Sempre redemption, p.47
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.47

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 47


  Despite herself, Haven blushed at that.

  They chatted casually as they walked—about the cat, about school, even about the weather. It took nearly a half hour for them to reach Haven’s neighborhood, although she usually made the walk in half that time.

  “I’m sorry that took so long,” Haven said, stopping in front of her brownstone when they arrived.

  “I didn’t mind,” he replied, shrugging. “Didn’t have much else to do. ”

  “What about work? Didn’t they expect you back?”

  “I make my own hours, so it isn’t a big deal. I come and go as I please. ”

  She gazed at him curiously. He genuinely sounded like he didn’t mind. “You know, you’re really nice. Not many people would’ve done what you did. ”

  “Did it make you like me just a little more?”

  She laughed. “Maybe. ”

  “I can tell,” he said, smirking. “You actually let me walk you home. ”

  Haven stared at him with surprise. It hadn’t struck her until that moment. As many times as she had refused, she finally let him walk her home without him even having to ask.

  Before Haven could respond, the front door of the brownstone flung open and Kelsey appeared, talking loudly into her cell phone. She looked at the two of them, her expression lighting up with surprise, before her attention went back to her call. Her gaze darted past them, scanning the street, before she started frantically waving. “You see me? Yeah, there. Find a parking spot. ”

  She hung up and squealed. “Hey, guys! What are you up to?”

  Haven held the cat up. “I found this, so Gavin went with me to the vet. ”

  “Then I walked her home. ” Arrogance oozed from his voice. Haven rolled her eyes at him as Kelsey cooed and petted the tiny animal. “I was just leaving, though. ”

  Kelsey’s attention switched from the cat to Gavin instantly. “Leaving? No way! I have some friends over . . . we were going to have a few drinks and hang out. You should totally join us. Both of you. ”

  Haven shook her head, but Gavin’s smug smile grew infinitely. “Really?”

  “Yes, really,” Kelsey said. “It’ll be fun. ”

  Kelsey’s friends appeared then, a few Haven vaguely recognized, but none she really knew. They were sociable, while Haven preferred to keep to herself. They disappeared inside, gathering in the second floor apartment.

  Raising his eyebrows, Gavin stared at her questioningly, awaiting a reaction. “Are you going to invite me inside?”

  She shrugged slowly. “Kelsey already invited you. ”

  “But I didn’t come here for Kelsey, so I’m not going in unless you invite me. ”

  Haven considered that, unsure of how to respond. It had been a long day and she really wanted to take a bath and maybe read a book, but when the music started upstairs, so loud it rattled the windows, Haven knew she wouldn’t be getting any peace anyway.

  “Fine. ” Go with the flow, she told herself. Live a little. “Let’s go upstairs. ”

  “What kind of invitation is that?”

  “The only kind you’re getting. ”

  Gavin laughed, holding open the front door politely and pressing his hand gently against her back. Bypassing her apartment, she headed up the stairs, acutely aware of Gavin’s eyes on her as he walked behind her. It made her skin prickle as her stomach churned from nerves.

  Kelsey’s apartment, identical to the one below it when stripped down to its core, looked like an entirely different world. Everything was brand-new and bright, expensive furniture filling every room while elaborate artwork hung on the walls. Haven gingerly took a seat in the first spot she came across, a tan leather chair with wide, plush arms. She kicked her shoes off and tucked her feet under her, protectively holding the sleeping kitten in her lap, while Gavin casually positioned himself on the arm of her chair.

  It took only seconds before Kelsey thrust drinks at the two of them. Haven took the spiked lemonade with a polite smile while Gavin eyed the bottle of bright yellow alcohol with aversion. “Yeah, I can’t drink this shit,” he mumbled to himself.

  “I’m sure she has other stuff,” Haven said, pointing across the room. “The kitchen’s over there. You can help yourself. Kelsey won’t mind. ”

  He stood up, looking down at her. “Are you going to drink it?”

  “I guess,” she said. “I might as well. ”

  Gavin strolled away, stealthily handing the bottle back to Kelsey as he made his way to her kitchen. Haven watched him curiously, taking a moment to admire the way he seamlessly infused himself into a group. Poised and confident, he spoke to strangers as if they were friends.

  Envy pecked at her, sudden and unexpected. Was it jealousy that he was sharing himself with others, or jealousy at the way he seemed to effortlessly fit in? She thought it was the latter, but the sheer possibility that she might yearn to keep him to herself filled her with uneasiness.

  Gavin returned with a red plastic cup and retook his spot on the arm of her chair. He took a sip of his drink and smiled. “Better. ”

  “What is it?” she asked curiously, peeking into his cup. “Beer?”

  “Mountain Dew. ”

  Haven took a sip of hers, puckering her lips. “You don’t drink?”

  “Yes. ” He smiled playfully. “I drink water, milk, and pop. ”

  “But not alcohol?”

  “I don’t make a habit of it,” he replied.

  “I don’t drink, either,” she said, elaborating when his brow furrowed. “Well, not usually. I’m not old enough. ”

  “Well, I am old enough, but I prefer to keep my wits about me. ”

  Haven surveyed him as he sipped from his cup. His smooth skin showed no sign of age, his eyes bright and encouraging, his smile genuine. He had had a good life—that much was clear—but small scars on his hands told her he had fought for it.

  Gavin looked at her as if he could sense her gaze. “What?”

  “How old are you?” she asked.

  “Twenty-six. ”

  “Wow, that’s—”

  “Old?” he guessed.

  She laughed. “No, I was going to say that’s kind of young to be a manager. ”

  Gavin’s brow furrowed. “Manager?”

  “At the construction site. You work in that little office. You said you supervised things, right?”

  His face lit up with understanding. “Ah, yeah. Well, what I do is less about your résumé and more about your references . . . if that makes sense. ”

  Haven nodded. “It does. ” It was precisely how she had gotten where she was, how she had been admitted into school and settled into New York. Corrado had pulled strings, bypassing policies to manipulate the system to his benefit.

  Haven nursed her drink as she mused over that. Despite the fact that she sipped slowly, she could feel the alcohol taking affect after only a few minutes, relaxing her back into the seat as her eyelids drooped a bit. Buzzing, her head swam as her body tingled, warming slightly under Gavin’s intense gaze. He remained perched on the arm of the chair, his attention unwavering.

  She excused herself when her drink was empty and grabbed another from the refrigerator, taking a moment to clear her head before returning back to the others. They were playing a game, their laughter bouncing through the apartment and mixing with the music. She sat down again and had just opened her bottle when Kelsey’s voice rang out above the others. “Play with us!”

  Haven looked up, her eyes connecting with her friend’s. “Play what?”

  “Never have I ever,” Kelsey said. “Come on, it’s easy. We take turns saying things we haven’t done, and everyone who has done it has to take a drink. ”

  The blood rushed to Haven’s cheeks as everyone looked at her. She peeked at Gavin, hoping to divert the attention away from herself. He shrugged. “Sure, why not. ”

  Everyone migrated to the small living room, a dozen of them gathering around, and the music
was turned down so they could hear the declarations called out one by one. Never have I ever had sex in the house with a parent home. Never have I ever been high. Never have I ever had a fake ID. Never have I ever gotten drunk at a school dance. Never have I ever driven a car without a license. The others laughed, trading playful jabs and reminiscing about shared experiences, while Haven quietly took sip after sip.

  She found herself drinking more than she had expected to, given how sheltered a life she had lived. She realized, as the alcohol gradually seeped into her bloodstream, intoxication taking over her mind and loosening her hold on her emotions, exactly how many experiences Carmine had unknowingly exposed her to. Their lives had been anything but normal, their love anything but average, but he had managed to show her the same world everyone else knew, the world she had always yearned to be a part of, the one she thought she had only just stepped into.

  The game grew more intense as it went on, the statements cruder. Haven didn’t drink so much then, but she was already past the point of no return. Gavin played along, steadily sipping his soda to things that made Haven even blush to imagine. He chuckled at her reactions, smiling guiltily at the questions in her eyes.

  “Never have I ever been in handcuffs,” someone called out.

  Bottle halfway to her lips, Haven hesitated as she thought of Dr. DeMarco and the day he had bound her to her bed as punishment. She took a quick drink and Gavin cocked an eyebrow at her as he took his own sip. “Don’t ask,” she muttered, shaking her head. He didn’t want to know.

  A few more were thrown out, raunchy ones that gave her a quick reprieve from the alcohol, before someone shouted, “Never have I ever seen a dead body!”

  The room erupted in laughter, others rolling their eyes at the absurdity, but Haven blanched as visions flashed through her mind of the death, and chaos, and destruction she’d seen. She saw Number 33, the lifeless blue eyes that still haunted her, the blood pooling around the young girl’s blonde hair.

  Closing her eyes, she took a long pull from her bottle, downing the rest of her drink as she tried to clear the memory away. And maybe she had imagined it, or maybe it was purely coincidence, but when she reopened her eyes, Haven noticed that Gavin, too, had taken a sip from his cup.

  The game came to a stopping point, people dispersing for more alcohol as the music was turned up again. Gavin let out a long sigh, glancing at his watch as he stood. “It’s getting late. ”

  Haven glanced around for a clock, but her vision was too blurry to make out the numbers. She climbed to her feet, still holding the sleeping cat, and swayed a bit. Gavin grasped her elbow to steady her, taking both the empty bottle and the kitten.

  “We should get you home,” he said quietly. “You’re drunk. ”

  Despite Kelsey’s objections, Gavin led Haven from the apartment. He helped her down the stairs, pausing in the foyer outside of her apartment door as she fumbled with her keys. “Thanks again for tonight. I’ll see you Monday. ”

  She turned away, but he reached out to stop her. “See me sooner. ”

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