The Redemption of Callie & KaydenJessica Sorensen
Seth raised his eyebrows at her as he pulled out a chair at the table. “Do I like the holidays? No, not really” He sat down and I joined him, reading the text I got from Luke.
Luke: Did you hear from him?
Me: No… have you?
Luke: No, I stopped by his house, though.
Me: Is he okay?
Luke: I don’t know. His brother answered and said he hadn’t seen him. I think he was drunk, though.
Me: I texted him a couple of times. He never texts back.
Luke: I’m sure he’s fine. He’s probably just working through some stuff.
Working through some stuff? Alone. In that god-awful house.
“Callie, did you hear me?”
I glanced up from my phone and my mother and Seth were staring at me. “Huh?” I said.
Seth’s eyebrows dipped beneath the square-framed glasses he was wearing, not to correct his vision but because they are fashionable. “Are you okay?” he asked.
I nodded. “I’m fine. ”
“Who are you texting?” my mom asked, mixing the bowl with a whisk.
I quickly locked the screen on my phone and set it down on the table. “No one. ”
My mother dropped the whisk on the counter and batter splattered all over. “You were texting Kayden, weren’t you? I can’t believe this, Callie. I told you I didn’t want you spending any time with him after what happened—after what he did to Caleb. ”
Seth looked at me with astonishment in his eyes and I shrugged, shaking my head, trying not to cry. “It’s not Kayden,” I told my mom again.
“Even if it was, I think Callie’s old enough to decide who she wants to talk to,” Seth chimed in calmly. “In my opinion she is an excellent judge of character. ” He said it with an attitude and any chance of my mother and him getting along fell apart right there.
“More than most people, who seem to miss the mark all the time. ”
She didn’t fully understand the depth of his words, but his snippy tone was enough for her to decide she didn’t like him, something she told me later when she pulled me aside.
“He’s rude,” she said. “Does he talk to his own mother that way?”
“He doesn’t talk to his mother,” I’d said and that was another strike against him.
After that, I decided it’d be better to keep them separated, because Seth wouldn’t keep quiet if my mother said something ridiculous and my mother would never stop saying ridiculous things.
* * * I’ve been home for almost a week. Time seems to move in slow motion. Each hour feels like days, and days like months.
Christmas is only four days away and my mom keeps trying to make me spend time shopping and wrapping presents with her. I do as much as I can, but every time she brings up Caleb, I bail. I even took off during our trip to the mall and had to call Luke to come pick me up.
“I’m not sure if I’m even hungry,” I tell Seth as I pour syrup on the stack of pancakes in front of me. We’re in the café again, enjoying the same light chitchat after a very uncomfortable morning with my mom. “Six days in a row is putting me on pancake overload. ”
He butters his toast and then adds some strawberry jelly.
He’s wearing a blue shirt with a logo on the pocket and his hair is still a little damp from the shower he took right before we left the house. “Well, you don’t have to order pancakes every time,” he says and sets the butter knife down on the table.
“Or maybe you should order me something different,” I reply, grabbing some sugar packets from the bowl. Seth had taken it upon himself to order for me while I was in the restroom, and I wasn’t planning on ordering pancakes.
“I think we should eat pancakes every morning that we’re on break. ” He takes a bite of his toast. Crumbs fall to the front of his shirt and he dusts them off with a sweep of his hand. “It’ll be fun. ”
I stare down at my pancakes buried in a puddle of syrup.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m always sure when I say something aloud. ” He sets the toast down on the smaller of the two plates.
I seal my lips and try not to laugh at him because Seth is never sure of things, just like I’m not, just like most of the world isn’t. “All right, we can try to eat pancakes everyday over break. But if I end up puking you have to promise to hold my hair back. ”
“I promise. ” He smiles and raises his hand in front of himself.
I slam my palm against his, giving him a high-five. For a moment it’s just he and I in the café, maybe even in the world. But the bell on the door dings and my eyes instinctually wander over to it.
Suddenly, I remember that there are a lot more people in the world who need to eat a lot of pancakes over Christmas break.
Kayden walks into the café and the few people at the tables promptly look up at him. There have been rumors going around about him throughout the small town, ones that are horrible. I struggle not to hit every single person looking at him.
He has a coat on and there are snowflakes stuck in his wet hair. He’s wearing an old pair of jeans with holes in them and black boots on his feet. The Christmas lights that trim the windows reflect in his eyes and make them look red instead of green. His gaze sweeps the room but misses me, and then he walks up to the counter where one of the older waitresses with gray hair and a hairnet greets him at the register.
“Callie, what are you staring at?” Seth’s tracks my gaze and then his eyes bulge. “Oh. ”
It’s like my feet don’t belong to me as I bend my knees and stand up from the booth. As soon as I’m on my feet, Kayden’s eyes lock on me. We stare at each other from across the café and the tables and chairs and people blur away. He crosses his arms over his chest and presses his lips together before shaking his head. He looks away as the waitress hands him a plastic to-go bag. I’m not sure what it means, but I need to talk to him.
“I’ll be right back,” I say and start to step away as Kayden pays the waitress.
Seth catches my sleeve and draws me back a little bit. “Be careful, Callie. ”
I nod, even though I’m not sure if he means to be careful for Kayden or myself. He releases my sleeve and I weave around the tables, tucking my elbows in. Kayden is putting his wallet into his back pocket when I reach him and the plastic bag is hooked over his hand. His jaw tenses as he grabs some napkins from the metallic dispenser near the register without looking up at me.
“Hi,” I say, and again I’m frustrated with myself for such a silly start.
“Hey,” he mutters, shoving the napkins into the sack.
“I just… I just wanted to come over and see how you’re doing. ” I take a breath because I’m nervous and forgetting to breathe.
His eyes rise up to me and I’m taken back at the coldness in them. “I’m fine. ”
“That’s good. ” My throat is shrinking, reducing airflow, and I don’t know how to react. He starts to head for the door and I follow him. “Kayden, wait. ”
He doesn’t, pressing his hand to the door and shoving it open. I know I should back off, but I can’t convince my feet to stop moving. I hurry out the door after him, wrapping my arms around myself as the wind hits my bare arms.
“Maybe we could talk?” I suggest as he opens the door to his mother’s black Mercedes.
He pauses, shaking his head, and then he looks over the roof at me. “Callie, I have to go. I’ve got stuff to do today. ”
I walk through the slush and the puddles and around the back of his car, not ready to give up. “You’re staying at your house?”
He tosses the bag of food across the center console and onto the passenger seat. “Yeah, where else would I go?”
The water is seeping through my shoes and it’s cold. “You could come stay with me. ”
His eyes focus on me. “And what? You’re mother’s just going to welcome me there?”
I hesitate and it’s the wrong thing to do, bu
t I can’t think of anything to say. “I don’t care about my mother. ”
He shakes his head and ducks over to climb into the car.
“Callie, I can’t stay at your house, not after everything that’s happened. ”
Why does it feel like he’s not referring to my mother anymore but to our relationship? “Please don’t run away,” I sputter.
I’m no longer thinking rationally. I run around the front of the car and open the door to the passenger side, prepared to make him feel better. Somehow. I just need to find out how. The inside of the car smells like him and I breathe in the scent as I move the food bag out of the way, climb in, and close the door. “I don’t want you going back there. ”
Shaking his head, he slams the door and adjusts the seat back, giving himself more room. He meets my eyes and there’s a hollowness in them. “Callie, I never really left there. Just escaped for a little while. ” He turns the key in the ignition and the engine roars to life. “My father isn’t there anymore. ”
I shake my head. “Where is he?”
He shrugs, biting his lip, staring out the window at the surplus warehouse next door. “On a business trip I guess. ”
I want to ask him—want to know if he had any part of it.
“Kayden, did he—”
“Look, Callie,” he cuts me off and his gaze slices into me. “I have to go. I got shit to do. ”
I swallow hard and my insides tremble. “Please talk to me,” I whisper, sucking back the tears.
He inhales through his nose and his solid chest puffs out and then descends as he releases the breath. His hand is turning pallid as he clutches onto the steering wheel and I swear I can hear his heart beating. “I…” His breathing quickens as he struggles to speak.
I prop my elbow on the console and place my hand on his cheek. He flinches but stays motionless, looking at me. My heart is racing passionately and pumping adrenaline through my body. I don’t know what I’m doing or if it’s wrong or right. All I can do is hope I’ll get to him. “You know you can tell me anything, right? I’ll understand. ” He swallows hard as I brush a shaky finger under his cheek. He still looks like he hasn’t shaved. His skin is rough under my touch. “Please. ”
He shakes his head. “I-I can’t. ”
“Yes, yes, you can. ” I lean over the console, needing to get close to him. “I’ll help you. ” Like you helped me.
His warm breath feathers against my cheeks and his breathing quickens as his gaze flicks to my lips. “Callie, I…” He drifts toward me and then his mouth crushes urgently against mine. I instantly part my lips and allow his tongue to slip inside as I release a pent-up breath. I’ve missed this—him—more than I let myself admit. I need him. So much.
I grip the front of his shirt as he cups the back of my neck, pulling me closer, kissing me and exploring my mouth with his tongue in rough, almost desperate movements. His other hand moves around and frantically grabs at my hip. The console is jabbing into my stomach but I don’t care. I just want to keep kissing him forever. I never want to let him go or have him let me go. I need him.