Falling into You, Page 13Jasinda Wilder
“Let me go!” She growls.
“Let me f**king go, Colton. ” Her voice is tiny, scared, vulnerable, and vehement.
“You let go. ”
“Why?” A hitch in her voice.
“Because holding on to it is killing you. ”
“Good. ” She’s still struggling, thrashing against my hold.
“‘There’s a shortage of perfect br**sts in this world. It would be a pity to ruin yours. ’”
She stops thrashing and laughs. “Did you just quote The Princess Bride at me?”
She laughs, and the laugh turns into a sob, quickly choked off.
I sigh. “Fine. How ‘bout I start?” I really don’t want to do this. “When I came to New York, I was seventeen. I had five dollars in my pocket, a backpack full of clothes, a package of Ritz crackers, a can of Coke, and nothing else. I knew no one. I had a high school diploma, barely, and I knew I could fix any engine put in front of me. I spent the first day I got off the bus looking for a mechanic garage trying to find a job. No one would even let me apply. I hadn’t eaten in two days. I slept on a bench in Central Park that night, at least till the cops made me move. ”
I have her interest, now. She’s still in my arms, staring up at me. I’m speaking to the ceiling, because her eyes are too piercing.
“I nearly starved to death, to be honest. I knew nothing. I’d grown up privileged, you know my dad, how much my parents have. I’d never even had to make my own food, wash my own clothes. Suddenly, I’m alone in this insane city where no one gives a shit about anyone else. Dog eat dog, and all that. ”
“How’d you survive?”
“I got in a fight. ” I laugh. “I had a nice little spot to sleep beneath a bridge, and this old bum comes along and says it’s his spot and I have to move. Well, I hadn’t really slept in days, and I wasn’t about to move. So we fought. It was sloppy and nasty, since I was hungry and tired and scared and he was old and tough and hard, but I won. Turns out this guy was watching the whole thing. He came up to me after I won and asks if I wanted to make a quick hundred bucks. I didn’t even hesitate. He brings me to this old warehouse in a shitty part of I don’t even know where. A back alley in Long Island, maybe. He feeds me, gives me a cold beer. I was a new man after that. He brings me down into the basement of this warehouse where there’s a bunch of people in a circle, cheering and shit. I hear the sounds of a fight. ”
Nell gasps, and I can tell she knows where this is going.
“Yeah. I won. The guy I fought was huge, but slow. I’d been in my share of trouble in high school, so I knew how to fight. This guy was just big and strong, no technique. I did three fights that night, all in a row. Took an awful beating in the last one, but I won. Made four hundred bucks, and that was how I started. Then I met Split. He was at one of the fights, and offered me job, sort of. Said he needed someone to be muscle for him, collecting debts, be scary. Well, I could do scary. So I went with Split and I…well, it wasn’t bare knuckle prize fighting. Intimidation, mostly. People owed him for favors, for drugs…I’d solve the problem. That’s how I met Split, how I ended up in the Five-One Bishops. ”
“Yes, Nell. A gang. ” I sigh. “They were my family. My friends. They fed me, gave me a bed to sleep in. Gave me booze to drink and pot to smoke and girls to roll. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I’m not proud of some of the shit I did, but those guys, they were tight. Honorable, most of ‘em, in their own way. They’d never, ever betray me, no matter what. They’d back my play, no questions asked. Even now, years out of the game, living clean and honest, working for myself, if I called them, they’d come, and they wouldn’t flinch to do whatever I asked. ”
“Like Split, today. ”
I nod against her hair. “Exactly. ”
“Tell me the truth, Colton. Where did he take Dan?”
I shrug. “I honestly don’t know. I told him I didn’t want to know. I told Split I didn’t want a body on my conscience though, but I also didn’t want you to ever have to worry about Dan again. So forget him. ”
A long silence, and I knew she was formulating a question. “Do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Have bodies on your conscience?”
I don’t answer. “Does it matter?”
“Yes. To me it does. ”
“Yes. I do. ” I hesitate for a long moment. “You can’t understand that life, Nell. You just can’t. It was survival. ”
“I guess I can get that. ”
She sighs. “I don’t understand why you came here alone with no money. What about college? Why didn’t your parents help you? Do they know about how you survived?”
I shake my head and examine my knuckles. “That’s a different conversation. ”
“Yes,” I say. “Your turn. ”
“You know the story, Colton. Kyle died. ”
I growl low in my chest. “There’s more. ” I lift her wrist to trace the scars there. “That’s not enough to make you do this. ”
She doesn’t answer for so long I wonder if she fell asleep. Eventually she speaks, and when she does it’s raw whisper. I barely breathe, not daring to interrupt.
“We were up north. Your parent’s cabin. We’d been dating for over two years, and we were so excited to be taking a vacation together, like adults. Your parents and mine gave Kyle and I the talk about being careful, even though we’d been sleeping together for almost two years by that point. Until then it seemed to be don’t ask don’t tell, I guess. I don’t know. But we had a great time. Swimming, sitting by the fire, having sex. I…god…god…I can’t. ” She’s struggling so hard against her emotions. I comb my fingers through her hair and scratch her back. She continues, her voice tight, but a bit stronger. “Sunday, the last day, it was stormy. Rain so hard you couldn’t see shit, windy as hell. I mean, I’ve never seen wind like that, ever, before or since. Those huge pine trees around the cabin were bent nearly double. ”
She pauses, panting as if exhausted, then continues in a much softer and more vulnerable voice. “A tree fell. It should have hit me…it almost did hit me. I saw it falling towards me, and I couldn’t move. Some of the nightmares, it’s that moment I see, over and over again, the tree coming for me. Those are the nice and easy nightmares. A split second before it hit me, Kyle knocked me out of the way. I mean, he straight up football tackled me. Knocked me flying. I landed on my arm. I don’t remember hitting the ground, but I remember coming to and feeling pain like a white wave, and seeing bones sticking out of my forearm, the whole bone bent almost at a ninety degree angle. ” I barely hear the next words. “I should have died. He saved me. It hit him instead. Broke him. Just…fucking shattered him. A branch broke and—and impaled him. I can still see the blood coming out of his mouth…bubbling on his lips like froth. His breath…it whistled. He—I watched him die. I didn’t even know the address of the house, and he, he told me the address as he died for the ambulance that wouldn’t get there until after he was dead. I ripped my fingernails off trying to move the damn tree. I broke my arm worse when I fell in the mud. That’s the worst dream-memory: lying in the mud, watching him die. Watch—watching the light go out of his eyes. His beautiful chocolate brown eyes. The last words he said were ‘I love you. ’”
I don’t dare speak. She’s shaking so hard I’m worried it was almost a seizure. She’ll break soon.
“The other thing I see, every goddamn night, is his shoe. We’d gone to dinner at that fancy Italian place. He had on his dress shoes. Black leather. Stupid little tassels on the front. I hated those shoes. When the tree hit him, it hit so hard his shoe was knocked clean off. I see that shoe, in the mud. Smeared with brown mud, like shit. I see that one stupid f**king shoe, with the tassels. ”
I have to say it. She’s gonna get mad, but
I have to say it. “It wasn’t your fault. ”
“DON’T SAY THAT! YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW!” She shrieked it in my ear, so loud my ears ring.
“Then tell me,” I whisper.
“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. ” She’s shaking her head, twisting it side to side, a refusal to break. “It was my fault. I killed him. ” A sob, then a full, unchecked sob.
“Bullshit. He saved you. He loved you. You didn’t kill him. ”
“You don’t understand. I did kill him. We were arguing. If I had just said yes, he’d be alive. You don’t understand. You don’t—don’t. Can’t know. No one knows. If I’d just said yes, he’d be alive. But I said no. ”
“Said yes to what?”
Shuddering, heaving in ragged breaths, still denying the breakdown, she murmurs the words, and I know they break her, once and for all. “He asked me to marry him. I said no. ”
“You were eighteen. ”
“I know. I know! That’s why I said no. He wanted to go to Stanford, and I wanted to go Syracuse. I would have gone to Stanford with him, just to be with him, but…I couldn’t marry him. I wasn’t ready to be engaged. To get married. ”
“You don’t get it, Colton. You don’t—you don’t get it. ” Hiccups, now, words coming in stutters. “He asked me to marry him, in the car. I got out, angry that he didn’t understand why I said no. He followed me. Stood in the driveway arguing with me. I was on the porch. Minutes like that, him in the driveway, me on the porch. We should’ve gone inside, but we didn’t. The rain had stopped, but the wind was worse than ever. I heard the tree snap. It sounded like cannon going off. ”
“You didn’t kill him, Nell. You didn’t. Saying no didn’t mean—”
“Shut up. Just…shut up. I said no. He thought it meant I didn’t love him, and we wasted so much time out there, in the way of the tree. If I had just said yes, gone inside with him, the tree would have missed us both. Missed me, missed him. He’d be alive. I hesitated, and he died. If I hadn’t frozen, if I had just moved out of the way…one jump to the left or the right. I could have. But I froze. And he saved me…and he—he died. He’s gone, and it’s my fault. ”
“It’s not. ”
“SHUT UP!” She screams it into my chest. “I killed him. He’s gone and it’s my fault…my fault. I want him back. ” This last, a shattered whisper, and I feel—finally—warm wet tears on my chest.
It’s silent, at first. I think maybe she’s waiting to be condemned for weakness. I don’t, of course. I hold her. I don’t tell her it’s okay.
“Get mad,” I say. “Be hurt. Be broken. Cry. ”
She shakes her head, tiny side to side twisting of her neck, a denial, a futile refusal. Futile, because she’s already crying. The high-pitched whining at first, high in her throat. Keening.
I once saw a baby kitten in an alley sitting next to it’s mother. The mama cat was dead, of age or something, I don’t know. The kitten was pawing at the mama’s shoulder and mewling, this nonstop sound that was absolutely heartbreaking, heartrending. It was a sound that said What do I do? How do I live? How can I go on?
This sound, from Nell, is that. But infinitely worse. It’s so f**king soul-searing I can’t breathe for the pain it causes me to hear. Because I can’t do a goddamn thing except hold her.
She starts rocking in my arm, clutching my bare shoulders so hard she’s gonna break the skin, but I don’t care, because it means she’s not hurting herself. Now it’s long jagged sobs, wracking her entire body, and god, she’s got two years worth of pent-up tears coming out all at once. It’s violent.
I don’t even know how long she sobs. Time ceases to pass, and she cries, cries, cries. Clutches me and makes these sounds of a soul being ripped in two, the grief so long denied taking its toll.
Fermented grief is far more potent.
My chest is slick with her tears. My shoulders are bruised. I’m stiff and sore from holding her, motionless. I’m exhausted. None of this matters. I’ll hold her until she passes out.
Finally the sobs subside and she’s just crying softly. Now it’s time to comfort.
I only know one way; I sing:
“Quiet your crying voice, lost child.
Let no plea for comfort pass your lips.
You’re okay, now.
You’re okay, now.
Don’t cry anymore, dry your eyes.
Roll the pain away, put it down on the ground and leave it for the birds.
Suffer no more, lost child.
Stand and take the road, move on and seal the hurt behind the miles.
It’s not alright, it’s not okay.
I know, I know.
The night is long, it’s dark and cruel.
I know, I know.
You’re not alone. You’re not alone.
You are loved. You are held.
Quiet your crying voice, lost child.
You’re okay, now.
You’re okay, now.
Just hold on, one more day.
Just hold on, one more hour.
Someone will come for you.
Someone will hold you close.
I know, I know.
It’s not okay, it’s not alright.
But if you just hold on,
One more day, one more hour.
It will be. It will be. ”
Nell is silent, staring at me with limpid gray-green eyes like moss-flecked stone. She heard every word, heard the cry of lost boy.
“Did you write that?” She asks. I nod, my chin scraping the top of her scalp. “For who?”
“God, Colton. ” Her voice is hoarse from sobbing, raspy. Sexy. “That’s so sad. ”
“It’s how I felt at the time. ” I shrug. “I had no one to comfort me, so I wrote a song to do it myself. ”
“Did it work?”
I huff at the ridiculousness of the question. “If I sang it enough, I’d eventually be able to fall asleep, so yeah, kind of. ”
I finally glance down at her, actually look into her eyes. It’s a mistake. She’s wide-eyed, intent, full of heartbreak and sadness and compassion. Not pity. I’d flip my shit if I saw pity in her eyes, just like she would if she saw it in me.
Compassion and pity are not the same: pity is looking down on someone, feeling sorry for them and offering nothing; compassion is seeing their pain and offering them understanding.
She’s so goddamn beautiful. I’m lost in her eyes, unable to look away. Her lips, red, chapped, pursed, as if begging me to kiss her, are too close to ignore. I’m suddenly aware of her body against mine, her full br**sts crushed against me, her leg, one round thigh, pale as whitest cream, draped over mine. Her palm, long fingers slightly curled, rests on my shoulder, and lightning sizzles my skin where she touches me. I’m not breathing. Literally, my breath is stuck in my throat, blocked by my heart, which has taken up residence in my trachea.
I want to kiss her. Need to. Or I might never breathe again.
I’m an ass**le, so I kiss her. She deserves ultimate gentility, and my lips are feathers against hers, ghosting across hers. I can feel every ridge and ripple of her lips, they’re chapped and cracked and rough from crying, from thirst. I moisten them with my own lips, kiss each lip individually. First the upper, caressing it with both of mine, tasting, touching. She breathes a sigh.
I think I’m okay, I think she wants this. I was honestly terrified at first she’d wig out, slap me, scramble away. Tell me she couldn’t stomach a kiss from a blood-soaked monster like me. I don’t deserve her, but I’m an ass**le, a selfish bastard, so I take what I can get from her, and try to make sure I give her the best I’ve got.
She doesn’t kiss me back, though. She shifts on my body, and her curled fingers tighten on my ch
est, but her mouth? She just waits, and lets me claim her mouth with mine. I take her lower lip in my teeth, ever so gently. My palm, my rough and callused paw is grazing her cheek, smoothing a wayward curl back behind her ear. She lets me. Foolish girl. Letting a brute like me kiss her, touch her. I’m afraid the grease under my nails will mar her skin, worried the blood that has been soaked into my bones will seep out of my pores and sully her ivory skin.
She nuzzles her face into my palm. She opens her mouth into mine, kisses me back. Oh, heaven. I mean, goddamn, the girl can kiss. My breath never really left my throat, and now it rushes out of me in disbelief that she’s letting this happen, that she’s actively taking part.
I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m a nice guy. I’m not good. I just held her when she cried. I couldn’t do anything else.
I end the kiss before it can turn into something else. She just looks at me, lips slightly parted, wet like cherries now and so, so red. Oh, f**k, I can’t resist going in for another kiss, from letting some shred of my raging hunger for her beauty show through in my kiss. She returns it with equal fervor, moving so she’s more fully on top of me, and she doesn’t stop me when my hand drifts down her scalp, down her nape, down her back, rests on the small just above the swell of her ass. I don’t dare touch her there.
This is insane. What the hell am I doing? She just bawled her eyes out, sobbed for hours. She’s seeking comfort, seeking forgetting. I can’t have her like this.
I pull away again, slide out from beneath her.
“Where are you going?” She asks.
“I can’t breathe when you kiss me like that. When you let me kiss you. It’s…I’m no good. No good for you. It’d be taking advantage of you. ” I shake my head and turn away from the confusion in her eyes, the disappointment. I retreat, squeezing my hands into fists, angry with myself. She needs better than me.
I grab my guitar, rip it from the soft case, and head for the rickety, creaking, outside stair to the roof, a bottle of Jameson in hand. I plop down on the busted-ass weather-beaten blue Lay-Z-Boy I lugged up here for this purpose, twist the top off the bottle and slug it hard. I kick back with my feet up on the roof ledge and watch the gray-to-pink haze of onrushing dawn, guitar on my belly, plucking strings.
Finally, I sit forward and start working on the song I’ve been learning: “This Girl” by City & Colour. I regret it immediately, because the lyrics remind me of what I don’t deserve with Nell. But it’s an intoxicating song, so I get lost in it nonetheless and it barely registers when I hear her on the stairs.
“You are so talented, Colton,” she says, when I’m done.
I roll my eyes. “Thanks. ”
She’s got her jeans back on, and one of my spare guitars in her hand. There’s a battered orange loveseat perpendicular to the Lay-Z-Boy, and she settles cross-legged onto it, cradling her guitar on her lap.
“Play something for me,” I say.
She shrugs self-consciously. “I suck. I only know a couple songs. ”
I frown at her. “You sing like a f**king angel. Seriously. You have the sweetest, clearest voice I’ve ever heard. ”
“I can’t play the guitar for crap, though. ” She’s strumming, though, even as she says this.