Falling into you, p.8
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       Falling into You, p.8

         Part #1 of Falling series by Jasinda Wilder
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It took a long, long time to walk the mile home, and my ankle was swollen, throbbing, lances of pain rocketing up my leg and into my hip. I pushed open the front door, ignored my parents in the den, who shot to their feet and called my name. Colton had followed me in.

  “She twisted her ankle,” he told them. “I think it’s sprained. ”

  “Thank you for going with her,” Dad said. I heard the suspicion in his voice as I listened from the top of the stairs.

  “No problem. ” I heard Colton’s foot squeak on the marble, then the door open.

  “I’m sorry for your loss, Colton. ” My mom’s voice.

  “Yeah. ” That was it from him, just that one word, and then the door closed and he was gone. I hobbled into my room, letting myself limp now that I was alone. I shut my door and stripped off my dress, my rain-soaked panties, wrapped plastic around my cast and stepped into the shower. Hot water, scalding on my lower back, scouring away the pain, but not the guilt.

  When the water ran lukewarm, I stepped out, toweled off, wrapped myself in my robe and curled on my bed under a pile of blankets. The silence in my room was profound.

  I closed my eyes and saw Kyle, crushed under the tree, spiked through, bleeding, breath whistling. I heard his voice whispering “I love you…I love you…” over and over again, until he had no more breath and the sirens in the distance hailed his passing.

  I heard my door open, felt the bed dip as Mom sat down next to me. I squeezed my eyes shut, felt something hot and wet trickle down my cheek. It wasn’t a tear. I wouldn’t cry. Couldn’t. To let it go would be to open my soul. It would never stop. I would break…just shatter. The liquid on my cheek was blood, surging out from my ripped and tattered heart.

  “Nell…sweetheart. ” Mom’s voice was soft, tentative. I felt her shift the blankets and probe my ankle with a finger. “Oh god, Nell. You need to see a doctor. Your ankle is swollen and purple. ”

  I shook my head. “Just wrap it. Ice it. It’s not broken. ”

  She sighed, sat silent for a long minute, then came back with an ice pack and an ACE bandage. When I was iced and wrapped, she sat down again.

  “I didn’t know you knew Colton. ”

  “I don’t. ”

  “You were smoking. ” I didn’t answer. I had no reason or excuse to give her. “Talk to me, baby. ”

  I shook my head. “And say what?” I pulled the blanket over my head.

  Mom tugged it down and brushed my damp hair out of my eye. “I can’t say it will stop hurting. It’ll just get easier to deal with it. ”

  Her older brother had died in a car accident when Mom was in college. She still got choked up when she talked about him. They had been very close, I think.

  “I don’t want it to get easier. ”

  “Why?” She took the brush from my nightstand and tugged on me until I sat up. She brushed my hair with long, smooth strokes, reminding me of when I was a girl. She would sing to me and brush my hair before bed.

  “Because if it gets easier…I’ll forget him. ” I still had the note clutched in my cast-clad hand. I took in in my free hand and opened it, read it. The paper was damp, the blue ink faded but still legible.

  I heard Mom sigh, something like a sob. “Oh, honey. No. I promise you, you’ll never forget him. But you have to let yourself heal. It’s not a betrayal of his memory to let go of the pain. He would want you to be okay. ”

  I strangled on something thick and hot in my throat. I had thought exactly that. If I stopped remembering, if I tried to let go of the pain, it would be a betrayal of him. Of us.

  “It’s not your fault, Nell. ”

  I shuddered, and my breath failed me. “Sing to me? Like you used to?”

  I had to distract her. I couldn’t tell her how it was my fault. She would just try to convince me it wasn’t.

  She sighed, as if seeing through my tactic. She took a breath, stroking my hair with the brush, and sang. She sang “Danny’s Song” by Kenny Loggins. It was her favorite song, and I knew all the words from having listened to her sing it to me at night all growing up.

  When the last note quavered from her throat, I shuddered again, feeling more heart-blood leak out from my eye. I didn’t wipe it away, just let it slip into my lips, down my chin.

  Mom set the brush down and stood up. “Sleep, Nell. ”

  I nodded and lay down. Eventually I slept, and dreamed. Haunted dreams, tortured dreams. Kyle’s eyes on me, dying; Colton’s eyes on me, knowing.

  I read the note again, seven times. Recited the words under my breath like a poem.

  I woke up and clock read 3:38 a. m. I couldn’t breathe from the pressure of grief. The walls of my room closed in around me, pressed in on my skull. I took off the melted bag of ice and rewrapped my ankle, then put on my favorite loose sweatpants and a hoodie. Kyle’s hoodie. It smelled of him, and that only made the pressure on my chest worse, but the smell comforted me as well. It pierced through the numbness and touched my heart, pinched it with hot fingers. I descended quietly, slowly, awkwardly, not able to use my foot much. Out the backdoor, down the steps, onto the cobblestone path leading to the dock.

  Quiet guitar strains floated to me from the Calloway’s dock. I knew who it was. The grass was wet with dew and old rain under foot, cold, bracing. The night air was thin and cool, sky a black blanket strewn with silver. My bare feet were silent on the smooth-worn wood of the dock. The guitar chords didn’t falter, but I knew he knew it was me.

  He was leaning back in an Adirondack chair, feet stretched out in front of him, guitar held on his stomach. A bottle of liquor sat next to him.

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  “You should have shoes on,” he said, picking a slow, lilting melody.

  I didn’t answer. A second chair sat a few feet away from Colton’s, and he held the guitar by the neck as he reached out to drag the chair closer. I eased into it, aware of his tension, his hand waiting to reach out help me.

  “How’s the foot?” He lifted the bottle to his lips, took a long sip, then handed it to me.

  “Hurts. ” I took a hesitant sip. Whiskey burned my throat. “Ohmigod, what is that?” I hissed, rasping and coughing.

  Colton chuckled. “Jameson Irish Whiskey, baby. The best whiskey there is. ” He reached down to the other side of the chair, and handed me a beer. “Here. Chase it with that. ”

  I took it and cracked the tab, sipped. “Trying to get me drunk?”

  He shrugged. “You can always say no. ”

  “Does it help?” I asked.

  He sipped from his own beer. “I don’t know. I’m not drunk enough yet. ” He took another shot from the Jameson. “I’ll let you know. ”

  “Maybe I’ll find out on my own. ”

  “Maybe you will. Just don’t tell our parents you got the alcohol from me. You’re underage. ”

  “What alcohol?” I took another fiery slug from the whiskey.

  I felt lightheaded, loose. The pressure of guilt and grief didn’t dissipate, but it did seem to be pushed to the back by the weight of the whiskey.

  “If you don’t drink much, I’d hold off on anymore. It tends to sneak up on you. ”

  I handed the bottle back and clutched the cold beer can in my fist. “How do you know I’m not a hard drinker?”

  Colton laughed openly. “Well, I guess I don’t know for sure. But you’re not. ”

  “How can you tell?”

  “You’re a good girl. Kyle wouldn’t have dated a party girl. ” He lifted his hips up and dug in his jeans pocket for his smokes and lighter. “Besides, your reaction when you took the first shot told me enough. ”

  “You’re right. I’m not a drinker. Kyle and I got hammered once. It was awful. ”

  “It can be fun if you do it right. But hangovers always suck. ” He blew a plume of gray, dissipating into the starry sky.

  We sat in silence for awhile, and Colton kept drinking. I l
et the buzz roll over me, helped it along with a second beer.

  “You can’t hold it in forever,” Colton said, apropos of nothing.

  “Yes I can. ” I had to.

  “You’ll go crazy. It’ll come out, one way or another. ”

  “Better crazy than broken. ” I wasn’t sure where that came from, hadn’t thought it or meant to say it.

  “You’re not broken. You’re hurting. ” He stood up unsteadily and strolled to the edge of the dock. I heard a zipper, then the sound of urination.

  I blushed in the darkness. “Did you really have to do that right in front of me?” I asked, voice tremoring with irritation and laughter.

  He zipped up and turned to face me, swaying in place. “Sorry. Guess that was kinda rude, huh? I wasn’t thinking. ”

  “Damn right it was rude. ”

  “I said I’m sorry. Didn’t take you for the squeamish type, though. ”

  “I’m not squeamish. I just have to pee too, and I can’t do it like you did, right off the dock. ”

  He chuckled. “Oh…well. . I don’t know what to tell you. You could try squatting off the edge?”

  I snorted. “Sshh-yeah. That’d work real well. I’d either fall in or pee on my ankles. Probably both. ”

  “I wouldn’t let you fall in. ”

  “I don’t doubt that. ” I levered myself to an upright position, struggling to find my balance without putting too much weight on my ankle. . Colton’s hand settled on my shoulder, steadying me.

  “Going up?” Colton asked. I nodded. “Coming back?”

  I shrugged. “Probably. I couldn’t sleep any more if I tried. ”

  Colton left my side to screw the cap on the bottle of Jameson. I waited until he was next to me again, and then we made our way up the path. When I started to veer left toward my house, Colton tugged on my arm.

  “Mom and Dad have a bathroom in the basement. It’s a walkout, so you wouldn’t have to go up any stairs. ”

  I knew this from years spent shuttling between my house and Kyle’s, but I didn’t say so.

  He went in ahead of me, turning on lights. Waited for me outside, and helped me back down to the dock, offering a silent, stabilizing presence when my feet slipped in the wet grass.

  We settled back into our chairs, and he picked his guitar up, strummed a few chords, then began a play a song. I knew the song within a few chords: “Reminder” by Mumford & Sons. I thought he’d only play, so I was stunned when he took a breath and began to sing the words in a low, melodic, raspy voice. He didn’t just play the song as it was, though. He twisted it, changed it, made it his. Already a beautiful, haunting song, Colton’s version touched something in my soul.

  I closed my eyes and listened, feeling the pressure lessen, just a little. I didn’t open my eyes when he finished. “Will you play something else? Please?”

  “Sure. What do you want to hear?”

  I shrugged, leaning my head back against the chair. Colton strummed a few times, then cleared his throat. I heard the liquid glug as he took a shot from the bottle. I felt the cold glass touch my hand, and I took it and drank without opening my eyes. The burn was welcome, now. I was feeling a measure of peace, tipsy and floating. The guilt and the grief were still there, banked coals burning underneath the alcohol haze.

  Colton began another song, and I recognized this one too. “This is ‘Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ by Simon and Garfunkel. ” The way Colton announced the song and artist made me think he’d done this before, that he was falling into a habit. Was he a performer? He again seemed just too big, too rough, too primal and hard of a man to sit in coffeehouses behind a microphone playing indie folk songs. Yet…hearing him play and raise his voice to sing the high opening notes, it seemed only natural.

  I was stunned by the rough beauty of his voice. He turned the song into a poem. I wished desperately, in that moment, to find my own bridge over the troubled waters of my grief.

  But there was none. Only the raging river of unshed tears.

  When the song ended, Colton shifted into another song, one I didn’t know and he didn’t announce, rolling and low and soft, a circular melody that drifted up and down the register. He hummed in places, a deep bass throb in the bottom of his throat. Something about the song struck through the alcohol and the numb armor around my grief. There were no words, but it was an elegy nonetheless. I couldn’t have explained it, but the song just exuded grief, spoke of mourning.

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  I felt thick heat at the back of my throat, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to contain it this time. I tried. I tried to choke it down like vomit, but it came up anyway, spurting past my teeth in ragged whimpers. I heard myself gasp, and then keen high in my throat, a long, tortured moan.

  Colton clapped his hands over the strings, silencing them. “Nell? You okay?”

  His voice was the the impetus that pushed me over the edge. I shot up out of the chair, hopping away off the dock, limping. I ran, hobbling desperately. I hit the grass and kept going. Not for the house, not for the road, just…going. Away. Anywhere. I ended up in the sand, where my feet sank deep and slipped. I fell to my knees, sobs clattering in my throat, shivering in my mouth.

  I crawled across the sand, pulled myself the softly lapping water’s edge. Agony bolted through my arm as it slid over the sand. Cold liquid licked my fingertips. I felt tears streaming down my cheeks, but I was silent still. I heard Colton’s feet crunching in the sand, saw his bare feet stop a foot away, toes curling in the sand, rocking back on his heels, digging deep as he crouched next to me.

  “Leave me alone. ” I managed to grate the words past my clenched teeth.

  He didn’t answer, but didn’t move either. I dragged deep breaths in and out, fighting to keep it in.

  “Let go, Nell. Just let it out. ”

  “I can’t. ”

  “No one will know. It’ll be our secret. ”

  I could only shake my head, tasting sand on my lips. My breathing turned desperate, ragged, puffing into the grit of the beach. His hand touched my shoulder blade.

  I writhed away, but his hand stayed in place as if attached. That simple, innocent touch was fire on my skin, burning through me and unlocking the gates around my sorrow.

  It was just a single sob at first, a quick, hysterical inhalation. Then a second. And then I couldn’t stop it. Tears, a flood of them. I felt the sand grow cold and muddy under my face, felt my body shuddering uncontrollably. He didn’t tell me it was okay. He didn’t try to pull me against him or onto his lap. He kept his hand on my shoulder and sat silent next to me.

  I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop. I’d let go, and now the river would flow un-dammed.

  No. No. I shook my head, clenched my teeth, lifted up and let myself fall down hard, sending a spear of pain spiderwebbing out from my arm. The pain was a drug, and I accepted it greedily. It was a dam, stemming the tide of tears. I panted, a whine emitting from my throat. I forced myself up, scrambling in the sand like a madwoman, hair wild and caked with grit. Colton stood up, caught my arm and lifted me to my feet. I landed hard, too hard, and I couldn’t stop the cry of pain as my ankle jarred. I fell forward, into Colton.

  He caught me, of course.

  He smelled of alcohol, cologne, cigarettes. His arms circled my shoulders and held me in place. The sobs rose and fell within me, brought up by guilt from finding pleasure and comfort, doused by the same.

  I let my forehead rest under his chin, just for a moment. Only a moment. Just till I caught my breath. It didn’t mean anything.

  It’s just a moment of comfort, Kyle. I found myself talking to him, as if he could hear me. It doesn’t mean anything. I love you. Only you.

  But then he shifted, looking down at me. So, of course, I had to tilt my head up and meet his eyes. Damn his eyes, so soft, so piercing and bright and blue and beautiful. His eyes… they drowned me. Sucked me in.
Dark sapphire laced with cornflower blue, sky blue, ice blue so many shades of blue.

  I fell forward, into him. I tasted Jameson on his breath, heat on my lips, moist soft heat and scouring power of his lips. It was only a moment, the briefest instant of contact. A kiss, an instant of weakness like the inevitable pull of gravity.

  Awareness rifled through me, struck me like a dagger to the heart.

  I threw myself bodily backward, out of his arms, away from the drowning comfort of his arms, his lips.

  “What am I doing?” I stumbled back, back. “What am I doing? What the f**k am I doing?” I turned and limped away as fast as I could, barely hanging on to my sanity, barely keeping the guilt from eating me alive.

  Colton followed, ran around in front of me and stopped me with his hands on my shoulders. “Wait, Nell. Wait. Just wait. ”

  I wrenched free. “Don’t touch me. That…that was wrong. So wrong. I’m sorry…so sorry. ”

  He shook his head, eyes boiling with emotion. “No, Nell. It just happened. I’m sorry too. It just happened. It’s okay. ”

  “It’s not okay!” I was nearly yelling. “How can I kiss you when he’s dead? When the man I love is gone? How can I kiss you when…when I—when Kyle—”

  “It’s not your fault. I let it happen too. It’s not your fault. It just happened. ” He kept saying that, as if he could see the guilt, the secret weight of awful knowledge.

  “Stop saying that!” The words were torn from me before I could stop them. “You don’t know! You weren’t there! He’s dead and I—” I chomped down on the last two words.

  Thinking them, knowing them to be true is one thing; saying them out loud to Kyle’s brother, whom I just kissed, is another.

  He was close to me again, somehow. Not touching, but only an inch separating us. That sliver of air between us crackled, sparked and spat.

  “We’re not talking about the kiss anymore, are we?” His voice throbbed low, wired with passion, understanding.

  I shook my head, my only answer for so many things. “I can’t—I can’t—I can’t…”

  I could only turn away, and this time Colton Calloway let me leave. He watched me, I could feel his eyes on me. I could feel him knowing my thoughts, delving deep into my secret soul, where guilt and grief festered like an abscess.

  I made it to my room, to my bed. My eyes closed, and all I saw was Kyle dying, over and over again. Between the images of his last indrawn breath, I saw Colton. His face growing closer, his mouth on mine.

  I wanted to cry, to scream, to sob. But I couldn’t. Because if I did, I’d never stop. Never never. There would only be an ocean of tears.

  Hot heart-blood leaked from my face. From my eyes and my nose and my mouth. Not tears, because those would never stop. This was just liquid heartbreak seeping from my pores.

  The mountain of pressure, the weight of grief and guilt…it was all I could feel. It was all I would ever feel. I knew that. I knew, too, that I would learn to be normal once again, someday. To live, to be, to seem okay.

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