If I Fall, Page 3Jessica Sorensen
This is a good thing.
You can handle this.
Deep down, I know that everyone who hurt me is currently behind bars, sentenced to life in prison without parole. Most of the cult got the same sentencing, although a few people had lesser charges. They’ll still be in jail for decades, and I like to think that I helped make that happen.
Abandoning the boxes I’m supposed to be unpacking, I cross the spacious living room and change the song to “PV” by Seahaven.
“There. Much better.” I return to the boxes, ready to get unpacked and settled into my new life. Then I instantly slam to a halt when I see her in the corner of the room, curled up in a ball.
I haven’t seen her for over a week, not since I ran away from Sage. I think I secretly hoped she may have decided to finally leave me alone.
“N-no, you weren’t supposed to follow me here,” I sputter. “This was supposed to be my fresh start.”
“Why? You didn’t help me.” Her wide, glassy eyes nearly swallow her sunken face. “Why didn’t you help me, Sadie? I don’t understand. Why didn’t you save me?”
“I wanted to,” I choke out as tears sting my eyes. “I swear I did. But I just …”
I don’t know what to tell her. The truth? Then I’ll have to admit it aloud, and I’m not ready for that. I’m not ready to utter aloud what I did and didn’t do while I was trapped behind the walls of that awful house.
“I’m sorry.” Guilt crushes my chest. I didn’t even know her name, the girl whose life I ruined. I don’t even know who she is.
“You’re sorry? Like that somehow makes up for it. It doesn’t. Like I’ve said before, you have a lot more to do before you can make up for what you did.”
A shaky, aching breath wrenches from my chest. “You always say that, but I don’t understand. You know what I did. Nothing I do now will ever erase that.”
“You know that’s not true. You just need to try harder to figure it out.” She starts fading away like the ghost she is.
I helplessly watch her vanish, just like I did years ago, when I did absolutely nothing to help her.
I hate myself for it.
Loathe what I didn’t do.
But I’m not sure what’s worse: when I did nothing or did something.
“Sadie, are you okay?” Lila appears in front of me with the last of my boxes in her arms.
I dare a peek at the corner of the room and relief washes over me like warm water. The girl has completely vanished. Although, I’m sure she was never really there to begin with.
“I’m fine,” I lie to Lila, tearing my attention away from the corner. “I’m just a little tired. I think I stayed up too late last night, studying for the test I have to take on Friday. Plus, I’ve been packing.” I shrug, peeling a strip of tape off one of the boxes labeled Books.
Lila sighs, setting the box she’s carrying down. “Are you sure that’s all that’s bothering you? It just seems like …” She glances at the corner of the room, then her worried eyes land on me. “Like you’ve been distracted lately.”
Lately? The last year and a half of my life has been nothing but a distraction. My past being the biggest distraction of all.
Still, I play it cool and force a smile. “There’s just so much going on. I promise I’m okay.”
While I haven’t opened up to my new family about the years I spent locked in that house, I’ve lived with the Gregorys for over a year now, and they’ve started to sense something isn’t quite right with me.
Lila continues to study me with concern. “I know you’ve been working hard to get your GED and to get your own place, but Sadie, you need to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself. Ethan and I are proud of you, but we’re worried you might be putting too much pressure on yourself to catch up on”—hesitancy crosses her expression—“well, the years you’ve missed out on. But there’s no rush. You know that, right? You have time to just enjoy life for a little while and take things one day at a time. If you take on too much too soon, you could add more stress. You can simply be young for a bit. Enjoy it. Enjoy life.”
Enjoy life? God, how I’m trying. I really am.
“I’m not trying to rush stuff … I just like to stay busy. And I’m not stressed out.” I don’t know that for sure. Stress has been such a natural part of my life for so long that it almost feels unnatural when I’m calm. “I just want to get this GED thing out of the way, and then I’ll take a break and do something youthfully crazy.”
Her eyes light up, and she claps her hands together. “Maybe you could go spend some time with your brother and Lyric for a while when they head out on their new tour. I know they’d love for you to go with them.”
For the last couple of months, Ayden has subtly hinted I should go on the road with him and his band. While I’ve come a long way since I was pulled out of that house, I’m not sure I’m ready to dive into that much of society. I’m already nervous to live on my own. But I know it’s time for me to grow up and start taking care of myself, give the Gregorys a break from constantly stressing over me. They’ve never complained or anything, and they put up quite the argument when I broke the news that I’d be moving out, but they still have three teenagers living at home, too. They don’t need the added stress of a messed-up nineteen-year-old who’s old enough to take care of herself.
Lila must notice the hesitation in my eyes because she adds, “You don’t have to go. I’d never pressure you to do anything, sweetie.” She smooths my hair out of my eyes, acting more motherly than my real mother ever did. “I want you to enjoy life. You deserve it. And I know how much you love spending time with Ayden and Lyric. In fact, he’s the one who asked me to ask you to go with them. I think he’s worried about you being alone when they’re gone. And so am I.”
What I deserve is to fade into the wall with that girl.
“I’ll think about it,” I finally tell her, more to give her peace of mind than anything else.
She smiles, her gaze flicking toward the corner of the room again. For a panicking second, I swear she’s going to ask me what I was staring at earlier.
“And if you don’t go, you’re always welcome to come stay with us whenever you want,” she says. “You’ll always be part of our family, even if we don’t live under the same roof. You know that, right?”
She always worries that I won’t think of myself as part of the family. I don’t think that at all. Foster child or not, the Gregorys have been more of a family to me than my real parents ever were.
My chest tightens as I think about all the pain, death, loss, heartache, and misery my brothers and I experienced from our parents.
But it’s over now.
You need to remember that.
Otherwise, you’ll sink way …
I shove the thoughts from my mind and give Lila a reassuring smile. “I know that.”
“Good.” She flicks a reluctant glance at the front door. “I really need to get going. I have to pick up the kids from school.” Her gaze lands back on me. “Are you sure you don’t want to go with me? I could drop you off a little bit later when Lyric and Ayden are here.”
“I want to get stuff unpacked,” I tell her. “I promise I’ll be okay on my own for a few hours. I need to get used to it, anyway.”
“Okay …” She seems torn over whether or not to leave, her gaze dancing back and forth between me and the door. “Just promise me you’ll call if you need anything. I’ll try to visit every day. I know that probably seems a little extreme, but I want to, okay?”
I nod, and then she hugs me good-bye. I’m tense in her arms, usually am, ever since being in that house. But I suck in a deep breath to regain my composure, refusing to tumble down memory lane.
After Lila leaves, I busy myself with unpacking my belongings. For the first hour, I’m uneasy about being alone in the condo. Every noise, every shadow causes my heart to sputter.
About seven boxes in, I take a break, get out the guitar Ayden gave me, a
nd settle on the couch. Aligning my fingers to the strings, I strum a few chords. I’ve been playing for less than a year, and I’m not very good, but I find a sense of peace when music surrounds me. It shuts out the outside world, the worried thoughts in my head, the noise, and numbs me into oblivion.
As the song switches to a slower, softer beat, I relax back in the sofa, playing and singing along. Even when the song ends, I continue playing, adding my own words, my own rhythm, creating my own song.
By the time I’m finished, I’m almost in tears. I let a few escape my eyes, giving myself a few moments to let it all out. It’s when I hold it all in, trap the pain inside, that my emotions start to become a real problem.
After a minute of silently crying, I dab my eyes then start to get to my feet to return to unpacking. Suddenly, the front door starts to open.
Panic pulsates through me.
What if it’s them?
What if they’ve gotten out of jail somehow?
What if they’ve come back for me?
Why the hell did I not lock the door!
I thought I did!
I bolt toward the front door, when it flies open.
Shit! I have no way out.
Oxygen is ripped from my lungs as I raise the guitar, ready to swing it at whoever walks through the front door. Ready to fight for my life, just like I did for years.
My heart slams into my chest and blood roars in my eardrums as a guy barrels inside the front door with a huge-ass grin on his face.
“Hell yeah, it’s—”
Without hesitation, I cut him off by swinging the guitar forward.
“What the hell?” His arm swiftly shoots up, stopping the guitar right before it slams against the side of his head.
I slowly and very embarrassingly realize the person standing in front of me isn’t an intruder breaking in to kill me. It’s Sage Davis.
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.” I slap my hand over my mouth. “I thought you were someone trying to break in.”
“It’s okay,” Sage says, a little breathless. “I probably should’ve knocked first, but Lyric gave me a key. I thought it’d be funny to scare the shit out of them.”
I take a few measured breaths before I lower my trembling hand from my mouth. “They’re not here. You did scare the crap out of me, though. But, I guess you probably kind of got that.”
“Yeah, I definitely did.” His shock turns into amusement as he casually slants against the doorjamb and gives me that lazy, I-know-I’m-hot smile. “I kind of feel sorry for the bastard who does dare to try to break in. You’re kind of a badass, Sadie. You came about an inch away from knocking me out cold.”
Suddenly, Nolan, the bassist in the band, walks in through the sliding glass door. He glances at the guitar in my hand raised like a baseball bat then shoots Sage a curious look. “Whoa. What’d I miss?”
“Sadie’s not very happy about our little entrance,” Sage explains, amusement sparkling in his eyes as he winks at me. “She was going to beat me with her guitar to punish me, but I talked her out of it. Told her a whip was much more useful for punishment.”
My cheeks are on fire, and my heart stupidly flutters as I lower the guitar to my side. Whenever I’m around Sage, he always manages to do something that makes butterflies go all kinds of mad-wild inside my stomach. I can’t go there, though. No, I think I might be doomed to be alone.
“I didn’t know it was you guys. I thought someone was breaking in,” I lamely tell Nolan.
I want to shut my eyes and back away from the room, lock myself in my bedroom, away from the world.
I turn toward Sage, not looking him in the eye. “I’m really sorry for almost hitting you.”
“Relax, I’m only messing with you.” Sage reaches toward me, to pat me on the shoulder, pull me in for a kiss—who the hell knows? And for a moment, I consider staying where I am and finding out. Then my fear gets the best of me and I shuffle back.
“Are Lyric and Ayden here?” Nolan asks.
I shake my head, turning toward him. “They went to the store to buy some stuff for the place.” I fidget with the hem of my black T-shirt then fiddle with the leather bands on my wrists. “They should be back soon, though.”
Nolan’s forehead creases. “I thought I heard them practicing when I walked up to the door.”
I slant my guitar against the wall and wrap my arms around myself. “That was me, actually.”
“Really?” He smiles. “Wow. You sounded pretty awesome.”
With his blond hair and baby blue eyes, Nolan is the polar opposite of Sage, looking as though he’s part of a pop boy band instead of the alternative rock one he plays for. He’s definitely cute, but my heart doesn’t lose its damn mind when he smiles at me. Oddly, it makes him way easier to talk to.
“I didn’t know you played.” Sage observes me with intrigue.
I shrug, feeling extremely self-conscious with so much attention on me. “I mess around sometimes. It helps me calm down when …” I trail off as they both stare at me expectantly, waiting for me to finish the sentence.
They have to be curious about why their guitarist’s younger sister is so twitchy. I even heard Sage ask Ayden about it once. Ayden told him to drop it—he’s always been a good, protective big brother like that, even if he doesn’t think so.
“It’s just something I do.” I shrug again. “A hobby, to fill up time.”
“You sounded pretty good for someone just filling up time,” Nolan says matter-of-factly. “Maybe it should be more than just a hobby.”
I pick at my nails, uncomfortable with the compliment. “Thanks, but I don’t think I could ever do what you guys do.”
“I used to be the same way. It just took some time to get used to.” Nolan offers me a small, I’ll-let-it-go smile when he notices how fidgety I’ve become. “No pressure. I was just throwing an idea out there.”
I smile tensely. “I think I’ll stick with it being a hobby for now, but thanks.”
He gives a one-shoulder shrug then heads toward the kitchen that extends from the living room, muttering something about having the munchies thanks to Sage hotboxing every car and place they’ve hung out at today.
I watch Nolan rummage around in the mostly empty fridge, keeping my gaze on him for probably way longer than I should. I know the moment I look away, I’ll have to meet Sage’s intense stare. I can feel it right now, boring a hole into my head. He does that a lot, not just with me, but with girls in general. Sometimes when he looks at me, it feels as if he wants to pin me down and get me to confess my secrets. He may think he wants to hear why I’m so uneasy all the time, but if I did let my soul bleed out in front of him, he’d wish he never looked at me to begin with.
“I’m jealous,” he finally divulges, drawing my attention to him. And just like I guessed, his soul-piercing gaze is fixed on me. It takes all of my strength not to run like hell and hide.
“Oh, yeah? About what?” I ask, sinking down on top of a small stack of boxes that still need to be unpacked.
“That Nolan got to hear you sing and I didn’t.” He drags a barstool over and plops down on it, sitting so close our knees almost touch.
His closeness makes my pulse race. I want to shift away, but I’ve already made myself look like a spaz too much within the last couple of minutes, so I force myself to stay put, a move my therapist would be proud of.
“You could always just sing for me and make it all better.” One side of his mouth pulls up to a half-smile that makes my stomach somersault.
If I ever could somehow get around my blinding fear of speaking about my past aloud, I’d probably cave and tell him whatever he wanted to hear. But the blinding fear does exist beneath my skin, polluting my body, possessing my mind and soul.
My fear owns me.
I swiftly shake my head. “I really wish I could, but I can’t.”
“But, Nolan i
s going to hold it over my head forever that he’s heard you and I haven’t.” He pouts, jutting out his bottom lip. “I’ll never get to hear the end of it.”
I breathe in through my nose and exhale from my mouth, trying to calm down. “Sorry. I-I really wish I could.”
“Sadie, relax. It’s cool,” he says. “If you don’t want to sing for me, then that’s okay. I get it. Trust me. Stage fight can be a real bitch.”
“Really? Did you used to have stage fright, too?” I ask in surprise. “Because that’s kind of hard to picture.”
“Well, I didn’t have stage fright, per se. But I witnessed Lyric get over it.” He slants forward, resting his tattooed arms on his knees. “Although, she still hasn’t fully gotten over it. Last weekend, she almost threw up right before we went on.”
“I thought she was getting better?”
“That is better. She used to actually throw up.”
I scrunch up my nose. “I feel so bad for her. It has to be so nerve-racking being a singer and always being in the spotlight in front of all those people.”
He shrugs nonchalantly. “It’s not really a big deal. I think she only got sick last weekend because we sold out. There were so many fucking people there … It was crazy.”
I tuck a strand of my wavy brown hair behind my ear. “That’s really cool that you guys sold out, though, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” He grins. “Hopefully, our tour will sell out to. Now, that’d be awesome.”
“I’m sure it will.” I’m proud of myself for carrying on the conversation without running away. I want to give myself a pat on the back, but I don’t want to give Sage even more reasons to think I’m insane. “You guys are really good.”
“Being good doesn’t always lead to being popular or successful, though. Sometimes, it’s just plain luck.”
“I have a rabbit’s foot you can borrow,” I lamely joke, and then shake my head at myself.
He chuckles. “Yeah, I think it might take more luck than that.” He cocks his head to the side and studies me intently. “You could always come with us. Be our good luck charm.”