Heyyy! hope ya'll are doing well!

I would really love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this chapter though. I know it's a doozy, but I'll do my best to answer any questions you might have. (:

Natkayz: Thanks for the love! Honestly, I always look forward to reading your reviews! I honestly love diving into Mike's thoughts. He's so wholesome but so in love and heartbroken at the same time. I enjoy painting that picture. As for El! She's so complex. So much depth to her that reveals why she is the way that she is and hopefully the last chapter with her mom brought that more to light. So much for her to learn though! Gahhh that girl, she's frustrating and broken and doesn't think rationally sometimes but like you said this is just the midway point. ;)

Strangerthingslover13: Thank you so so much! Wow, I'm so glad that it could speak to you more ways than just one. Writing that chapter was a hard one because I too could relate in some aspect. But that means so much hearing just how much you love this story. I'm now gonna make sure to get out the next chap as soon as possible for you! Thanks again!

TheRookie: Ah you pose a good question there! I didn't really plan to dive back into El's mother's story but maybe I can connect it somehow. We'll see. Thanks for the comment though!

El's POV

Not only was the world around me dull and gray, but so was I.

I began to search everywhere, longing for the light and the color I couldn't seem to find. I even chased it in everything I found beautiful. In every sunset, in every flower, in the moon, and in every star of the night sky. But the stars only ever stared back at me, cold and far away. And every time I thought I finally found what I'd been looking for it turned out to be nothing more than a handful of sparkles that dimly lit up my soul.

Then out of nowhere, he appears, with his messy dark curls and his dusky eyes which fill me with a warmth, I can't describe. But even as complicated and flawed and terribly human as he is, he shines so bright that I can't see anything else.

And he is just so close that I'm afraid if I stretched out my hand and reached out to him I would fade as well. But yet, he reassures me with a smile and takes my hand in his. And as our fingers intertwine, not only have I filled with life again but in an instant color scatters the air around us. It's as if gallons of dopamine filled the air, encircling our senses for my vision grows hazy but peaceful as if things were just how they should be.

I woke up to the crack of thunder and the pattering of raindrops on the roof. My dream was still there, lingering in my mind.

What the fuck was that?

For some reason, that dream of Mike felt so real, so tangible, and yet, I had no idea what the hell it even meant.

Perhaps my subconscious was trying its best to distract me from all my shitty problems.

I started to mull over the dream again until the events of last night snatched my attention bringing me to the startling realization that this wasn't my home.

This wasn't my bed.

My breathing became low and heavy as my vision flickered back and forth at the crevasses and corners of Mike's face. I watched as his body rose and fell with the beats of his soft and sleepy breaths, his eyelashes brushing against his freckled cheeks and his mouth parted loosely.

What had I done?

Coming to Mike was an impulse decision that overcame me, almost like my brain was a gas pedal that got stuck down and in that momentum, that acceleration I'd somehow recklessly found myself back here. But choosing to kiss him, choosing to sleep with him- my heartbeat quickened at the thought- was a decision that was almost out of my control, it was like the cogs in my brain stopped turning, thinking wasn't even an option, and my body suddenly had a mind of its own.

But my rash impulsiveness was all tied back to the conversation I had with my mom. I know it's done, it's over. But that doesn't stop the feelings and emotions that had once cluttered my system to once again spread through my body. It haunts me, taunts me, replaying like an echo in my mind. I shut my eyes tight and felt the familiar pounding beating through my temples, wiring itself in my nerves, and throbbing in rhythm.

I know Mike cares about me. But I'm wary because I know it can be just a temporary feeling. Just like the seasons, people's feelings change. Maybe right now, he feels something for me but I don't know until when.

But my feelings for him are there, they're prominent and I can't explain the reasons why. All I know is that right now… no matter his imperfections, I'd accept him for what he is. It's something I want to feel maybe for the rest of my life. But at the same time… I want and don't want this feeling, it's just so confusing.

To be honest, everything confused me. Nothing made sense.

But I still didn't believe in love, I knew that much.

As my eyes remained shut,

I remember how seeing Mike again was like a breath of fresh air, after having felt nothing but drowning.

How the simplest things he'd done to comfort me had my heart fluttering and chest lurching in a way that I can't even explain.

How his voice was calm and collected and hearing him say my name again was a melody so sweet to my ears.

His smile meeting my eyes calmed me immensely and the warmth of his arms around me brought my nerves down.

He allowed me to rid myself of this burden I'd been carrying for far too long, by being there and taking it from me.

And before I knew it our lips met.

It's been so long, but you'd think I'd be used to it already, yet it still doesn't cease to make me melt into him.

His hands on my waist brought me a sense of safety

The warmth of him heating me up more than the sun ever could.

When we pulled away, I pulled him in one more time because in a second I'm wrapped up in everything he is.

And then I felt him. All of him- pressed against me.

I inhaled his aftershave, his shampoo, and that extra scent that's just him. The most delicious smell that I could ever imagine.

His face had the slightest bit of stubble and it rubbed my skin, but I didn't care. I didn't care at all. He felt wonderful.

His hands were everywhere and it didn't matter that his mouth was already on mine because I wanted him closer.

I needed him closer.

Maybe it was only meant to be a while, a few short moments where we could meet again and feel content, but it was still everything and more.

Being with him brought back a little bit of the light,

Just a crack through the blinds that let me soak in worth.

A sliver of sun to bring my day out of the clouds.

But that's all it was...

And that's all it could ever be.

I sat up in bed, a cold chill causing my skin to prick with goosebumps as I threw off the duvet that had once kept my body hidden and warm.

After a minute of struggling to find my clothing in the dark, I eventually found and slipped back into them before sitting back on the edge of his bed.

"Mike," I whispered, nudging him softly.

"Hm?" he mumbled groggily, his eyelids slowly fluttering open as his vision tried to adjust to the dim light around us.

"Wake up."

He sat up slowly, turning on the lamp on his nightstand, his bare chest now exposed as the blanket fell to his lap.

"You okay?" He asked, looking at me with concern drifting past his features, his fingers reaching towards my own.

Almost instinctively, I pulled my hand back from his, earning me a confused and hesitant look from him.

"What is it?" he asked quietly, his fingers slowly drawing back to his body, and fidgeting with one another nervously.

"We need to talk."

Mike's POV

"No. "

I shook my head repeatedly, my eyes filling with concern and distress all centered and fixed on her.

After I'd gotten dressed, I had sat next to her on the bed, but she didn't even have to utter a word, because by the look on her face I already knew.

It was the same look she gave me before she had shattered me to pieces, taken my limbs and joints, and crushed them bit by bit with only her words. I was not about to let it happen again.

"Mike, I can't keep doing this to you. I can't keep playing with your emotions like this. I just can't."

"If you need some time because of everything that happened- then I'll-well, I'll wait for you. I'll wait as long as it takes." My head continued to shake while I swallowed the lump of tears in my throat.

"But please, don't- don't do this again,"

I took her small hands in mine, holding them through my cold shaky fingers.

"Mike, I can't-


She's right here within my grasp yet she seems so distant and vague now, like a shattered reality.

Maybe, in an alternate universe, she could love me. I know they existed. Maybe there, life would've been fair to her. She'd be happy and free without pain.

I imagine that somewhere another version of me and another version of her had met on that swing-set that one hot day in mid-June under better circumstances. A universe where she would've been laughing instead of crying. A universe where her heart would've been safe to hold- and there was one, I knew there had to be one, in which she loved me just as much as I loved her, and we could be happy together.

That was the universe I belonged to, that was the life I should've been born in.

"There is no us."

That was the universe I wanted to escape to because I sure as hell did not belong to this one.

And for once, I felt foolish for giving into that tiny burst of false hope. That feeling I had for a moment that things were gonna change for us and we would have our second chance. That expectation I had for a moment that I was gonna be different to her and she wouldn't give up on us. That hope she destroyed without a second thought and right then, I only wish I'd never known what it was like to love her in the first place. That I never met or opened up myself to her. That I'd never lived a life with her in it.

I felt in danger of shutting down completely, and the only thing keeping me breathing was the feel of her skin against mine, her fingers interlocked and almost connected to my own.

But the worst thing about it is that I'd betrayed myself, gone against my better judgement, and ripped myself open, robbed early of the tape and glue necessary to put my soul back together. I had done it so many times, convincing myself that this time it would be worth it. Again and Again, stitching myself back up and then ripping the seams once more just so she could trample my heart and for what? the pleasure of a one night stand. I was done.

"So, is that.." I laughed coldly, my voice trembling slightly. "Is that all I am to you? Just a physical distraction? A quick fuck to brighten your mood?"

"Mike-no, that's not why I came here." She protested, her grip on my hands growing tighter. "We both know last night was in the heat of the moment."

"Then why did you come here!"

She sighed with a quick breath. "I just-"

"What?" I cut her off, with a look of unbelief on my face.

"I-I don't really know."

"Of course." I snorted cynically, pulling my hands from her grasp. "You know for some reason, I thought it would be different this time. That it wouldn't always come to this- but I guess it just does."

"I want it to stop," she insisted, her tone wavering with guilt. "I want to stop hurting you. I want to stop the back and forth."

"Oh really?" I mocked, my head pounding with a flood of unshed tears. "You want it to stop when you come back here, despite knowing how I feel, and you kiss me! You fucking kiss me just like you did the night of the party and like all those times last summer. I don't get it, what the hell am I supposed to think?"

"Mike, I know you're angry-

"I am angry!" I screamed, my voice matching in pitch with the thunderclap outside.

I realized being with her was a lot like being alone because even though she was there, sitting right next to me, handing me apology after apology, she was never really there. She didn't know what she wanted, and I don't know if she ever would.

"Because you're still buying this bullshit lie that love isn't real." I continued, finding it hard to push the words through gritted teeth. "Even though you know you're the most important thing to me in the world. You know that the way I look at you when it's just the two of us is different than when I look at everyone else. You know you were everything-everything to me."

"I'm not sure what to say." was all that fell from her mouth.

"It's fine." I nodded, swallowing every bit of compassion I had for her. "I was stupid to think I could ever change your mind."

"I just don't want to hurt you anymore-"

"Well a little too late for that, don't you think? You'll never understand how worthless you made me feel.

I thought to myself how unfair this was. How for some reason the girl I loved had to also be my best friend. How unfair the universe was for taking both from me and in turn leaving me with nothing. The more I dwelled on it, the more I felt an emptiness transpire, wracking my body of viability and stealing any remaining light left from my eyes.

"This isn't easy for me either!" she fought back, her lips bitter and her tongue sharp. I laughed in her face once more knowing there was nothing I could say to make her understand.

"Then how come you're always the first to walk away?"

She stared back at me rattled as if she's shrinking into herself, falling into a pit of her own making. But it was because I was right and she knew it. She knew it all along.

"Mike, I need you to hear me out. I don't know how I feel. I mean, I never know how I've felt for you."

"So answer me this," I proposed, my tone was sharp and rough. "That whole friends with benefits thing we had- did that mean anything to you? At all? That entire time- what was I to you? just a friend? Nothing else?"

"No-I mean- I don't-I don't know." She seemed out of breath, her eyes scared and frantic. "I just.. I don't know. But it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how I feel about you- because I've done enough. I'm not gonna continue doing this to you. Not anymore."

"Well, I don't know either." I choked, unable to hold back the tears any longer as they raced down my face. "I'm just stuck.. I just want to get on with my life, you know? Without you.. And I just- I don't want to need you anymore."

"Why not?" she asked in a whisper almost as if it were a thought to herself that accidentally slipped from her tongue.

"Because I can never have you."