A Month In Sin
20. The Outer Surface
“So here’s what we decided to do.”
Luke pulled one of the pillows behind him into his lap, hugging up to it as he looked right into the camera on his computer. It had been a wonderful date, though it was much shorter lived than we had hoped. There was apparently a snowstorm headed our way, so we had to get back to the hotel and out of it before we ended up stranded at that park.
“Niall and Ori are, I’m sure, judging us for the way we decided to go about this marriage thing,” he continued, and he took a deep breath. “But we’re going about this our way. We’ve decided to wake up every morning and tell the other person something we learned about them the day before.”
I nodded. “That way, we’re always paying attention, always trying to learn something new, even if it’s just the tiniest little quirks.”
He began rubbing the end of his nose. “I didn’t tell you what I learned today.”
“You’re supposed to tell me tomorrow.”
He shook his head. “I want to tell you now. I learned that you hold your pinkie out when you eat pizza, and you don’t eat the crust.”
My nose curled. “I hate the crust.”
“Some people say it’s the best part,” he informed me.
“Those people are weird,” I said, but the thought of the people on the other side occurred to me the moment the words left my lips. My eyes darted over to the camera immediately, and I began thinking in the back of my mind about editing that part out. “No offense to any of you who see this who like the crust the most. To me, that sounds like bread. It’s not pizza without the sauce, cheese, and whatever other toppings you wanna put on there.”
“Some places add seasoning to it, and what about stuffed crust?”
My eyes widened. “That’s completely different. Stuffed crust is sent down from heaven above, and you better believe I’ll enjoy every bite of it.”
“So all hope isn’t lost then.” He leaned back against the headboard behind him and took a deep breath. “So, Eri, why don’t you tell all the people how much fun you’ve had on this tour so far?”
My lips were a lot smoother than I remembered them ever being in this part of December as I rubbed them together, but I kept my eyes shifted towards the camera. “Well, it’s been crazy, but I really hadn’t stepped foot outside of Vegas, so it’s definitely been an adventure. It kinda helps that these four goofballs are around.”
“And what have you learned about me today?”
“You hate your lip ring,” I said, and as his eyes began to widen, I shrugged. “I noticed you staring at it this morning, trying to decide whether to even put it in or not.”
“It’s just becoming . . . a hassle.”
I shrugged. “So don’t put it in. You’ll look good with it or without it, but you look even better when you’re happy.”
His eyebrows furrowed, and those soft pink lips parted while his eyes, that perfectly clear aquamarine blue I had grown to absolutely adore, locked on me. He seemed at a loss for words, but that didn’t really make sense to me.
Why wouldn’t I want him to be happy?
“In other news, we decided to go to Australia for Christmas,” I said, when I realized he wasn’t gonna say anything to that. “After that, we’re gonna go to Vegas, spend a few days with my family, and then fly out to LA.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, finding something to grab onto to help him recover. “We’re gonna be on Ellen with Niall and Ori, where we’ll be publically announcing our decisions in our own creative ways. It’s also gonna be where we reveal to each other what we want, so expect surprise, or maybe not. If we get to know one another enough, we’ll probably already know the answer before it’s ever said.”
I shrugged. “I guess we’ll see.”
“I suppose let’s stay tuned to see what we uncover about one another tomorrow.”
It was as if my phone had some sort of sensor connected to his computer camera, as it started to ring the moment he switched the camera off. My family called often, though each day that passed, they began calling less and less. The first week, Mom called at least twice a day.
Now, things were becoming normal. They were getting used to their little girls being out of the house.
Ori and I still tried to talk once a day, but even that was becoming more and more difficult with the holidays swiftly approaching. Elys texted a lot, especially days he couldn’t call.
This wasn’t a call from any of my family, though. This was a call from someone I hadn’t even thought to call in the middle of all the chaos and madness that had unfolded after I woke up married to Luke Hemmings, a number I hadn’t added to this “secret” phone of mine.
That was part of Dad’s paranoia—a phone for friends and other sources, and then a private phone for family and security only. I had only thought to bring my private phone, as I was more concerned at the time about being apart from my sister.
“Shit, I’ll be right back.” I grabbed my phone off the bed and took off for the door, sliding my finger across the little green button while I made my way out of the tour bus, away from anyone who might be able to hear me. “Hey, John! How are you?”
“Not as good as you!” he exclaimed, and the excitement laced in his words wasn’t the anger I expected—which was good. “Though a little bit of notice would’ve been nice! I had to go to your house and tell your parents who I was so they could give me this number to call you!”
“You did what?”
My head was spinning, all air being knocked out of me as the idea of what he had just done began clouding my thoughts. He told my parents who he was.
“Look, I know you didn’t want people to know, your whole ‘secret saint’ thing, but—”
“I am not a saint,” I cut him off, before his rant could become even more distorted with lies. “I’m just doing what anyone who had seen the shit I saw that day would do.”
That had been a horrifying eye-opener for me, the day I snuck away from security and ended up on the wrong side of Vegas. For all of our lives, we were sheltered from so many things, and true poverty was one of them. Our dad didn’t trust anyone, but he especially didn’t trust us in the poverty neighborhoods of Vegas, where he thought people might rob us blind to feed their families, or take us ransom and sell us to his enemies.
His mind could come up with some pretty dark scenarios.
Seeing the little girl sitting outside of the ice cream shop, watching her mother cry as she was once again rejected for a job—because she couldn’t work the hours they needed her to, as she was a single mother with a child that no one would help her watch—was tattooed in mind my mind. All she wanted was some ice cream, but her mom didn’t even know how she was going to keep a roof over their heads, much less get her ice cream.
That was the first person I hired to help me with the charity I opened up in the poverty ridden streets of Vegas, the parts that all the movies and pictures don’t show you. No one wants to see Vegas in bad light, so they leave those parts out.
Really, I didn’t even like calling it a charity. It was a shelter for those without food or a place to go when it rained. A place where people who were desperate jobs could come to find childcare, someone there to help them get ready for big interviews, or even someone to help them find a job. There was food. There were donated clothes. Anything I could do to help these people out, I wanted to do.
Shortly before I met Luke, we had been looking into possibilities of expanding out into other cities, as I didn’t have anything else I really wanted to do with my life. All I wanted to do was help people who the world had turned their backs on.
John had been the next person I hired, as the man in charge of keeping things running. Karen was the first cook I hired, as she had plenty of experience cooking simple but filling meals, and John, a guy who had been kicked out of his parents’ home when he was only fifteen when they found him kissing another boy, was hired to be the one as the manager of it all.
He didn’t have a lot of experience. He was only nineteen when we met, but I was only sixteen when I stared this up, using all of my “allowance” to get things going. I didn’t need any more clothes; all I needed was peace of mind, which I could only get if I knew these people had somewhere to turn.
John and I had been talking about branching out to other places, widening our reach and asking for donations so that it wasn’t coming out of my pocket alone. I insisted that it wasn’t my pocket but my father’s, so technically, I wasn’t even really doing anything good.
It was what humanity needed, people to help one another instead of ignoring one another. It was how someone might change the world, and this world was in desperate need of changing.
After getting things started up, it became a lot easier to keep the secret. No one really knew why I was so insistent on sneaking away from security, but there was no way I could convince any of them to take me there. In order to get the safe place open for people who were in desperate need of help, I had to get creative and learn to sneak away.
Once things got rolling, it was easier to live a normal teenage life, including boys and dances. Usually, at least once a week, I would go and help out around, see what needed to change or what we needed more of, and I’d do what needed to be done to get things rolling.
Sometimes, once a week was too much, and I wasn’t able to get there except every other week.
Now I had just left, without even explaining myself, and it hadn’t even occurred to me in the middle of all of it. My life had become so selfish, so focused on having a good time with Luke Hemmings, that I hadn’t even thought about those people who needed me back in Vegas.
God, I was horrible.
“You know how I feel about that,” he snorted, pulling me out of my own self-hate and back into the conversation with the man who had become my friend. “Anyways, I’m all for you getting laid and whatnot, even being married. It’s a crazy scenario, but it’s Vegas, right?”
“I’m sorry, John,” I groaned. “I should’ve called you and told you. I just got selfish and didn’t even think about it amidst all the chaos.”
“Why are you so insistent on thinking yourself horrible when you do so much to help people that you don’t have to help?” he demanded. “Seriously, Eris, why can’t you just accept that you’re a good person?”
“I try to be,” I admitted. “The world needs more good. What . . . what did my dad say?”
“He was stunned, but then he told me that he should’ve known there was more to it than just sneaking away from security,” he said. “He asked me to meet him tomorrow, to discuss having one of his casinos become the funding for your charity.”
Hearing John laugh was always something that could brighten my day, effortlessly. He had such a jolly laugh, one that I couldn’t understand how it existed after being thrown to the streets by his own parents, who told him that he loved wrong.
“He didn’t give much details, only said that your allowance wasn’t going to sustain the needs of Vegas for long,” he said. “That’s all I know. I wanted to call you and make sure you were okay. You were pretty down when I last saw you, and then you go off the grid for almost three weeks? I was worried about you.”
“I’m . . . more than okay,” I said, and I found myself smiling, despite the thoughts in my head. “Is it crazy to be in love with someone so soon?”
“Love in itself is crazy,” he said. “It can make us do crazy things, like get married after just meeting. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in love the night you said I do.”
“I didn’t know him then,” I disagreed. “And there’s still so much to learn, but I love what I do know. He’s just . . . such a sweet guy, underneath the goofy and carefree outer shell that he puts out.”
“Well I won’t keep you from him,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay, to update you on the new turn of events. I got your number because I was worried about you, but then everything changed when your dad found out what you had been doing when you snuck out all those times. I just thought you deserved to know, before he called you and scared you with the news.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled. “I’m a bit surprised he hasn’t called yet.” The sound of footsteps approaching, soft rubbing scraping against pavement, tore my mind out of the conversation for a moment, so I could see who was approaching.
At the sight of Luke, my husband . . . the man I was ready to say that I was in love with . . . my heart began to do so many horribly wonderful things in my chest that it was frightening.
Love was a mystery, and it came in the strangest forms, in the weirdest times and situations, but love was what the world needed more of. We needed to stop being ashamed of it.
“I gotta go. I’ll call you back later, to get a better update.”
Hearing John’s excited goodbyes always made me smile, even if he always hated to see me go. It was his way of making me want to come back, to have such bubbly excitement no matter the situation. John was a feel good person, with an aura and personality that made most people feel good.
I buried my phone in the pocket of the zip-up hoodie I had on, one of the hoodies Luke got from the merch table for me when I realized that I had left mine—he insisted that it was because he wanted his jackets back, but it felt like more than that at the time—and turned towards Luke himself, surprised by the puzzled look on his face.
His lip was missing a ring, the smallest hole taking place of where it used to be, and that made me smile, despite the confusion that had curled his expression.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “Sorry. That was a friend back from Vegas.”
He nodded. “You don’t usually run away, though. You never really care if any of us hear.”
There wasn’t really suspicion in his voice, but something not so pleasant lingered there, maybe even doubt. He didn’t seem worried about who it was necessarily, but the fact that I had made such efforts to keep the phone call private seemed to really bother him.
It was the reason his expression was twisted. He didn’t understand.
I sighed. “It’s nothing, Luke. It’s just some business back in Vegas that I completely forgot to take care of before I left.”
“We’re married, right?” he asked. “We’re trying to make this work.”
He nodded again. “So then secrets are bad . . . right?”
“It’s not like that,” I said. “And it’s nothing against you. It’s something that until today, no one else in my family even knew, not even Ori. I just found out that my dad knows, and I’m a bit terrified of how he’s gonna react. It’s just not something I like to talk about.”
“Why?” he asked. “Some dark hidden secret that the world doesn’t need to know?”
“Not dark,” I disagreed. “Just something I don’t wanna announce publicly. It’s my business, not the world’s.”
“I know we don’t know how this is gonna end, but don’t you think I should know?”
This was a dilemma I had faced on more than one occasion. Every year, when I watched Ori go off to the different charity balls she attended, after donating her allowances to all kinds of different charities all over the world, I would second guess my decision to keep what I was doing in the dark. Not because I wanted the recognition she was getting; my parents praised her, told her how proud they were of her. I didn’t want to take that away from her, or even look like I might be trying to do that.
Sometimes, I just didn’t like hiding it, and I always wondered if maybe my family could help me do more. I never asked, though, and it turns out, maybe I should have. Maybe my dad would’ve helped me do more.
So even though everything about my personality told me to keep my mouth shut, to hide this from even Luke, maybe it was time to tell someone myself, on my own terms.
“Look, it’s kind of a long story, but that was just the manager of this . . . shelter I started up in the poverty streets of Vegas,” I said. “He was calling to check on me and give me some updates about it all. Luke, please don’t tell anyone, okay? I don’t—”
“Hang on a second,” he interrupted, cutting me off from the begging I was about to get into. “What kind of shelter?”
I took a deep breath. “It’s a . . . sort of refuge for the people in Vegas who can’t find jobs. Who have been abandoned with nowhere to go. It’s a place where people can bring their kids while they’re at work, where they can always come to sleep if they need a roof over their head. I don’t wanna call it a homeless shelter because it’s more than that, but it’s a place people can go to not worry so much, at least for a little while.”
His eyebrows rose up so high that it pulled the lids of his eyes up with them, showing more of the aquamarine blue crystals that I absolutely adored. Sometimes, they were so mesmerizing that I could stare at them and lose track of time.
This time, there was more than just adoration that filled them; they began to brim with tears, something he wiped away with the backs of his hands before they actually got a chance to fall, and in two large strides, he was in front of me, wrapping his arms around me so tightly that it was actually hard to breathe.
“One day, I might realize that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the amazing person that you are.”
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The description is from "Love You Like That" by Dagny.
We have chapter 21 written, we just gotta sort some dates out on it. It should be done very soon though!
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