chapter twenty three

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The guilt starts to build in her stomach the moment she steps out of the house.

She told her family she was running out to get some milk, but they don't notice how she's so anxious, she smuggles Nala out of the house with her. She sits in the driver's seat of the car for a moment, just holding the stuffed lion to her chest, working on her breathing as the guilt weighs her down. She hates lying to them, hates sneaking around, hates breaking their trust.

Eventually, she pushes her stuffed animal to the side and starts to drive to the old rendezvous point she had with Brad. It's an old playpark, where barely anybody goes during the day. There are big bushes to the side of the rusted swings, and that's where they'd always meet, safe under the covers of the trees. When her mother had caught her, it was when she was with the customer by the swings, and just the thought of the spot carries bad memories, but she pushes on.

You need to do this, she assures herself as she drives, you're fine. It's fine.

She finds that her hands are shaking when she parks the car, and she needs a few more moments to cuddle Nala, trying to control the weight in her chest and how bad she feels, how horrible and anxious she is. But she pushes herself. She gets out of the car, checking the time on her phone screen. 10:01PM. She's a minute late.

She walks down the darkened, winding path to the park, the swing sets creaking in the wind. She pushes a branch aside using her phone torch to navigate her way through the little clearing, and that's when she sees him.

Brad grins from ear to ear. "Glad you came to your senses. Now your little girlfriend won't ditch you."

He has a backpack, and when he starts to unzip it, Lauren takes a step back. She doesn't want to know what's in there. She takes another step back and shakes her head, almost completely consumed with self-hatred for the fact that she's even here. But she has to be.

"I didn't come here to deal." Lauren gets out, watching as Brad freezes in place at the words. She needed to come, but not for the easy money; she needed to come here because she never got any closure, and that's something that bothers her. She never got to close that chapter of her life, and the fact that she'd considered Brad's offer earlier before deciding no is what made her realise that she needed it.

Brad scoffs, and Lauren is relieved when she senses amusement, not anger. "What did you come here to do then?"

Steeling herself, pushing down the temptation to just do it, she stands up to him. "I came here to tell you that I want nothing to do with you or your drugs. And to tell you that if you see me around, I don't want to talk to you. I don't want you to even look at me. Okay?"

Brad snorts with amusement. "Alright, dyke. But don't come crying to me when your little whore of a girlfriend ditches you because you're broke."

She doesn't care what he calls her. She really doesn't. But when he used that derogatory term in reference to Camila? That's what makes her snap. She throws the punch before she thinks about it, catching him on the jaw, and she practically growls, "Don't you ever insult her. You're a worthless piece of shit and I can't believe I ever dated you."

"I can't believe I ever dated a dyke like you," Brad rubs at his jaw, following her in a rage as Lauren bursts out of the trees and starts backing up the path to her car. "Are you sure you're bisexual, or is that just an excuse to sleep around with as many people as you can?"

"At least people want to sleep with me," Lauren retorts, "I don't see anyone lining up to be with you. Don't ever talk to me again, got that? That's all I needed to say."

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