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Falling into You, Page 12

Jasinda Wilder

She laughs, a tinkling giggle that makes me smile into her hair. “So. Are you gonna show me your shop?”

  “It’s four in the morning. We’re in Tribeca and my shop is in Queens. The far side of Queens. Plus, I don’t have a car here. I walked here from the bar. ”

  “You walked here? You’re crazy! That’s like twenty blocks. ”

  I shrug. “I like to walk. ”

  “So we’ll take a cab. ”

  “You really want to see my shop that bad?”

  “Yeah. And I really don’t want to be here. ” She shudders again, remembering.

  “Well then, you’ll need pants. ”

  She does the giggle again, which I decide call the Tinkerbell giggle. “Nah. Pants are for sissies. ” She pulls away and disappears into her room. “No peeking this time, Pervy McGee. ”

  “Then close your door, dumbass. ”

  The door slams in response, and I laugh. I’m glad she can laugh. It means she really is coping. I know she’s internalizing a lot, though. Putting on a show for me. She’ll have new scars on her wrists soon.

  She comes out in a pair of jeans and purple V-neck T-shirt. I have to keep my gaze moving so I don’t stare. She doesn’t need my desire, right now. Maybe not ever. She grabs her purse from the counter where I’d set it after cleaning up.

  I extend my hand to her. “Come on, Tinkerbell. ”

  She takes my hand, then pauses at the nickname. “Tinkerbell?”

  “Your laugh. That little giggle you do. It reminds me of Tinkerbell. ” I shrug.

  She does the giggle by accident, then claps a hand over her mouth. “Damn it. Now you have me self-conscious. You can call me Tinkerbell, though. ”

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  “Don’t be self-conscious. I think it’s cute. ”

  She wrinkles her nose at me as she locks her door behind us. “Cute? Is that a good thing?”

  I lift an eyebrow at her. “There’s a lot of words I could think of for you. Let’s just go with cute for now. ”

  “What’s that mean?” She’s holding my hand platonic-style, palm in palm.

  I flag a passing cab with a lit sign and we slide in. I give him my address and watch him put it into a Tom Tom. When we’re moving and the wavery tones of the driver’s Arabic music floats over us, I turn to Nell.

  “Sure you want to ask that?”

  She lifts her chin. “Yes. ”

  “You’re a lot of things, Nell Hawthorne. You’re complex. You’re cute. You’re lovely. You’re funny. You’re strong. You’re beautiful. ” She seems to be struggling with words and emotions. I keep going. “You’re tortured. You’re hurting. You’re amazing. You’re talented. You’re sexy as f**k. ”

  “Sexy as f**k?” She tilts her head, a small grin tipping her lips.

  “Yep. ”

  “Is that more or less than sexy as hell?”

  “More. A lot more. ”

  She just nods. “You’re sweet. But we must not see the same person when we look at me. ”

  “That’s probably true. ” I look down at our joined hands, then back to her. I shift my fingers, twine mine in hers. “What do you see when you look at yourself?”

  “Weak. Scared. Drunk. Angry. Ugly. Running. ” She turns away from me as she says this, staring out the window. “I see nothing. No one. ”

  I know there aren’t words to change how she feels, so I don’t offer any. I just hold her hand and let the silence extend through the blocks.

  She turns to me, eventually. “Why don’t you argue with me when I say shit like that? Why don’t you try to convince me of my own worth and all that bullshit?”

  “Would it work?” I ask. She narrows her eyes, then shakes her head. I shrug. “Well, there you go. That’s why. I can tell you what I see. I can tell you what I know about you. I can tell how I feel. I can show you what you really are. But arguing with you won’t accomplish anything. I think we’ve both had our share of people trying to fix us. It doesn’t work. We can only fix ourselves. Let ourselves heal. ”

  “But I’m not any of what you said. I’m just not. And I can’t heal myself. I can’t…I can’t be fixed. ”

  “You’re committed to being broken forever?”

  “Goddamn it, Colton. Why are you doing this? You don’t know me. ”

  “I want to. ” It’s the answer to both of her statements.

  Chapter 8: Fermented Grief

  We arrive at my shop, an old garage with the door facing an alley, a little apartment above. I pull my keys from my pocket, open the side door to the shop, and snap on the lights.

  Cracked, stained concrete floor, hanging, flickering fluorescent lights in warped cages, stack after stack of red and silver tool chests along the walls, counters with more tools hanging from hooks, chains from the ceiling suspending engines, the metal frame of a ’66 Mustang Shelby GT, a couple huge gray plastic garbage cans and overflowing ashtrays and abandoned beer bottles and pizza boxes…

  “It’s not much, but it’s mine. ” I laugh. “It’s really, really not much. I can’t believe I brought you here. It’s so dirty and ugly. ”

  I’m seeing it for the first time, in a way. I’ve never brought a girl here before. I’ve girls to my place before, but they never want to see the shop; they’re only interested in the bed. I look around, seeing what she must see.

  Then she surprises me. “I love it. It…feels like home. It’s a place that you obviously love. ”

  I stare at her. “It is home. I may sleep upstairs, but this garage is home. More than you know. ”

  I think of all the times I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor where the Mustang is now, before the apartment upstairs was renovated to be livable. I bought this place for pittance, because it was dump. Rejected, abandoned, unwanted. Like me. I fixed it up. Made it mine.

  She lets go of my hand and wanders around the shop, pulling open drawers and examining tools, which look bulky and awkward and dirty in her clean, delicate hands. She always puts the tools back exactly where they were. I wonder if she realizes how anal I am about, or if she’s just polite. Probably just polite. We really don’t know each other at all. She couldn’t know about my OCD about the tools.

  “Show me what you do,” She says.

  I shrug. I point at the engine. “That engine there. ” I walk over and run my finger around the opening of a piston. “I bought it at a junkyard a few weeks ago. It was rusted and dirty and ruined, basically. It was in an old car that had been in a wreck, rear-ended and totaled. A ’77 Barracuda. I took the engine, fixed the parts I could fix, replaced the ones I couldn’t. I took it apart completely, down to components. ”

  I pull the tarp off a long, wide table in a corner, showing a dissected motor, each part laid out in a very specific pattern. “Like this. Then I put it all back together, one piece at a time, until you see it there. It’s almost done. Just gotta install a few more parts and it’s done, ready to be put into a car. ”

  She looks from the table to the reassembled motor. “So you turned that—” she points at the pieces on the table, “into that?”

  I shrug. “Yeah. Those are completely different engines, but yeah. ”

  “That’s amazing. How do you know where all the different parts go? How to fix them?”

  I laugh. “Lots of experience. I know from having done it a million times. All engines are basically the same, just with little differences that make each kind of engine unique. I took my first motor apart when I was…thirteen? Of course, once I got it apart, I couldn’t get it back together again, but that was part of the learning process. I tinkered with that f**ked-up engine for months, figuring out how the thing worked, which parts went where and what they did and how to get them back in. Eventually I did get it back together and running, but it took me like, I don’t know, more than a year of dicking around with it every day. I took it apart again, and put it back together after that. Over and over again, until I c
ould do it without stopping to think about what came next. ”

  She tilts her head. “Where’d you get the engine?”

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  I stare up at the ceiling, trying to remember. “Hmm. I think I bought it off the shop teacher at the high school. I’d saved my allowance for months. ” She still looks confused and I laugh. “I had a tutor at the high school after classes ended at the middle school. I happened to walk by the shop one day and saw the engine and something just clicked as I watched the shop instructor, Mr. Boyd, puttering with it. He ended up being one of my best friends until I moved out here. ”

  Nell is peering at me as if seeing me for the first time. “You had a tutor?”

  I wince, wishing she’d have missed that part. “Yeah. I wasn’t very good at the whole school thing. ”

  I turn away and throw the tarp over the table and lead her to the private stairway leading to my apartment. It’s my way of politely indicating I don’t want to talk about it, and she seems to get the message.

  Saying I wasn’t very good at the school thing was a huge understatement, but she doesn’t need to know that. I’m hoping to avoid the subject as long as I can.

  My apartment isn’t much. A galley kitchen I can barely fit in—like, I can’t have the stove and the cabinets opposite open at the same time, not that I ever use the stove, but still—a living room in which I can just about touch all four walls standing in the center, and a bedroom that contains my queen bed and nothing else. All my clothes are in the dresser, which is in the living room, and the dresser also doubles as the TV stand. Not that I ever really watch TV.

  I throw my arm out to gesture at the apartment. “It’s even less than the shop, but it’s home. I’d say I would give you the ten cent tour, but I’d need to give you nine and a half cents back. ”

  She laughs, the Tinkerbell giggle, and my heart lifts. But even with all the normalcy, the questions, the interest, I can see her fighting for calm. She hides it well, hides it like a pro. It’s buried deep, thrust down under the surface.

  I respect the hell out of her for how hard she’s working to be okay. I just wish she’d let me show her how to let go, how to let herself hurt. I want to take her pain.

  She’s plopped down onto the couch, and I can see the exhaustion in her eyes, in her posture. I leave her sitting on the couch, head back, legs splayed out. Making sure my room isn’t a complete pigsty, I change the sheets and add an extra blanket, then go back out to tell her she can crash in my bed. She’s already passed out in the position she sat down in. I lift her easily. She’s light as a feather, like an actual, factual fairy, made of glass and magic and fragile porcelain and deceptive strength. I set her in the bed, tug off her shoes, then debate whether to take her pants off for her or not.

  Selfishly enough, I decide to go for it. I mean, I know I hate sleeping in pants, so I can’t imagine she does either. I pop the button, slide the zipper down, grip the denim at her hips and pull. She wriggles, lifts her hips, and I pull them down to her knees. The sight of her thighs and her pale cream skin is almost too much for me to take, especially with her tiny yellow thong, barely disguising the tender V in which I want so desperately to bury my face, my body. I can’t help my fingers from tracing a featherlight line across her thigh, just a brief touch, but too much. And not nearly enough.

  I jerk myself away and scrub my hands over my face, through my hair, fighting for control.

  I turn back, close my eyes and peel her jeans off the rest of the way.

  As I’m in the process of pulling them past her toes, she speaks, muzzy and sleepy and ridiculously goddamn cute. “You’ve already seen me in my panties. Why the shy guy now?”

  I settle the blankets at her neck, and she presses them down with her elbows on the outside, staring up at me with long fluttering lashes and tangled strawberry blond hair wisping across her perfect features. I back away before I give in to the temptation to brush the hair away with my callused fingertips. I can’t read the expression on her face. She just looks so f**king vulnerable, as if all the hurt is coming up and boiling over and she’s barely keeping it in, now that sleep has nearly claimed her.

  “That was an ass**le move,” I say. “I shouldn’t have done that. You were asleep, I didn’t want—”

  “It was sweet,” she says, cutting in over me.

  “I’m a lot of things, Tinkerbell. Sweet ain’t one of them. ” I brush my hand through my hair, a nervous gesture. “I only closed my eyes so I wouldn’t feel you up in your sleep. ”

  Her eyes widen. “You wanted to feel me up?”

  I don’t quite succeed in stifling my laugh of disbelief; she doesn’t understand how bad I want her. Good for her. She can’t know.

  I take a step closer to her, next to the bed, and I just can’t summon the strength to resist. A strand of hair lays across her high, sculpted cheekbone. I brush it away, mentally cursing my weakness.

  “You have no clue, Nell. ” I back away before my mouth or my hands betray me further. “Sleep, and think of blue. ”

  She snorts. “Think of blue?”

  “It’s a technique I learned to keep bad dreams away,” I tell her. “As I fall asleep, I think of blueness. Not things that are blue, just…an endless, all-encompassing sense of blue. Ocean blue, sky blue. ”

  “Blue like your eyes. ” Her voice is unreadably soft.

  I shake my head, smirking. “If that’s what brings you peace, then sure. The point is, think of a soothing color. Picture it floating through you, in you, around you, until you are that color. ” I shrug. “It helped me. ”

  “What do you dream about?” Her eyes are awake, and piercing.

  I turn away and flick the light off, speak facing away from her. “Nothing for you to worry about. Bad things. Old things. ” I turn back to glance at her, and her eyes are heavy again. “Sleep, Nell. ”

  I close the door behind me, and retreat into the kitchen. It’s nearly five in the morning by this point, and I’m beyond exhausted. I was up at seven yesterday finishing a Hemi rebuild, and the guys are going to be here to start working on the ‘Stang around eight. I end up writing a note and leaving it taped to the frame, saying I won’t be in today. They know what to do. Perk of being the boss, I guess. I trudge back up the stairs and slump back on the couch, eyes heavy, but brain whirling.

  I’ll never get to sleep at this rate. I curse under my breath, trying to banish images of Nell’s naked thighs, begging to be caressed. It’s not working.

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  Desperate times call for desperate measures. In the top drawer of my dresser is a little white medicine box. I keep it for times like this, when I can’t sleep, can’t stop thinking. It’s a holdover from the bad old days. I roll a pin-thin joint and smoke it slowly, savoring it. I rarely smoke these days. I don’t even remember the last time, to be honest.

  I gave up hard drinking, gave up cigarettes, gave up pot, gave up a lot of other shit when I decided to get my life straight. But every rare once in a while, a little bit of weed is a necessity. I pinch off the cherry and stow the kit, and I’m finally laying down on the couch, fading away, when I hear it.

  Strained, high-pitched humming. An odd noise, scary, tense. As if she’s struggling with every fiber of her being not to sob, teeth clenched. I can almost see her rocking back and forth, or curled into a fetal position.

  I’m through the door and cradling her in my arms in the space of three heartbeats. She fits on my lap, against my chest, in my arms so perfectly. She’s shuddering, trembling, every muscle flexed. I brush her hair back with my fingers, cup her cheek, feel the tension in her jaw. The noise is coming from deep inside her, dragged up from the bottom of her soul. It breaks my heart. Wrecks me.

  “Nell. Look at me. ” I tip her chin up, and she jerks away, burrows against my chest, as if she wants to climb between my ribs and nestle in the spaces between my heart and my lungs. “Okay, fine. Don’t l
ook at me. But listen. ”

  She shakes her head, and her fingers grip my bicep so hard I’ll have bruises later. She’s crazy strong.

  “It’s not okay,” I tell her. This gets her attention; it’s not what she was expecting. “You don’t have to be okay. ”

  “What do you want from me?” Her voice is ragged, desperate.

  “I want you to let yourself be broken. Let yourself hurt. ”

  She shakes her head again. “I can’t. If I let it out, it’ll never stop. ”

  “Yes it will. ”

  “No it won’t. It won’t. There’s too much. ” She judders, sucks in a fast breath and shakes her head in a fierce denial. “It’ll never stop coming out, and I’ll be empty. ”

  She tries to climb off me, and I let her. She tumbles off the bed, falls to her hands and knees on the floor, scrambles away and stumbles into the bathroom. I hear her vomit, retch, and stifle a sob. I move to stand in the doorway and watch her. She’s got her forearm gripped in clawed fingers, squeezing so hard trickles of blood drip where nails meet flesh.

  Pain to replace pain.

  I step in front of her, take her chin in my hand and force her to look at me. She closes her eyes, jerks away. The sight of her blood makes me panic. I can’t watch her hurt herself. I wrestle with her hand, but she won’t let go, and if I force her, she’ll only hurt herself worse.

  I need to know what’s driving this girl. What’s devouring her.

  “Tell me. ” I whisper the words to her, rough and raw in the unlit bathroom, gray dawn filtering through dirty glass.

  “He’s dead. ”

  “That’s not enough. ”

  “It’s everything. ”

  I sigh, deeply, glare at the top of her head. She feels it, finally looks up at me with red-laced eyes. Sad, haunted, angry eyes.

  “Don’t f**king lie to me, Nell. ” The words are grated and too harsh. I regret them, but keep going. “Tell me. ”

  “No!” She shoves me back so hard I stumble.

  She sinks backward, shrinking down into a ball in front of the toilet, next to the tub. I kneel down, creep forward as if approaching an injured, skittish sparrow. I am, really. She’s clawing her nails up and down her thighs, leaving red, ragged scratch marks. I catch her hands and still them. God, she’s strong. I heave another sigh, then scoop her up into my arms again and carry her into the bedroom.

  I cradle her against me and settle onto the bed, slide down with her until her head pillowed on my chest and I’m holding her tight, squeezing hard, clutching her wrists in one of mine.

  She’s frozen, tensed. I take long, even breaths, stroke her hair with my free hand. Gradually she begins to relax. I count her breaths, feel them even out, and then she’s limp on top of me, sleeping, twitching as she delves into slumber.

  I wait, stay awake, knowing what’s coming.

  She moans, writhes, begins to whimper, and then she’s awake and making that f**king horrible high pitched whining noise in her throat again. I hold her tight, refuse to let go. She struggles against me, waking up.