Up in the Treehouse - K.K. Allen

The best kind of love is one that stems from friendship. One that grows as it's nurtured with patience and kindness, blossoming at just the right time. All it has to do is withstand the forces of nature that threaten to drown it, pluck it, blow it, and burn it until it withers back into its soil. As if it never existed at all.

His face twists, resembling an old string of holiday lights most would have given up untangling years ago. It's a messy, broken, and hopeless jumble of old memories . . . one that, for some reason, I can't bring myself to throw out. Just like my relationship with Devon Rhodes.

Devon raises every red flag that exists, yet he could charm the pants off you and make you forget the difference between a red flag and a white one. He’s the type of guy who bends and breaks the rules because the rush is more than worth the risk. The one who’s always sworn he would never be in a committed relationship because—well, what's the point? The kind of guy—with his million and one problems, his dangerously good looks, and his strength that terrifies me—who somehow chose me. Now he's my string of hopeless holiday lights to deal with, but I can't seem to drum up the strength to untangle them again. Or maybe I just don't want to anymore.

Anger rumbles from his chest and his nose flares as he spouts in my direction, “What the hell is this, Chloe?” Yellowed pages of my journal flap through the air with each flick of his wrist, taunting me from across my bedroom.

How did he find that?

Beer sloshes from a blue plastic cup that I know is not his first—or his last. As the liquid splashes on the old wood floors I can already imagine the stale but sour stench I'll be wrinkling my nose to in the morning. It should have been a fun, celebratory night filled with bad dancing, neighbors threatening noise violations, and possibly some skinny-dipping. The drunken mess standing before me is the wrong kind of bad I wanted to experience tonight.

I'm still cloaked in my graduation gown, the rough fabric combing my skin, providing a false sense of security under Devon's heated glare. If only I could tuck my head inside it to avoid another argument. At least the cloth would muffle his words, obscuring his shouts the way tears are threatening to blur my vision. If only.

It's no use asking him what he's referring to or why he looks like he wants to throw my journal—and me—across the room. I'm already aware of the passages between the binding he grips with white-tipped knuckles. We've been official for four months, and he somehow feels as if he has the right to invade my thoughts, fears, and dreams. I ignore the fact that his anger might be justified because of what he read and focus on what he did wrong.

“You read my journal?” I explode. “Why?” My voice won't stop shaking no matter how hard I try to control it. I know I have to get ahold of myself. Devon can sniff weakness from a mile away, and he will use it to his advantage.

He glowers at me in response, spilling hate with every breath. I might hate myself too for letting it come to this point. His anger has always been a beast, ready to unleash if I make one wrong move, and alcohol only gases his fire. Devon has never hit me, but certain situations have caused me to imagine what a blow would feel like. It wasn't long ago, during one of our bigger arguments, that his fist came close. So close that I felt a rush of air skim my cheek before slamming into the wall. He wasn’t aiming for me. I don’t think. But I remember squeezing my eyelids together for so long my vision took a terrifying amount of time to return. During my darkened state, I imagined his fist connecting with my jaw, anticipating it like that would somehow lessen the pain when it did come.

Devon is a big guy, an athlete, and six-foot-three—almost a foot taller than me. He steps closer, casting a shadow over me, reminding me of my inferiority. He enjoys this: demonstrating he could hurt me if he wanted to. I think he wants to.

The only difference between now and the past is that I've been through this enough, and nothing about him scares me. Not