Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Redemption of Callie & Kayden, Page 22

Jessica Sorensen

Page 22


  Kayden and Luke are walking just a little ways in front of us, talking and laughing. Luke keeps checking out girls as they walk by, particularly the ones dressed in tight dresses.

  “I don’t understand how they can be so comfortable dressed like that,” I say as Seth jerks me to the side to swerve me around a man who’s dressed as a taco and handing out florescent-pink flyers.

  “How can who be dressed like what?” He steers us back over to the center of the sidewalk.

  “People. ” I glance around the busy street with my shoulders slouched. “I mean, most of the girls are wearing nothing. ”

  Seth laughs at me and then draws me closer to him. “I think you should try dressing like that. ”

  My eyes widen and I start to panic as I take in the limited fabric on almost everyone. It’s not like they’re naked or even in swimsuits but a lot of women are wearing short dresses and it makes me uneasy. “Seth, there’s no way I’ll ever be able to wear a dress. ” I think back to Caleb and how he called me a slut on the porch. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does.

  “I doubt that,” he assures me with certainty. “I think that one day you’ll be just as comfortable in your own skin as all of these people are in theirs. ”

  I frown with doubt. “I don’t think so. ”

  He scans the street and his eyes land on a tall woman with flowing blonde hair the color of sunflowers who’s wearing a white-and-pink sundress. Her hair is dancing in the light breeze that smells like salt and fish and everything that is linked to the ocean. “How about something like that?”

  I shake my head, breathing in the fresh air to still my accelerating heart. “No way. ”

  He fires a death glare at me, his brown eyes darkening as his eyelids lower. “Why not?”

  “I was twelve the last time I wore a dress,” I say quietly, with my head held low as shame washes over me. It was pink and had flowers on it and I loved spinning in it.

  Suddenly he understands. “Oh Callie, I’m sorry. ” He hooks a finger below my chin and forces my eyes away from my feet.

  “It’s fine. ” I shuffle my feet along the boards of the slightly arched bridge as we walk over it. “You didn’t know. ”

  He’s quiet for a while and I return to staring at my feet. “How about you just try it?”

  I blink up at him, stunned. “I thought we moved passed the subject. ”

  He shakes his head with his gaze fastened on me. His blond highlights glimmer in the sun and he’s paler than most of the people around here. “I don’t want you to stop moving forward. ”

  I wave my hand in front of me. “But we are moving forward. ”

  He smiles. “That’s not what I meant. ”

  “I know. ” I sigh heavily, with the heat of the sun kissing my cheeks. “It doesn’t really matter either way. I don’t own a dress. ”

  A grin expands across his face and he starts bouncing with excitement and swinging my arms. “Oh my God, I should totally buy you one. ”

  I glance around at the store windows. A few of them are clothing stores with half-dressed manikins on display. Others have knickknacks and beachwear, and there’s an Umbrella Hut near the corner of the street, and a man is walking around in front of it with floral board shots, a tank top, and a Santa hat. “Seth, I really don’t think I can. ”

  He nudges me with his shoulder. “We can at least try. ” He jerks me to the side by the arm and then we cross the street to a fluorescent-pink store with daisies painted on the window and dresses hanging up on a rack underneath the outside deck. “We’ll buy you one and then if you feel like wearing it you can. ”

  “And if not?”

  “Then we’ll have had the pleasure of buying a dress. ”

  I sigh but don’t argue and he takes that as a yes. He speeds up and weaves us through the people, and I keep my shoulders in to stop anyone from touching me.

  “Hey, where are you two going?” Luke calls out from the sidewalk with his hands cupped around his mouth.

  Kayden’s looking at us like he thinks we’re running away from him. He’s got on a pair of dark denim jeans and a fitted black shirt. His bangs are hanging in his eyes and the ends flip up around his ears and neck. He’s still scruffy on his chin and strong jawline and I wonder how long it will be before he can shave again—be around a razor again.

  He mouths, Are you okay?

  “Yeah, go get your clothes,” I call out as I wave and then Seth tows me backward and we step up onto the curb of the opposite sidewalk. “We’ll catch up with you. ”

  Luke looks puzzled, but then shrugs and heads up the sidewalk with Kayden behind him. I tear my gaze off them and turn around, tripping on my shoelace that’s come untied. I kick up sand as we head to the daisy store. In the distance, there are the whispering sounds of the waves washing up on the sand.

  “And some sandals too,” Seth adds, and he braces me by the arm as I trip over a hole in the sidewalk.

  I nod as I regain my footing. “Sandals do sound nice. ”

  We rummage through the racks outside for a while, but don’t find anything that is “Callie first-time-dress-worthy,” Seth tells me. We wander inside, out of the sun and into the cool temperature of the air conditioning. The cashier is reading a magazine behind the counter and she glances up before returning her attention to her reading.

  Seth fans his hand in front of his face. “It’s hot here and it smells like cherries. ”

  “I think the temperature is actually normal here,” I point out.

  “It’s just that we’ve come from one of the coldest places in the world. ”

  He shoots me a doubtful look as he starts flipping through a T-shirt rack. “In the world?”

  I walk up to one of the circular racks in the center of the small shop and run my finger along the tops of the hangers. “Okay, maybe in the country. ”

  He laughs and I join in as we flip through the hangers. Each time he holds up a dress, I shake my head and decline. It’s not like they’re all ugly; it’s just that I really don’t want to wear one. I want to stay in my clothes and keep covered up, except maybe my feet.

  It feels like if I put a dress on then I’m going to go back to that day.

  I wander over to the flip-flop section and pick up a pair with pretty purple jewels on the top. I check the size and they’re the perfect fit. I’m about to head up to the register to pay when Seth strolls up with his hands behind his back.

  “Okay, I think I found one,” he says, stopping in front of me.

  He has a sucker in his mouth and I wonder where he got it from but I don’t ask because with Seth sometimes being confused is better than understanding. “But before I show it to you, I want you to clear your head. ”

  “Clear my head. ” I riffle through one of the racks holding more sandals.

  He nods, taking the sucker out of his mouth. His lips are stained red and so are his teeth. “Shut your eyes and clear you head of that place you keep going to every time I hold one up, because if you do it, I think you’re going to love this one. ”

  The store is vacant except for the clerk, who’s very distracted by the magazine. I’m glad there’s no one, otherwise I’d feel silly. I close my eyes, inhale through my nose, and then exhale through my mouth. “All right, trying to clear head in T minus five seconds. ”

  He laughs at me and then pinches my arm. “Don’t just try to clear your head. Clear your head. ” I feel him shift as he moves closer. “Here, do this. Picture Kayden. ”

  I peek one eye open. “I don’t think that will clear my head. In fact, I think it will cloud it even more. ”

  He shakes his head and pops his sucker back into his mouth.

  “No, it won’t. I promise. ” His voice sounds funny as he rolls the sucker into the pouch of his cheek.

  I sigh and shut my eyes, picturing Kayden and his gorgeous green eyes. His amazingly perfect smile and his soft, deliciously tasty lips. Yeah, his lips,
those might be my favorite part. My head is clearing. “All right, I’m thinking of him. ”

  “Now think about how much you trust him. ”

  “Okay…” My mind promptly floats back to that night when I lay under him, helpless but unhindered as he held me, kissed me passionately, felt me from head to toe, our sweaty bodies united.

  He took me to a place I didn’t think existed and made me feel things I never knew I could.

  “He’s not going to let anything happen to you, Callie,” Seth says in a soothing voice that steadies my nerves. “And neither will Luke and I. You have three strong guys. You’re not alone and you don’t need to hide anymore. ”

  I get what he’s saying and it overwhelms me. For six years I felt so alone in the world, hiding in my room. But now I’m here and I have Kayden, Seth, and even Luke. I’m not alone. I have friends.

  Tears start to sting at my eyes and one drop slips down my cheek.

  “You’re the best friend in the whole world,” I say, holding back the tears as I open my eyes. “And I mean that. ”

  “I know you do. ” A smile lifts at his lips and he brings his arms out in front of himself, showing me the dress he picked out.

  “Ta-da. ”

  It has thin straps and is a few different shades of purple, kind of like tie-dye, and there’s a lacey trim along the top and bottom of it. It looks like it’s made of silk, but it’s not low-cut and it looks like it will go to my knees.

  I run my fingers along the soft fabric and check that the size on the tag is correct. “You think this is the one? The one to cure me of my fear?”

  “No, I think you’re the one to cure you of your fear,” he says, waving the dress at me. “This will just look really good on you and it matches the shoes. ”

  I glance down at the purple flip-flops in my hand and then back up at the dress. “Yeah, they do kind of match,” I say and he waits for me to take the dress. Finally, I snatch it up and head to the counter.

  “Aren’t you going to try it on?” Seth meanders around the racks after me.

  I pile the dress and the shoes onto the counter next to the register and tub of pens with furry ends. “No way. Not until I get back to the house. ”

  He rolls his eyes and then backs away toward a section of shorts. The cashier takes her time getting up from the chair and she heads to the register, yawning. Then the phone rings and she’s backing up toward it.

  “Just a second. ” She holds up her finger and wanders over to the phone on the corner desk.

  I wait patiently with my arm on the counter and my hand on the dress. I remember when I was younger and I used to wear dresses all the time. I would run around and play catch in them and would always skin my knees.

  “Maybe you shouldn’t play catch,” my mom would say to me all the time. But I refused to listen because I loved feeling like a princess who could play sports. I would run up and down the football field, letting my tiny legs carry me as my dress and hair blew in the wind. I was so happy and I realize it’s probably one of the last times I’ve ever felt so carefree.