.”
Her lips pulled into a smile as his hazel eyes glimmered over at her, “Is it in the code?”
“It is,” he nodded. “And now we have two hours together…So…How about we catch up finally? It’s been too long.”
Peyton nodded back, fondness replacing the humiliated burn of her fury, “We’ve heard enough about me for a lifetime…Tell me about you. Better yet; tell me about Lauren.”
“How do you know about Lauren?” Matt asked, partly confused and partly amused.
“Natalie likes to gossip,” Peyton said with a roll of her eyes.
Matt smirked, “Right…”
“Come on,” Peyton pressed. “You obviously know about my love life at the moment. Level the playing field, won’t you?”
Matt laughed, taking pity on the bleeding woman to his right, “Lauren’s this girl I met a while back…She’s studying to be a teacher.”
Peyton dove into Matt’s personal life, finding peace in his inherent wholesome nature. Although he’d been primarily Jimmy’s friend in their youth, Matt had always been kind to her. Aside from the one rumor-mill indiscretion. He’d always hung around with her without complaint, as if they were friends without the commitment. Peyton had always admired how genuinely kind Matt was down into his core. She was relieved to find life hadn’t ripped him of it.
As they pulled away from Big Bear, laughing wildly at Matt’s mistakes with women, Peyton was glad she’d decided to leave in a rage. If she hadn’t, she may not have had the chance to catch up with the only other link to her childhood.
She left Brian and Jimmy behind, unwilling to acknowledge the panic that floated in as she realized she’d have to face them at some point. She wasn’t sure what to say; what there was to say. So, for the time being, Peyton resigned herself to enjoy the moment.
She’d handle the casualties in a new morning light.