Sweet oblivion (sweet se.., p.61
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       Sweet Oblivion (Sweet Series #1), p.61

           Bailey Ardisone

  After school the next day, I ran to my room. I closed my door and locked it. Please don’t come looking for me, please don’t come looking for me. That sentence played over and over in my head as I listened to Ray’s footsteps draw closer and closer. To my relief, he left me alone for the time being and slammed his bedroom door closed. I had been surprised to see his car pull into the driveway just after I had gotten home from school. Why was he back so early?

  It was my chance to bathe. I ran into the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind me, locking it. I took a long hot shower, relishing the stolen moment of pure peace. I hadn’t taken one this morning at Zaylie’s house because I was too tired from staying up so late two nights in a row and couldn’t bring myself to get up in time when morning came.

  After drying off and putting on clean clothes, feeling greatly refreshed, I snatched my sketchbook and pencils and started to draw. It was my stress-reliever. I found myself drawing a pair of eyes after a few minutes and realized they were of course Mycah’s.

  No surprise there. They were always on my mind. I worked to capture their intricate detail but nothing could come close to matching how exquisite they truly were. I wondered what he was doing right this moment, and then I wondered at the burning curiosity I suddenly felt.

  My cell buzzed from a text, so I picked it up to read it.

  ‘I forgot to tell you I’m performing tomorrow night in Portland if you want to go with us,’ Rydan sent. It felt so good to hear from him. He knew I had the dance on Sunday, and then yesterday I texted him that I was at Zaylie’s, so he hadn’t been expecting me at the Willow.

  Excitement bubbled up at the thought of seeing him play in concert. Every few months he performed in a symphony playing piano. It was my favorite thing to see, and I didn’t get to very often. He could only play instruments that he could carry to the Willow, like guitar or violin, at which he of course was amazing. But when he played piano, it was simply breathtaking.

  ‘You know I’d love to. I’ll find out. See you in a bit?’ I sent back, determined to ask Ray before I finally met up with Rydan at our spot. I’d been dying to see him since the carnival on Saturday. I was already aware a performance in Portland meant not getting back until late, so I was nervous about asking Ray.

  ‘Do you really have to ask?’ he replied. I smiled, knowing very well that no, I didn’t have to ask if I’d see him later. We saw each other every night at the Willow. Lately it had been hit or miss with me, but not for Rydan. He was always there every night.

  I grabbed my things, ready to get the heck out of there. I just had one obstacle to get past first. I tiptoed out of my room, not really knowing why since I was about to knock on Ray’s door anyway…must have just been out of habit, I guessed.

  Just as I went to knock, the door opened, making me almost hit Ray in his chest instead. Yuck. That was a close one.

  “What did you do?” he scolded before I could say anything. I tried to think of the answer.

  “Ummm…” What did I do?

  “Don’t play dumb with me. Where did you get the money?” he inquired, raising his voice another level.

  “What money? I didn’t do anything, especially with any money.” Was he delusional? I was about as poor as it got. The only reason I ever had a few spare bucks was if I sold a piece of art around town every now and then, and I hadn’t done that in a while.

  “Please. You expect me to believe you didn’t pay Oliver Avico off after leaving that stupid note? I just got off the phone with him. He informed me all debts have been paid in full.” He narrowed his eyes into slits.

  “As usual Ray, I have no idea what you're talking about. I didn’t do it. Believe me. Even if I had the money to do it, which I don’t, I wouldn’t have paid. You’re just gonna have to trust me on that one.” I crossed my arms, feeling brave, challenging him to defy me. “The only reason I’m standing here right now is because I have to ask you something.” I hated needing his permission to go anywhere.

  “You know what, you disrespectful brat, don’t bother.” He pointed his thick finger in my face. “I’m done with you. I promised my wife I’d take care of you until you were legal, and I’ve done that. I don’t care what you do from this moment onward, and on that day you turn eighteen, I want you out of here, you got that? She is the only reason you got to grow up in this house.” He pushed past me walking into the kitchen, going straight for a bottle of liquor. At least some things didn’t change.

  “Yeah right, that and those convenient monthly checks you get from the state oughta do it,” I retorted with disgust. I was convinced he only chose to stay my foster parent for the money Maine provided for doing so.

  He laughed humorlessly, an ugly sound I would forever hate, and turned to me.

  “That’s where you’re wrong. She lied to you. We all lied to you. You were never legally ours. She was never your mother. She found you in an alley downtown as a baby, wrapped in a white blanket with the name Nariella Ashwyn Woodlinn sewn into it. I never once wanted you or any child for that matter. Not even your own parents wanted you. But she brought you home anyway and refused to turn you in to authorities. There’s no state money. You’re nobody to me. Just a stupid promise I swore to fulfill in a moment of weakness.” His voice was colder than ice, making me shudder.

  “I never wanted you either. Only her. Say whatever poisonous words you want to me, it won’t matter. She was my mother. A great mother. And you didn’t deserve her. The only thing good to come out of her death is it meant she got to escape you. If only I had been so lucky,” I spat the words with as much venom I could muster and then ran out of the house, not looking back.

  He was sick. A cruel joke of a human being. I was right about one thing—Elizabeth shouldn’t have died that day. But I was wrong too; it shouldn’t have been me either like I had always thought. It should have been Ray. He should have been the one to get mangled and suffer. Not her, not me. Him. Only him.

  I thought over his words as I walked to the Willow to meet up with Rydan. Did my real parents really abandon me in an alley? Who were they? Were they still alive? Why did they do it?

  I had thought of those questions many times before, but now I felt them in a different way. What people could leave a newborn baby alone in a dark, cold alley? I never wanted to meet them. I hoped they were dead...Okay, maybe not. But only someone worse than Ray could do that, and there just wasn’t enough room for more evil in my life.

  Once I got up to the hill that overlooked the Weeping Willow perched next to the crystal pond, I stopped to watch Rydan as he shot arrows into a far away tree. He did that sometimes. He was a skilled archer, something he had always been into since a kid, just like music, and every once in a while he would come out here to practice where it was safe.

  I ran down the hill as fast as I could, desire spreading like never before to be near him and our tree—a desperate need for sanctuary that only this spot could provide. It almost felt magical, like it had special healing powers for the soul.

  Rydan turned when he heard me coming, immediately tensing when he could see I was distraught.

  “Ray and Elizabeth were never my foster parents. I was abandoned, tossed away like trash, and Elizabeth rescued me. She kept me for herself. They lied to me. They didn’t name me like she said. I came with my name. As if whoever my real parents were had the right to name me, only to throw me away a moment later. But they didn’t have that right! They didn’t! I wasn’t theirs to name!”

  I didn’t know what I was talking about; I just seemed to ramble on, emotions spilling out of me overdramatically. Rydan already had his arms around me, comforting me as I retold this newfound information about my life. He was lean but muscular and tall, almost Mycah’s height. He actually reminded me much of Mycah; it was a little disconcerting. I would never tell him that, though. It’d make him so mad.

  He pulled away from me for only a second to take off his dark canvas coat and wrap it around my body, pulling me close again. I didn
’t even realize I left without putting on my jacket.

  “Thanks,” I muttered into his taut chest.

  “Ray’s a dick. If he told you all that, which I’m assuming he did, then you must know that half of it is just him trying to get to you. Your mother loved you. And you don’t know the reasons behind what your birth parents did. And you know what? Neither does he. So it doesn’t matter what he says.” His deep timbered voice vibrated in his chest against my face as he spoke. He was right. I couldn’t let Ray’s cruelness get to me. I had enough on my plate as it was.

  “He also said I have to be out of the house on my birthday,” I confessed with a little more joy than I expected. Sure, it was gonna suck being homeless, but I was already convinced anything would be better than living in that hellhole.

  “Seriously?” he breathed against the top of my head, blowing my hair.

  “Mmhmm,” I answered as I snuggled closer to his body to get warm. I felt like an ice cube and he was my personal space heater.

  “You can stay at the B&B. It’s slow season right now so there are plenty of rooms open. My parents love you, so you know they won’t care.” He solved my problem in a flash. I didn’t even have time to worry about it.

  “Do you think I have to wait until next week? I can’t stand the thought of spending one more nanosecond in that godforsaken place.” I wasn’t above begging Rydan’s parents if that was what it came down to.

  “They don’t even have to know. I’ll tell them later after your birthday. Don’t worry about it.” He soothed my frayed nerves with just simple words, forever making me indebted to Rydan yet again. “So I guess this means you’ll be going with me tomorrow?”

  “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. You know that,” I assured him, referring to his trip to Portland for the symphony performance.

  “Ah well, one can’t be too sure these days, what with pervy British guys lurking around and all…” he teased, tightening his arms around me.

  “He’s not a perv! And, actually, that’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about…” I pulled out of his embrace, suddenly feeling way too warm. “Listen, Ry…you are my absolute best friend. You always will be. So don’t ever forget that, okay?” I looked up straight into his bright mercury eyes so that he could feel my sincerity.

  “Ditto. But be honest with me. What’s going on with this guy? He your boyfriend now?” he asked, not hiding his disgust from his voice. He walked through the curtain of long willow branches to sit down against the trunk.

  “I don’t know. And that is being honest. I’m not really sure what we are…” I furrowed my eyebrows, realizing this was a whole new experience for me. I didn’t know how it worked. I had thought we were only friends, if even that, but...were we dating now? I guessed I expected something entirely different. I mean, I wasn’t crazy, I knew the whole boy asking the girl to go "steady" was outdated. But did kissing twice qualify as becoming a couple nowadays? Maybe it did. Or maybe it was that plus all the other things we’d been through together that solidified our relationship.

  I really didn’t know. I’d seen so many couples flip-flop between each other at school, kissing one person to the next. Dating seemed like such a casual thing to other people. What if Mycah felt that way, too? What if I was just a warm body who happened to be around during his heightened hormonal periods? I took health class; I was no fool to how teenage bodies worked.

  He had never officially told me how he felt about me—if he felt anything serious or not—and I had never told him either. We were kind of only around each other because these strange, bad things kept happening to the both of us. Did that qualify us as friends? Did that qualify us as dating? I seriously had no clue...and my brain was constantly reminding me that I shouldn’t want us to be dating, like a billboard with the words "Swore Off All Men - Remember?" wouldn’t stop flashing.

  “Well you know how I feel about him. Something isn’t right. I really wish you would heed my warning and stay away, Nari,” Rydan reprimanded as he stood up and went back to practicing archery.

  “I know, I know…and you’re right. There are some strange things about Mycah I can’t explain. I don’t know what to think or do about it all,” I admitted, understanding completely where Rydan was coming from. A small part of my brain—way, way in the back—told me I needed to stay away. But I had to believe it was because Mycah was keeping me in the dark in addition to all the danger he brought, and until he finally fessed up about everything that was going on, I could never really be sure I would be able to trust him.

  “What are you talking about? What strange things?” Rydan demanded on full alarm, lowering his bow. Crap. Me and my big mouth…

  “Nothing. He just doesn’t tell me much about his life, that’s all,” I tried to cover my mistake. “Actually, a lot like you are about keeping your life secret. You do the same thing to me, Rydan. You barely tell me anything important about yourself.”

  “You know enough,” he snapped. I hit the mark.

  “No, I don’t. I know there is so much you don’t tell me. Like, the real reason behind why you are vegetarian. And the constant sadness behind your eyes. What about the way you tried so hard to not show how freaked you were about dreaming? Don’t think I don’t notice all those things. I always do. I just don’t say anything because I hope that one day you’ll actually trust me enough to tell me all on your own.” I could feel myself going too far, getting closer and closer to the line, but wasn’t able to keep myself from jumping over it. “But you never do. You never tell me anything. You just keep me at arm's length and I have to sit back in the dark not knowing anything significant about you. Why should I even trust you if you don’t trust me?”

  I stopped myself then as soon as that sentence left my mouth. Where had that come from? I didn’t mean to turn my anger out on Rydan. I had no reason to be upset with him. He stared at me, completely stoic, masking any emotion. Regret began to fill my stomach, and although some of it was true, I knew there were reasons behind it. I never wanted to push him like that.

  “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said all that. I know you have your reasons. I’m sorry.” I closed the distance between us in two long strides and threw my arms around his waist.

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

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