Shred of Decency: A Friends to Lovers Dark Romance
It’s my word against his, and understanding the risk of someone finding out what happened to me is a hard pill to swallow.
When the pain and loneliness becomes unbearable, I run into the most unlikely person capable of stopping my world from caving in… A decent man, who spent time behind bars.
No one believes Morgan has much to offer anymore, not even him.
But this once? I know better.
Morgan is looking for a fresh start too. I rely on his friendship while learning how to feel safe again. Yet the closer we get, the more I question how often the punishment fits the crime.
**This book contains sensitive scenarios that may trigger readers. Please consider reading reviews or contacting the author if you have questions.
Release date: September 17, 2020
Print pages: 226
Content advisory: This book contains sensitive scenarios that may trigger readers.
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Shred of Decency: A Friends to Lovers Dark Romance
“You should report this, sweetheart.” The nurse practitioner’s voice is soothing, and in harsh contrast to the echo of the speculum clattering onto the metal tray. She rolls it out of the way, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder as I sit up.
I don’t want anyone touching me. Shrugging her off, I reach for my clothes heaped on a nearby chair. I pull my panties and slouchy sweatpants up to cover myself before a physician excuses themselves from the room during a normal exam.
“What is there to report?” I ask with a quiver in my low voice, hardly audible as the vents in the small room kick on.
My internal thermometer is off. I’m bone-chilled and my skin is prickly hot. Tunnels of darkness and spots have threatened my vision for hours. The walls have been closing in, even when I walked outside across campus to the health center.
I push up my sweatshirt sleeves and am as quick to drag them back down, covering my wrists. Having my skin exposed to the nurse was enough. I don’t want anyone to see any part of me and will risk becoming overheated and passing out to keep covered.
After slipping on my shoes, I focus on my bent knees. She crumples the blue paper that covered the tray and the trash can clangs open and shut. Coming into the clinic was a mistake. I was trying to prove to myself I was being stupid. That if I didn’t remember what happened then it couldn’t possibly be the truth.
The nurse steps in front of me. She holds out an appointment card. I take it because my parents raised me to mind my manners and, in this situation, I don’t know how else to act.
“Aidy, you may not have bruises on the outside, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t any on the inside. Your confusion is obvious.” She looks at me with so much sympathy. It’s as if she can see red gushing out of the gaping wound in my heart. “Sweetheart, there are people who can help you. I’d be glad to stay with you the whole time if you need someone. If it means anything, I don’t think you changed your mind.”
Gee, what made that obvious? I think to myself. I have zero inclination to be sarcastic when she’s trying her best not to rattle me any more than I already am.
I’d confided I wasn’t on birth control when we were reviewing my medical history. There was no reason for a healthy nineteen-year-old to be when they weren’t sexually active. My periods were enviable; a few light days on the twenty-eighth of each month. Can I be any luckier? Even February has that number on the calendar. Because of this, I’ve never had an internal exam until a few minutes ago. I hadn’t been sure what to expect, but the way the speculum hung from my lower area reinforced the discomfort I’d already been feeling.
“It’s best to report a rape right away.”
The shame and self-loathing connected to the word is too much for me. I haven’t been able to meet her eyes the whole time. How did I allow myself to become a woman who had to deal with these emotions?
“I can see how troubled you are accepting this, Aidy. I want you to understand I’m here no matter what you decide.” She wraps her hand around my fingers, now holding the appointment card. “Come back this week no matter what your choice is. I’d like to see for myself you’re okay. Can you do that for me? It would make me feel better, and I’d be glad to answer any questions you think of between now and then.”
I finally look up. The kindness in her face reminds me of my mom’s. She wants to help me, but this isn’t a skinned elbow from landing on the grass when I skidded, missing while trying to catch a fly ball. I want to forget whatever game this is because my name wasn’t supposed to be on the roster. I’d gladly rewind to the point where I booked this appointment. I’d almost rather have lived the rest of my life in limbo than know this happened to me.
I stuff the card into my hoodie pocket next to the wallet holding my Pinewood College ID. Clutching them as if a thief will steal them the way my virginity has been stolen, I run-walk back to my dorm.
I’m filled with anxiety and unanswerable questions. How could he have done this to me? How could I have been so naive? Was it even him? And if it wasn’t, then who?
I take the stairs up to the fourth floor because I’m petrified to be with anyone in an enclosed space. Halfway up, I start to cry because maybe waiting for a group of people to get on the elevator was safer. I fall to my ass on the concrete step, choking down sobs. The rocky texture of the formed stone grinds into my bottom, making my butt hurt. I may not have bruises, but it hasn’t stopped everything from aching. When I regain the strength to walk again, I make it to my door. With my head ducked low, I fumble with the lock. It opens and the door swings wide. In a swift motion, I have it shut and flip the bolt.
The wet towel I’d used to shower with has fallen on the floor and there is the faint outline of the puddle my shampoo caddy had sat in while it dried. The sight of my long twin bed attracts my attention. Its perfect hospital corners mock me. I couldn’t stand the rumpled sheets, thinking about what’s been done to me without my consent. I’d tidied up as best as possible in between trips to the bathroom to clean myself off, waiting for my lower GI to settle, and pressing cool compresses between my legs. I sat in my roommate’s Papasan chair for twenty-four hours before the burning sensation from the angry hives on my inner thighs became too much to handle and I called the health center.
I approach my desk and take a puff from the inhaler for my asthma. The nurse said with my latex allergy it was best to keep using it the way I have been. I thought it was a simple anxiety attack that had made it difficult to breathe. The allergy is another way she saw through to what he’s done to me. I am, was a smart girl. I would have told him we couldn’t use those types of condoms.
I take the throw pillow off the chair and lie down on the area rug with my back away from the bed. My slouchy sweats are the only thing covering me. The appointment card pokes into my stomach.
My mind reels over all the questions the nurse asked that I was unable to answer, repeating the ones I could as if they can save me still. How many partners have you had? None. Did you know you were allergic to latex? Yes. Do you remember anything?
I remember getting ready and being excited to wear the new Rincon dress I’d found on a clearance rack because the weather going into fall has been so beautiful. The curved, athletic hem scooped above my knee, which I loved since I have longer legs and a shorter torso, and simple summer dresses are my jam since you can put them on and run out the door when you’re late.
It’s the beginning of my sophomore year. Students have just moved back to campus. My new roommate went home for the weekend. When we agreed to bunk together, I was aware she picked up as many hours as she could at her job. I don’t go places alone at night, and my other girlfriends—many of whom scattered amongst other dorms and Greek houses this year—hadn’t approached me with a plan. So, when Brandon invited me to a welcome back kegger on Friday night, I agreed.
I’d met him while standing in line at the college store for what seemed like an eternity. We’d struck up a conversation which led to lunch together in the cafeteria a few times over the past week.
When we got to the party, I saw a friend I hadn’t seen yet this semester. While she and I were catching up, he asked if I’d like a drink and took off to get our beverages. I didn’t think anything of the grin on his face as he walked back with those two red plastic cups. He’d bought me a fountain drink not eight hours earlier. I’d let him put the plastic tops onto our cups and the straw in mine while I’d reached for some napkins to wipe up a spill.
Bass pounded from the speakers in the house and the music got incredibly loud, so we went outside to talk. The sounds became more muted and my recollections foggy. I have no clue how I got back to my room or if Brandon was the one who brought me here. I woke up on Saturday feeling like a truck hit me. My dress was rumpled past my midsection. The tie at the waist bound at my armpits. My bra was trapped underneath, unclasped in the back. The straps hung loose at my shoulders. I later found the underwear I’d worn in a knot where the sheet tucks into the mattress. The ache between my legs didn’t register at first. My head throbbed too hard. Then all I thought, as searing pain stabbed inside me, burning my thighs, was how this couldn’t have happened? I would’ve known.
I waited twenty years for that moment. It was supposed to be...Unforgettable.
There’s no erasing the past few hours from my memory and back in my dorm, lying on my side, the seconds tick by like minutes. Time stands still, mocking me. I stare at the dust bunny clinging to the mini-fridge under my roommate, Hailey’s, bed watching it get pushed around by the whirr of the motor as it clicks on and off. As if attached by a tiny invisible chain, the puff of dirt never lets go of its captor.
The sunlight has faded to a deep navy shadowing the room when a key tumbles in the lock. Hailey flips on the light, throwing her clean laundry bag and the backpack she took home with her on her mattress. Like mine, her parents live in the area and her weekend job at a cinema is near their house.
“What are you doing on the floor?” she asks in a laughing tone, suggesting I’ve partied too much while she was away.
“I don’t feel well. I think I came down with something.” I’m surprised at how easy the lie rolls off my tongue.
“Make sure you go to health services tomorrow if it gets any worse,” Hailey says, scooting a trash basket closer in case I’ll need it in an emergency.
“I’ve already been.”
I’ve had blood taken. Urine. Pictures. The nurse gave me the morning-after pill to be “on the safe side”. Safe seems like a comical word. Safe is pouring your own drink. Safe is not having sex with someone who is blacked out so that they don’t have to safely use medication to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Should I be grateful whoever it was used a condom to be safe when it protected them?
“You want a blanket?” She tugs at my bedding.
“No!” I sit up too fast and have to lay right back down when my head spins. I cover my eyes with the crook of my elbow. The material of my sweatshirts absorbs the moisture from my eyes and hides the harsh and critical light shining down on me.
It’s been days since my roommate found me in a heap on the floor. I exist in the spot now, not venturing farther than the vending machine at the end of the hall. Nothing has seemed more important than yellow bags of Peanut M&Ms. I’m not even sure why I’m staying at school. My parents will kill me if they find out my tuition is going to waste. Textbooks sit uncracked on my desk. I’ve missed classes before most students consider starting skipping.
What I didn’t miss was my period, along with the big fat zit on my chin you’d have to be blind not to notice. Although, I hadn’t expected the relief is yet another thing to send me spiraling down in a puddle of tears.
I went back to health services today after the nurse called me a bunch of times as a reminder. Her true intent—to get me to file a report—was obvious, and her persuasive techniques were a failure. The pity etched across her forehead was enough of a deterrent. I don’t want anyone else looking at me that way. Who will believe me, anyway? I don’t know if it was Brandon and have struggled with his absence. Am I putting distance between us? Did he decide we weren’t compatible? If it was him, had Brandon gotten what he wanted? Am I worthless now?
The nurse convinced me I should go on the pill. I’ve brought the prescription to a local pharmacy. Although, I don’t know why I’m taking it besides the fact that a medical professional told me to. Does what happened mean I’m sexually active if I’m not planning to have sex and never was?
Why are there so many unanswered questions floating around in my head? I’m so confused, and it’s easier to take her advice than fight with my morals.
My parents took me to church. It’s how my birth mother met them. But my choice to abstain didn’t have much to do with God. More, I hadn’t wanted to make the same error and have any of the three of them upset with my lapse in judgment. Me, of all people, understood the consequences. I am the outcome.
All I ever wanted was to make them proud. Be the best person I could be. I’m not sure why I’ve bothered.
“Do you have any questions about your prescription for the pharmacist?” The assistant slides a white bag with red lettering toward me.
I shake my head. I haven’t had a lot to say recently, and my voice is squeaky and scratchy when I open my mouth. Hailey thinks I have the plague. She keeps spraying disinfectant in our dorm room that makes me gag. It’ll take a lot more than a stream of Lysol on my pillow to banish what happened in my bed.
I nibble a finger, walking toward the far aisles on the perimeter of the store. What happens if they find out? I’ll have to step up and explain missing classes at some juncture or they’ll know.
It would be easier if I’d been more rebellious, less honest. Owned my flaws the way some of my friends do and tried imperfection on for size. It hadn’t occurred to me those qualities might come in handy until it was too late.
I stand looking at my drawn face in one of those skinny makeup mirrors. My red hair is a matted mess, pulled back against the nape of my neck with a hair tie. There are black circles under my blue eyes and my lips are chapped, not only from crying but from dehydration.
What did he see in me that made him do it? Nothing. I look like hell and hunger has me feeling the same way. My bones and muscles hurt from sacking out on the carpet and not moving for days. Maybe I was attractive once. I hate my hair, my skin, my stupid zit, and the dull frost in my gaze.
I turn away from the mirror as if hiding my reflection will stop everyone else in the pharmacy from seeing what a wreck I am. I feel exposed, which is funny since I have on three-day-old sweats, tube socks up to my knees, and untied running shoes with the laces tucked inside. The sun beats down in September in North Carolina. I’m a sweaty, ugly sight to behold. I don’t want to be me anymore. There was no reason to better myself. No excuse for straight-As. No logic behind waiting for the love of my life to sweep me off my feet. Not when all of it can fall apart at the drop of a hat.
I run my fingers over the silky hair dye swatches in the next row. A small shift catches my eye and a skitter of apprehension rankles over my spine. A girl about my age lifts a cheap pair of earbuds from a bin. She places them into her pocket. I glance around the store. Nobody has seen her except me. I should say something. Instead, I pick up a box of purple hair color, watching her with my peripheral vision as she peruses the candy selection. It’s like a movie scene. I can tell by the way her hand moves to rest on her hip she’s slipped another item in her pocket.
A friend calls to her and they shuffle toward the exit, being loud and making goofy jokes, holding up items and putting them back. Then the friend buys something. They both look happy. Why are they cheerful if they need to steal?
I look at the box of hair dye. The woman on the box looks as carefree as they are. She’s pretty too, with all those highlights and tones of violet.
The girl’s friend finishes paying for her purchase. I walk toward the exit, wondering what the hell I have left to lose. And, if there is more, why should I care?
My shoulders hitch to my ears when the three of us get to the door and the store alarm goes off. The cashier runs around the counter. My eyes widen at the girls and he looks at my prescription bag.
“You’re fine.” He scowls, pointing at the friends. “You two, empty your pockets on the counter now.”
My breath gets stuck in my lungs, but I turn to go with the box hidden under my sweats.
“Hi, is this Aidy?” a pleasant voice asks when I pick up my phone. It’s the nurse from the clinic.
I’d been so wrapped up figuring out what the hell my lecture today had covered answering was automatic.
“Ye-Yes.” I clear my throat and she reminds me of who she is. Like I’d forget.
“I want to start by saying my call is not to pressure you. I wanted to check and make sure you were okay.”
“I’m fine.” I lie the same way I tell my roommate I’m all better from whatever bug I’d caught.
“Good to hear, sweetheart. If you need someone to talk to—”
“I won’t.” I cut her off.
“It’s okay, Aidy. I don’t mean now, maybe in the future? I’m here. There’s also the campus counseling center and, if you’d rather go someplace else, I have a list of private and group support resources.” A lot of what she’s saying was information provided each time I’d seen her. “You aren’t alone. You’re not the only woman this happens to.”
Her last sentence is too much and I hang up on her as she’s babbling on about a great survivor network in Brighton.
My biological mother, Kimber, lives in Brighton with her husband and their new baby. Kimber was eighteen when she gave birth to me. She chose a wonderful couple to become my parents. For most of my childhood, I reaped the benefit of an open adoption. Kimber showed up at my birthday parties and we sent letters and cards on holidays, or rather, my mom did for me.
The same mom whose texts I reply to with an exaggerated “I’m soooo busy”, “I’m soooo tired” or an appropriate emoji to make her think I’m not failing all four of my classes the third week of school.
I’ve always been able to go to my mom with anything. Right now, I don’t want to see or talk to her. Kimber’s on my mind.
We became close after I turned eighteen. However, I’ve never asked Kimber who my father was. Until recently, it hadn’t seemed right for me to pry into her personal business. I do know she was younger than I am now, and made her choices alone during a time in her life wrought with emotion. I’ve always feared my life began because of someone more sinister and, not knowing the truth, meant there was still the possibility I was conceived by two people who loved one another. Now, more than ever, I’m left wondering if Kimber experienced what I did. I couldn’t bear for it to be the reason a child of mine existed. And, for as cherished as my mom and dad made me feel, I’m not sure I’d be able to give away someone who grew inside of me to anyone.
Kimber is so much stronger than I am. There’s no way something like this happened to her.
I go back to highlighting a textbook and realized the entire page is yellow. I’ve been dragging the marker from one paragraph to the next without reading.
“Great,” I mutter, tired of the constant distractions my thoughts cause.
I rub my eyes and reach up to my desk to snag a rubber band to pull my hair into a ponytail. A few purple flyaways get tucked behind my ear.
“Concentrate.” School has always been easy. I’ve never been so far behind. Or so tired. I refuse to touch my bed.
As if I’ve conjured her, my cell dings on the hard floor beside me.
Kimber: Hey Dumplin’! Can you call me when you’re out of class?
I scroll my contacts and call her right back.
“That was fast!” I catch bass thumping in the background. The music ebbs away, but Kimber’s enthusiastic voice carries on. “It’s not a huge emergency, but Trig’s out of town and our don’t-want-to-disturb-Dumplin’s-studies-sitter is busy.”
I beam. “You have a back-up sitter?”
“Of course, we do. I don’t want to bug you when you’re supposed to be off having a good time.”
“It’s never a bother.”
Owen grows like a weed in between my visits. Her having him excited me. I was an only child and, while Ghillie and Don Fairley aren’t ancient, they are older than most of my friend’s parents. It’s also not as if my mom and dad were ever having more kids. Owen is the only sibling I’m getting.
“I know you’ll never say no even when you should and it’s why I keep someone else’s number handy.”
True. After Owen was born, I sort of went baby-crazy and volunteered to watch him every chance I got.
“Anyhow,” Kimber continues, “I have plans with Sloan I’m trying to salvage for tomorrow. If you can’t do it, don’t worry.”
I shut the back door to the utility van, taking my time to walk up the path to Trig and Kimber’s front door. Their house is at the back of a neighborhood surrounded by a fuck-ton of other gigantic houses. Each has a fenced backyard, patch of grass out front to mow, and signature southern low slung porch. About every third one is the same cookie cutter-style. The only difference is the paint color or materials used. This one is a periwinkle blue with white trim.
Nothing about the suburbs of Raleigh is like the rural part of North Carolina I grew up in. I can’t believe this is the place I’m calling home. My last zip code was chain-link fences with barbed wire, not the white picket kind.
Tamping down the urge to knock, I let myself in the front door. I’ve lived here a few months, worked for Trig doing security system installs as long, and still feel like an intruder. They have a new baby, so I’m not sure why they’re putting me up and letting me cramp their style. Although, I’m sure my record is the reason a place wasn’t offered to me at the refurbished cotton mill where my sister, Celine, lives.
I toe off my shoes and place my fast food dinner bag on the stairs by the front door before heading through the living room, following the voices to let Kimber know I’m back. I don’t ever want her shocked she isn’t alone in the house. If she’s agreed to me squatting here out of the kindness of her heart, then the least I owe her is common courtesy.
“Morgan, you’re home!” Kimber is behind a long island chatting with two women. One of them is Sloan. She’s seated on a barstool opposite Kimber and gives me a bright “Hey you!” in a similar enthusiastic tone.
Sloan does live in the old factory building the way Kimber used to. She, Celine, and Kimber were floormates until Kimber married Trig and Sloan moved her stuff to Carver’s apartment on the second floor. Or maybe Carver moved Sloan’s stuff. Who knows? It’s Carver’s building, and he makes the rules for all of us.
My sister set me up with Carver when I had no prospects. I owe him for what I have now, which isn’t much, but after losing everything I once had, there is nowhere to go but up. I know whatever happens around here works off of trust and I plan to keep Trig and Carver’s, Kimber’s too.
A girl a bit younger than me is bouncing Owen, Kimber and Trig’s son, on her hip cooing to the baby. She’s got long purple hair that Owen is fisting, dragging handfuls to his mouth. The innocence of it makes her let out a tinkling laugh.
“Have you met my daughter, Aidy, yet?” Kimber asks.
I’m shocked when the girl raises her gaze to me with a polite hello. I didn’t know Kimber had a daughter. Sure, I’d seen a picture on the mantle of Kimber’s family. However, there was an older couple in it too. The woman standing before me had the same red hair as Kimber’s in the snapshot. I’d figured they were sisters. Kimber doesn’t look old enough to have a kid my age. She and Trig have been together for give or take five years. I doubt Aidy and Owen have the same father. Maybe that’s why it’s never come up before.
“Morgan Wescott.” I make it a point of telling people my full name. It’s a weird habit I picked up over the past few years and am not sure I’ll ever fall out of. Doing it at least means nobody can ever insinuate I wasn’t upfront about who I am.
I hold out my hand. Aidy maneuvers the baby, so she’s still got a grip on him, shaking upside down and with the wrong hand. We all chuckle nervously at the absurdity.
Aidy ducks her head, embarrassed and clinging to Owen. I feel awful, especially when she offers, “There’s pizza by the toaster if you’re hungry.”
“I got dinner for you, Dumplin’. Your freshman fifteen has turned into the sophomore shed sixty.” Kimber has to be exaggerating. Aidy could use a little meat on her bones, but there’s no way she’s lost that much weight.
“I don’t mind.” Aidy moves her purple locks to cover her porcelain white skin, seeming lost when Kimber takes the baby from her.
“Thanks. I snagged something on the way back.” My takeout is getting cold on the steps as we speak. I’m not sure why I’m still standing here. I’m intrigued by the purple curl hitting Aidy’s bare arm, and the way her creamy skin contrasts her charcoal black t-shirt.
“There is plenty.” Kimber winks in my direction. She offers me food a lot and I tend to say no. I think she’s trying to make both me and Aidy comfortable. “Sloan and I are going out tonight. Aidy is staying overnight to babysit Owen since Carver and Trig are busy.” Her eyes roll. I know what busy means so I don’t press for details. It’s not like Trig will tell Kimber what he’s up to anyhow. Her eyes dart to Aidy. Some things are better left unsaid.
“I’m on the schedule and walking Cece home tonight.” I’m casual telling them my plans so Aidy doesn’t think she’s stuck babysitting me too.
I pick up a few extra bucks at Sweet Caroline’s, where Kimber is the manager, making sure the dancers are safe. I’d do it without getting paid because my sister works there. I’d prefer Celine did something other than use her body to rake in the cash for her college tuition, but in this life, you take what you can get. Cece swears she’s only stripping and there’s some convoluted rule about living at the mill and not turning tricks there. I hope it’s enough to stop her from hooking altogether.
There’s no reason for me to stick around. I excuse myself and grab my takeout bag off the steps on the way to the attic. The footprint of the room matches the entire second floor, but otherwise, my space isn’t much. A queen size bed was here and made when I moved in, and I pushed it flush to the wall. The random coat hangers in the closet are the type you’d get your dry cleaning returned on. My underwear and socks are in boxes in there on the floor. I have no dresser. My clothes are hung or folded on the shelf. The sparseness aside, I don’t feel confined. That’s why I haven’t bothered to go to the thrift shop to find more furniture. Plus, I don’t want to ask Trig to help me lug it up two flights of stairs when I don’t know how long I’ll be living in his house.
I lie back on the bed, eating my dinner, and staring at the ceiling thinking about Aidy before taking a nap. The alarm for my second shift of the day goes off a few hours later and she’s still on my mind. I haven’t paid attention to women over the past few years. The only ones I’m around now are married, the security company’s clients, or strippers at Sweet Caroline’s. Some of those girls are hot, and Cece’s been upfront about which of the dancers to avoid. Otherwise, no one is going to want to invest in a relationship with someone who has no future.
I should wait on showering to see what I’m in for at the club tonight. If I’m lugging boxes, I’ll work up a sweat. Hell, If I have to haul someone out who can’t keep their hands to themselves, I will too. Yet, I wash up in the small bathroom because there won’t be much time between getting home and getting up again.
Jeans, tee, wallet, keys. I’m dressed and ready to go. My shoes are still downstairs by the door. Fool that I am, I stop to make sure there’s nothing in my teeth before taking the stairs.
Aidy’s on the sofa with her eyes closed. She’s changed into baggy sweatpants and an oversized Pinewood College hoodie. I try not to disturb her, but Owen’s laundry and baby toys are on the wing chairs. There’s no place else to sit but on the couch.
“I know you’re there.” She yawns, cracking an eye.
“I won’t tell your mom or stepdad you were asleep on the job.” I lean to tie my shoes.
“I wasn’t asleep. Only resting to get him to settle.” She pats the baby’s back. “Trig’s not my stepdad.” She lets out a sardonic laugh. “I’ve actually never thought of him that way. He’s been Kimber’s husband since I met him last year, right before Owen was born.”
“You never met your mom’s husband until after they got married?”
Stranger things have happened.
“Kimber’s my birth mother.”
“Huh,” I say like that explains it all.
“Huh, what?” She becomes defensive, mistaking my comment for judgment.
I reach to take Owen from her. I watch the little guy a lot, so it’s a natural action. She’s not hot to give him up, even when he scrunches his baby form into a ball and snuggles into my chest.
“Do you consider him your brother?”
“I do. What a silly question.” Focused on her lap, she tucks a long strand of hair behind her ear, revealing a single lobe piercing. The diamonds shimmer. No doubt they’re real and expensive.
I shrug. “Just making sure I have it right.”
For the first time, Aidy looks directly at me. She’s prettier than I’d even thought with high cheekbones and a full lower lip. I search the bridge of her nose for freckles, but it’s either too dark in the lamplight or they aren’t there. She’s got deep circles under her eyes that don’t detract from her beauty. It’s the blue of her eyes which gets to me. Dead on her feet, Kimber’s sparkle. It’s as if she’s grateful for what she’s got and in the darkest moment can see hope shining around the corner. Aidy’s eyes look as if someone has snuffed the life out of them.
My brain shouldn’t go there, but I remember those dead eyes staring back at me. My stomach bottoms out and my knees weaken. Without warning, the burrito I had for dinner makes me feel like I’m about to shit myself. I try to play it off by putting Owen down in his playpen thingy and covering him with a blanket.
“Kimber doesn’t like it when Trig sleeps with Owen on his chest. Hard not to, though, isn’t it. He’s calming. When he’s not screaming his head off.” I try joking to lighten the mood. “Catch forty winks. You could use it. Up late studying already?” She’s gotta be a student if she’s wearing the college insignia.
“No all-nighters yet. I don’t sleep well,” she’s quick to add, “in those beds. I have more room to stretch out at my parents’.” She won’t meet my gaze again.
“Yeah,” I agree, running my hand through my brown hair. “Dorm beds are the worst.”
They aren’t. Although, Aidy doesn’t need to know the ones in prison cells rank lower. I slept sitting up with my back wedged into a corner until my release. I wonder where she’s sleeping? I wonder if I’m wrong. If I’m not, then why doesn’t anyone else notice the way Aidy shrinks away when I talk to her? Is she shy? Does she do this around Trig too? Logically, I get that I’m reading into Aidy’s behavior. However, it’s not stopping my pulse from pounding.
“I, ah, I have go—” I point to the door as if she doesn’t have a clue where it is or that it leads to the driveway. Where a vehicle is parked. For me to leave in. I’m a fucking idiot trying to act like these four walls aren’t closing in on me. “You should sleep. While you’re here. The guest room has a big bed.” I continue to stumble, getting out, “I’ll set the alarm.”
I punch the keypad by the door without saying goodbye. The door hits me on the way out. I choke on the night air until I get behind the wheel. It takes more than a minute to get my bearings and, like a struggling drunkard, six tries to get the key in the ignition. If Cece weren’t counting on me tonight, I’d blow off my shift and drive to the beach to clear my head. Backing the truck out of the driveway, I’ve never wanted to see anyone again more in my entire life and I’ve never been so scared to.
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