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When I falter, at least it was my mistake

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When Lu opens her eyes it only takes her about .5 seconds to remember what day today is. Thanksgiving Eve! Tonight Val will be home, just down the hall, and she'll help him unpack what little he has brought for the long weekend.

She hasn't seen him in eight months and sometimes she misses him so much it hurts. Most of the time, really. When Val had failed enough classes at the end of the school year before last that Golden Oaks would've held him back, their dad had pitched a fit and sent him back to Santiago. That was almost a year-and-a-half ago. Lu had never begged and pleaded so long in her life to change her father's mind - there were real tears, too - but it was no use.

When Val got to the school his mother had signed him up for, it turned out he had to repeat sophomore year anyway. But by then he was out of their father's sight, so of course he didn't care anymore what his son was doing. When Val had told her on the phone, his voice schooled into indifference, she had cheered him up by reminding him that this meant they would graduate at the same time and could celebrate together.

His voice had gone so low that it sent shivers up her spine. "As soon as I'm out of that stupid gown I'll be on a plane up there," he told her. "Wouldn't miss your graduation party for the world."

Right now, Lu thinks, Val is probably getting ready to board his plane to New York to spend Thanksgiving with her. Four full days! And almost three of them without their father, who is leaving for a trip after breakfast on Friday. She and Val already agreed to spend all of Friday at home (in bed) in their PJs (or out of them). They'll have to go out for dinner with Carla and Polo Friday night because her best friend's boyfriend is one of the few friends Val has managed to hang onto after his move.

After their most recent fight a few days ago, Lu isn't thrilled to hang out with Carla, but she knows Val won't let it get awkward. Lu might have the better grades, but she lacks the ease he shows in any and all social situations. Lu has never gotten anything she hasn't fought for - attention, recognition, love - while Val just needs to show up to get people to like him (outside of his own family, that is). She's not jealous, because Val always includes her. With him by her side, she can relax and let go at least a little bit of the tight rein she has on her life every single second of every single day. With him by her side, she knows she, too, becomes a person that's easier to like.

Lu sits up in bed and almost bounces in anticipation as she reaches for her phone. When she sees the string of messages from Val, she frowns. After reading the first one, sent at 3:36 am last night, it's like a hole has opened up underneath her and she's falling, falling, falling.

Not coming. Mom canceled my ticket

The good thing about Yolanda starting her Thanksgiving break a day early is that Lu knows no one will be coming into her room this morning, so she doesn't bother holding back the sobs. Eventually, she wipes her eyes, picks her phone back up from where she dropped it next to her bed and reads the rest of Val's texts.

I'm so sorry I fucked up

Fuck

I was out with Luis and the guys and tried to drive into the garage with the gate down coming home.

This is where Lu gets angry. She knows exactly what nights with "Luis and the guys" are like from when she visited Val in Santiago over Spring Break. They start with a few beers, then come the shots and before long, the guys disappear into the bathroom of whatever club they're at in twos and threes. When she was with them in March, Val had offered her a line, too, but Lu has never done coke before and balked at the idea of trying it for the first time surrounded by a bunch of strangers. What if she embarrassed herself? By the end of the night, she had been too drunk to walk and Val had been high off his ass. The difference: They had taken an Uber home.

Crash woke up mom and she lost it

Pretty sure she called dad too

I'm sorry I miss you

Lu picks up the phone and doesn't care one bit that it's only been four hours since Val last texted her. When he answers she doesn't wait for him to get one word out.

"You fucking idiot!" she yells at him. "Why would you do that? Why did you have to go on a coke-fueled binge the night before your flight? And why would you even take your car?"

"Oh give me a break, Lu." He sounds tired. "Mom has already done the whole spiel about what a disappointment I am. Besides, it's not like I set out last night to get high and crash the car at three in the morning. It was only going to be one drink, that's why I drove there in the first place. Not everyone plans their life ten steps ahead."

"But you were supposed to come see me." Her voice cracks; at this point there's nothing she can do about it. "You couldn't even plan for that?"

After a long pause Val quietly says he's sorry. Lu has already lost the energy to be mad. "Also you could have died," she tells him, almost an afterthought. "You know what they say, don't snort and drive."

Val laughs and she wants him home with her so badly that the tears threaten to start again. "Hey, I'll talk to dad! Maybe I can change his mind and then he can talk to your mom and you can still catch a flight tonight and be here tomorrow morning."

"They're not going to change their minds."

"Ok, then… you can sneak out!" Lu is not about to give up this easily. "You can sneak out and buy the ticket at the airport! Once you're here dad is not going to send you back." I won't let him, she adds in her mind.

"Mom isn't stupid," Val tells her. "She took my wallet. And she probably has Andrea watching my every move. She'd know I left before I even got to the airport."

"You'll just have to be careful." Why is he making this so difficult? "And I can buy your ticket! I can, I can figure out how to do that, you'll just have to give me your passport details, I think, and I'll send you the confirmation number and you can still… you can still-"

"Lu." His voice his quiet. "I want to see you so badly, you have no idea. But it won't work. I'm sorry."

***

The teachers aren't making much of an effort to teach their classes on the day before Thanksgiving, which is just as well, because Lu is too angry to pay attention to anything. In previous years, she had always complained, along with all her friends, that it was ridiculous they didn't get the full week off for the holiday. Now she doesn't care. Fuck Thanksgiving.

She's storming down the hall not paying attention to where she's going and runs headfirst into Ander so hard that they both end up on their asses.

"Whoa, watch where you're going," he complains, picking up his bag and all the papers that flew out and are now strewn across the floor. After he gets a look at her, he stops scrambling. "Hey, you ok?"

"I'd be fine if you watched where you were going," Lu bites out, dusting off her uniform skirt as she gets up.        

"Bullshit, Lu, you clearly ran into him."

She whips around at the sound of Guzman's voice behind her. "Why don't you mind your own business?" She takes a step towards him, her voice getting louder. "Just shut the fuck up! We're done, right? That means I don't have to see your stupid smirk and listen to your stupid voice any longer!" She's definitely shouting now, and she can see the girls down the hall snicker, can see the small glances that Carla and Polo, who are right behind Guzman, are exchanging, but she doesn't care.

Carla already thinks she's pathetic anyway, she made that pretty clear last weekend when Lu and Guzman had broken up, again, at Polo's birthday. For a couple of minutes, Carla had comforted her as she was crying in the bathroom. Then Lu had pulled herself together.

"It's ok," she had told Carla, trying to smile. "He'll miss me in no time. I'll get him to come back to me, like always."

Carla had closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them again, Lu had seen that they were full of pity. "Lu, stop. Why are you still doing this?"

"Doing what?" She had crossed her arms.

"He is not into you!" Carla had sounded exasperated. "Everyone can see that except for you! You deserve so much better."

Lu had been grateful for the dim lighting in the bathroom that had prevented Carla from seeing that her cheeks were burning. "Thanks for your advice," she'd said coldly before turning around and leaving Carla standing next to the sink by herself.

***

Lu doesn't see her dad until the next morning. She walks past the bustling kitchen, where an army of hired help is prepping enough food to last for three Thanksgivings, and into the dining-room, where her father is directing the caterers about where to set up for the big dinner. When she calls out for him, he tries brushing her off, but she will not have that.

"Were you not going to tell me?"

"What?" Her father pinches the bridge of his nose.

"How could you let his mother do that? Val is part of our family, he should be here!"

"Lucrecia, I am not discussing this with you," he tells her. "Your brother made another bad decision and now he has to deal with the consequences."

"I hate you," Lu whispers. She slams the dining room door on her way out.

As she's running up the stairs to her room, she hears her father call out after her. "The guests are coming at 4, I expect you to be ready."

***

The dinner is torture, just like Lu expected. She has to sit there and smile, make small talk with her father's press spokesman on her right and the wife of Costa Rica's ambassador on her left, while pushing food around on her plate for over an hour. She's too angry to eat. Angry at her father and Carla and Guzman and Val's mother and most of all at Val himself for leaving her all by herself at this mockery of a Thanksgiving celebration.

She half-heartedly tells the ambassador's wife how great of a school Golden Oaks is when she hears a snippet of her father's conversation with some guy from the State Department. "Jay, that sounds wonderful. And Lucrecia is a great skier, I'm sure she'll love it."

"Love what?" she asks loudly. Her father clears his throat and sends her a warning glance, but she doesn't care. "Love what?" she repeats.

"I was just telling your father we'd love to have your family at our chalet in Colorado over the holidays," this stranger says.

"That is very kind of you, but we'll be in Mexico for Christmas, like every year," Lu says. They always celebrate at her grandmother's house. When she'd found out Val would not be coming for Thanksgiving, she had counted the days until December 23, the day she would see him again: 27.

"Well, this year, we'll do things differently," her father says, and Lu can feel the room starting to spin. No. This cannot mean what she thinks it does.

"But we always go home," she says desperately, aware that she sounds like a little girl, and that the conversation around the table has mostly come to a standstill.

"Lucrecia, now is not the time to-"

"Have you told Val yet? He needs to know not to book flights to Mexico then." She's staring at her father, who looks like he would very much like to slap her across the face right now if it wasn't for their guests.

The man next to her dad - Jay? - clears his throat. "Uhm, of course we'd love to have your whole family there, the more-"

"I don't think that will be a good idea," Lu's father says coldly. "Valerio will be celebrating Christmas with his mother in Chile."

Lu stands up so quickly that her chair falls over. This time she doesn't bother whispering. "I hate you," she tells her father, the words coming out a little shaky but clear enough for everyone to hear.

The blood rushing in her ears is so loud, she can't make out what the people around the table are saying. It doesn't matter. Her father has decided she will not see Val for Christmas either - now she doesn't know when the next time will be that she'll get to look into Val's eyes, feel his lips on hers, lay her head on his chest to hear his heartbeat.

Lu can't breathe. Her eyes are burning with tears that she's trying to hold in until she is in her room. But instead of running up the stairs, her feet are taking her into the kitchen. Before any of the catering staff can say anything, she has grabbed a plate that is piled high with pumpkin cookies. She looks around with a glare daring anyone to stop her, but of course no one does.

Up in her room, Lu starts eating before she has even sat down on her bed. Three cookies are gone in no time, then five, then ten, twelve. When Lu starts coughing because she can't chew as fast as she is stuffing them into her mouth, she drops the plate and runs into her bathroom. She doesn't need to push her finger down far to throw up. Her throat burns, her head is pounding and she can feel the tears running down her face. She doesn't remember it being this painful, but it's also been a while. She had been making "great progress," as her therapist put it in his latest evaluation of her.     

She had literally texted a screenshot of the letter to Val like a grade-schooler looking for a pat on the back for a good report card, but he is the only one who understands. She'll bite her own tongue off before talking to her dad about therapy and none of her friends at school know her secret, not even Carla. Val had called her five minutes after getting the text. "Lu, that's great," he had said sincerely. "I'm so proud of you."

The thought of Val makes her cry harder. Lu scrambles to her feet and has to steady herself with a hand on the sink. When she isn't swaying anymore, she goes into her room to grab the plate of cookies again.

After they're all gone and she's throwing up nothing but bile anymore, Lu closes her eyes and leans back against the bathroom wall. Her legs are shaking and she sees spots dancing in front of her eyes when she opens them again. Lu decides she's going to blame this overall weakness for what she's about to do, not the almost physical need not to be alone. She grabs her phone and pulls up Carla's contact.

***

Half an hour later there's a soft knock on her bathroom door. Carla enters, walks over to Lu and drops down on her knees to give her a hug. Of course Lu immediately starts crying again, even though she promised herself she wouldn't. Carla searches her face. "What happened?"  

Lu flatly tells her about the cookies and when she sees Carla opening her mouth, about to ask the next question, she tells her that no, this was not her first time. She tells her about the last two years, how eventually even her father couldn't ignore her habit anymore and how she had been in therapy every time she'd told Carla she was getting a facial.

"I haven't… I haven't done this in almost three months," Lu says. "But today… I just, I couldn't…" She's crying too hard to speak and Carla pulls her into her arms again, making calming noises and smoothing down her hair.

When she finally stops sobbing, Carla pulls her up and, with a steadying arm around her waist, walks her over to her bed, where they curl up under the covers, Lu with her back to Carla.

"Where is Valerio?" Carla asks her eventually, though her tone of voice makes it sound like she already knows the answer. "Wasn't he supposed to be here for Thanksgiving?"

"They didn't let him come," Lu tells her. Her hands curl into the comforter she has pulled close and Carla reaches over, gently peeling her fingers open and entwining them with her own. "Dad won't let me see him for Christmas either and now I'm scared that he'll want to keep him away forever and that it'll be so much of a hassle that Val will eventually stop trying and I'll never, I'll never…"   

"Hey, look at me." Carla grabs her by the shoulders and turns her around so they're facing each other. Her face is full of love and determination and for the first time today, Lu feels like she has something to be thankful for. "That won't happen. Valerio's your brother. He won't give up on you just because your dad and his mom are making it difficult."

For a split-second, Lu considers telling Carla the truth. But she's too exhausted to share her last, biggest secret, so she just nods. Maybe another time.

"You both graduate in a year and a half, and then you can get out of here and don't have to give a fuck anymore about what your dad wants," Carla tells her. "And until then, you and I will get through anything together, ok?"

"Ok." Lu manages a teary smile. "Maybe you could… Would you come to therapy with me next week? I'll call tomorrow to move up my next appointment."

"Of course," Carla says without hesitation.

Lu's thank you gets muffled in their long hug. They watch Clueless together after that and by the time the credits role, Lu doesn't feel anymore like her life is slipping away from her. Thinking about Val still hurts. But looking at Carla, who has fallen asleep next to her, Lu feels the pressure that's been sitting on her chest, cutting off her air since yesterday, lift. She's not alone.