If I Fall, Page 4Jessica Sorensen
I promptly shake my head. “I’m far from lucky. In fact, I’m probably the unluckiest person ever.”
“You might think that, but I know it’s not true.”
I swallow hard. “You barely know me, Sage, so trust me when I say that I won’t bring you any sort of luck.”
His lips part then close. Part then close. Then he starts to reach for me then withdraws.
I watch his hand dance back and forth, terrified he’s actually going to put his fingers on my leg, touch me, create skin-to-skin contact. What if I freak out? Or worse, what if I like it way too much?
“You’re right.” He flexes his fingers as he settles his hand on his lap. “I don’t know you that well, but I think I should. I mean, you’re living with Ayden and Lyric now, and I hang around with them all the damn time. Too much, probably … I think we should at least try to be friends. That way, you won’t be so uncomfortable when I’m over here.”
I feel exposed, raw, like someone sliced me open and showed him all the fear living under my skin. Is it really that obvious that I’m terrified of him? Can everyone see it? See how I think the world is a big, scary place? If he can see it, can he see what else I’m hiding? Can he see how crazy I am?
“I’m not uncomfortable.” I wring my hands on my lap. “I’m just—”
“For the love of God, will you please stop trying to force her to be your friend,” Nolan says as he joins us, carrying a box of cookies. “Seriously, man, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
“I never embarrass myself.” Sage smirks at him from over his shoulder. “That’s your thing.”
“That’s such bullshit.” Nolan sinks down on the floor to the side of us and stretches out his legs as he pops a cookie into his mouth. “I can name, like, a hundred times this year alone you’ve made yourself look like an asshole.”
Sage shakes his head, a grin playing at the corners of his lips. “You’re so full of shit. You don’t have any dirt on me. No one does. And you know why? Because I never get embarrassed.”
Nolan swallows the cookie, then a smirk spreads across his face. “Two words. Maggie McMellford.”
Sage’s grin plummets. “That doesn’t count. And it didn’t happen this year.”
Nolan reaches into the box of cookies, looking rather pleased with himself. “Who gives a shit if it didn’t happen this year? It still happened.”
“You promised you’d never bring that up,” Sage warns, blasting Nolan with a look that could kill.
“No, I promised I’d never tell anyone what exactly happened,” Nolan retorts, resting back on his hands. “And technically, I haven’t. All I said was her name.”
My curiosity gets the best of me. “Who’s Maggie McMellford?”
“No one,” Sage says quickly at the same time Nolan grins and says, “An old friend of Lyric’s.”
Recognition clicks. “I actually think I met her a few times. Is she the girl who’s always … who likes to … who likes guys a lot?”
Nolan nods. “That’d be the one.”
I want to ask what happened between Sage and Maggie, but with how uncomfortable Sage is acting, I have a feeling I might not be able to handle hearing the answer without getting embarrassed myself.
“You know, I don’t think you ever completely explained what happened between you two that night,” Nolan continues to torment Sage. “I only got some of the details.”
“And that’s all you’ll ever get,” Sage says firmly. “So quit being a dick and drop it.”
Nolan points a finger at Sage. “That was payback for telling Lyric about what happened with me and Janey.”
Sage rolls his eyes. “You deserved that.”
“No, I didn’t. You were just trying to be an ass.” Nolan throws a cookie at Sage, and it pegs him in the forehead.
Sage glares at Nolan. Then an unexpected smile spreads across Sage’s face as he turns toward me. “Want to hear a little story about a girl named Janey who Nolan thought he was in love with?”
Nolan chucks another cookie at Sage. Sage picks it up and tosses it back at Nolan. Nolan laughs wickedly when he catches it in his mouth, and Sage shakes his head with annoyance.
Watching the two of them fight, I feel so … normal. Simply a girl hanging out with some friends or something. I just wish my heart would chill out and let me experience it fully without the anxiety.
“Well, one good thing came out of this fight.” Nolan picks up pieces of cookie from off the floor. “We got Sadie to smile.”
Sage’s gaze slides to mine, and his lips rise into a grin. “Well, will you look at that? Something good did come out of that disaster with Maggie McMellford.”
“I smile a lot,” I attempt to argue, knowing it’s not true.
The guys exchange a discreet, unconvinced look, making me feel like a freak of nature.
“You’re just not around me that much. But I do. I swear.”
Sage thrums his finger against his lip. “Hmmm … Maybe. But I think, just so we have proof …” He doesn’t finish the thought as he sticks his hand into the pocket of his jeans and retrieves his phone. When he glances at the screen, his lips curve downward. Then pain and anger floods his eyes as he clutches the crap out of it.
I want to ask him what’s upset him, but I’m nowhere near that bold.
With the snap of a finger, he then shakes the feelings away and snaps a photo of me.
I’m not sure if I’m smiling, but I’m sure I look silly—I usually do in photos. Still, he seems pleased with the picture, assessing his work with a smile. Watching him smile somehow makes the corners of my lips pull upward, and when he looks up at me again, I probably look like a grinning idiot.
He chews on his bottom lip, mulling something over. “It looks good, but I think we need to take one more.”
A second later, the magical, almost normal moment obliterates into dust as Sage stands up from the stool, moves beside me, and starts to lean in closer, closer, closer …
I know what he’s trying to do. He wants to take a friendly photo of me and him. I know he won’t hurt me, but he gets too close too fast. Like really, really freaking close. I can feel his body heat drenching my skin. And the scent of his cologne mixed with cigarettes drowns me, pushes me down.
Sage must sense my fear because he suddenly freezes. “I’m sorry,” he quickly says, shifting away from me.
I struggle to get air into my lungs so I can tell him it’s okay.
It’s going to be okay.
You’re not there anymore.
But I can’t calm myself down enough to form words, and Sage and Nolan look horrified as I verge toward a panic attack.
Sage slowly backs away from me with his hands up. “Sadie, it’s okay. I was only trying to take a picture of us.”
No, it’s not okay.
Nothing will ever be okay.
Because I’ll never be okay.
“You deserve things to be that way.” The girl appears in the corner again. “Don’t you?”
I smash my quivering lips together, fighting back the tears as what I hoped would be a happy day turns into a disaster. I feel my sanity cracking, and the insanity pushing its way out. I’m going to lose it, right here, in front of Sage and Nolan.
Fortunately, for the sake of scaring the shit out of Sage and Nolan even more, the front door opens, and Lyric and Ayden walk in, carrying bags of groceries.
Relief washes over as I quickly jump to my feet. “I can carry in more groceries if you need me to.”
“Sure. There’s a couple more bags in the car.” Ayden sets the bags he’s carrying down on the floor, his brows pulling together as I hurry across the living room toward the front door. “Is everything okay?”
I bob my head up and down. “I just want to help. You guys have been so good to me, letting me live here. I want to make sure I pull my weight.”
He’s not buying my excuse, but he lets me pass by, anyway.
As I run out the front door, I hear Lyric say in a teas
ing tone, “Man, we haven’t even been in our place for one day and you guys are already over here, eating up all my food. Sheesh. We need to set some boundaries or something.”
I keep walking as quickly as I can across the grass in front of the condo and to the carport. When I reach Lyric’s car, I allow a few tears to slip out as I lower my head into my hands.
“Why can’t I just be normal?” I curse in frustration. “What the hell is wrong with me?”
“Sadie.” Ayden’s voice startles me, and I jerk my head up. He’s standing a few steps away from me with his hands in his pockets and a cautious look on his face. “There’s nothing wrong with you at all.”
“I didn’t mean for you to hear that,” I admit, wiping away the tears with the back of my hand. “I’m sorry. I was just having a weird moment.”
“Don’t ever apologize for crying.” Ayden knows me well enough to approach slowly. “I want you to feel comfortable enough around me that you don’t have to hide how you feel.”
“I’m not hiding how I feel.” I lean back against the car, folding my arms around myself. “I just don’t want to burden you with my problems.”
“You’ll never be a burden. Ever,” he promises. “And no matter what it takes, we’re going to get you past the feeling that you’re always burdening everyone.”
“I wish I was that strong, but … I’m not like you. I don’t think I’ll ever get past that feeling, Ay. I’ve tried. God, I’ve tried, but I can’t get that worthless feeling out of my head.” My voice shakes.
Besides my therapist, Ayden is the only person in the world I’ve ever expressed my feelings to. And the only reason I did was because Ayden coaxed it out of me by telling me his story first and letting me know that he understands what I’ve gone through.
He doesn’t know everything about me, though. Like how I see things that aren’t real. I’ll never tell anyone about that. Otherwise, I’ll probably get locked up and be trapped again.
“You’re much stronger than me.” He moves beside me, resting back against the car. “You were with them for so long … I can only imagine the stuff you saw.” A shudder ripples through his body. “You survived it, Sadie. You came out of it, and you’re here. You’re working on getting your GED, and you moved out on your own. You’re trying so hard to move past what happened.” He turns his head toward me, looking me straight in the eye. “That makes you so strong and brave. I just wish you could see that.”
I squirm at his compliment. “I’m not really living on my own, though.”
He shakes his head, standing up straight. “Don’t try to twist around the compliment. Just own it, okay?”
I nod, knowing arguing with him is useless. “Thank you for the compliment.” Even though it’s not true. “And thank you for making me feel better. Sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I’m glad I can make you feel better. And I always want you to feel comfortable enough that you’ll talk to about anything that’s bothering you, okay? Even if you’re just having a bad day, promise me that you’ll tell me about it.” When I nod, he smiles then walks around to back of the car. “Sorry about Sage and Nolan just barging in.” He pops open the trunk. “I probably should’ve warned you it was going to happen.” He ducks his head and reaches for a few bags in the trunk. “I wish I could say it won’t happen again, but I knew when Lyric gave them a key, they’d be over here twenty-four seven.”
“It’s okay. They weren’t bothering me or anything.”
“You looked upset when we walked in.”
“Yeah, but that’s because …” I suck in a breath. “Well, Sage got a little too close, and I freaked out.”
He glances at me with a hint of anger in his expression. “Was he …? Was he hitting on you?”
I hurriedly shake my head. “God no. Can you even imagine that?”
A curious look crosses his face. “Imagine what? Sage hitting on you?” he asks, and I nod. “Um, yeah, I actually worry about that happening all the time.”
I snort a laugh, but my laughter dissipates as he gapes at me.
“Ayden, I know you’re my big brother, and you kind of have to believe I’m much cooler than I am, but really, I’m a hot mess.” I sigh, shaking my head at the memory of my mini freak-out in front of Sage and Nolan. Then I step up beside him and grab a couple of bags out of the trunk. “And anyone who talks to me for, like, two seconds knows that.”
“You’re not a hot mess. You’ve just been through some stuff.” He waits for me to get the last of the bags then pushes the trunk closed. “And trust me; Sage will hit on you eventually if he hasn’t already. It’s what he does.” His expression hardens. “And when he does, I’ll be right there to warn him to back the fuck off.”
A giggle escapes my lips. “I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re not that threatening. Lyric even says so all the time. That you’re, like, the sweetest guy she’s ever met.”
“I can be threatening when I need to be,” he says as we exit the carport and head across the grass toward the condo. “It’s my job, as your big brother, to protect you.”
“From guys like Sage?” I find the whole conversation oddly funny, mostly because we seem so normal at the moment, just a brother trying to protect his sister from a guy stomping on her heart.
“From every guy in the world. I want to protect you, Sadie … Like I didn’t before.” He swallows a lump in his throat.
“Ay.” My voice is soft. “I wish you’d stop saying that. What happened to me, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I’m still going to do everything I can to protect you.” He stares up at the sky, squinting against the sunlight, his expression carrying so much guilt it hurts my heart. “I’m never going to let anything happen to you ever again.”
I want to argue with him and tell him he’s wrong. What happened to me wasn’t his fault. But we’ve had the conversation at least a dozen times, and no matter what I say, I can’t seem to alleviate any of his guilt.
“Well, thanks for protecting me, but I promise Sage will never hit on me.” I keep my tone light, hoping to bring Ayden out of his guilty funk. “Especially after I tried to hit him in the face with my guitar.”
He looks away from the sky to me with his brow arched. “I know I should be surprised, but honestly, that’s not the first time a girl has tried to hit Sage with a guitar. Although, I’m really curious … Why did you?”
I quickly explain to him what happened, finishing up my story by the time we reach the front door of the condo.
“I’ll have a talk with both of them.” Ayden sets the grocery bags down on the ground and reaches for the doorknob. “They need to not just walk in like that.”
“I think they were just trying to be funny and scare you guys. They didn’t know I was here.”
“Still, I want them to at least get in the habit of knocking before they walk in. I know they’re my bandmates, but we need to have a little bit of boundaries.”
He’s just saying that for my benefit. Ayden is probably the most laidback and non-confrontational guy in the world. I don’t really think he’d care if Sage and Nolan barged in when Lyric and him were there. He’s just doing what he promised and trying to protect me.
I start to protest, but he’s already walking into the condo. Sighing, I step inside, hoping everyone has forgotten my breakdown by now. Or, will at least pretend they have.
When I see only Lyric in the living room, rummaging around in a box for something, I exhale in relief. Sage and Nolan must have left out the back door when I was out at the car. Thank God.
But the relief is short-lived when Sage strolls out of the hallway, twirling a drumstick between his fingers.
“Lyric, why the hell do you have one of my drumsticks in your stuff?” His gaze momentarily flicks to mine, his expression indecipherable.
“That’s so not yours, dude.” Lyric marches across the room and snatches the drumstick from Sage while Ayden wanders into the kitche
n to unload the groceries. “See?” She points at something written on the wood. “Ethan Gregory. Written right there. Not Sage Davis.”
He steals the drumstick back. “Ethan Gregory, huh? Didn’t know you got a name change. Kind of sounds dude-ish if you ask me, but whatever floats your boat.”
Lyric swats his arm but laughs. “Fine. It’s Ayden’s and Sadie’s dad’s drumstick, but that makes it more mine than yours.”
“How do you figure that?” he asks with a sparkle of amusement in his eyes.
Lyric places her hands on her hips. “Um, because Ethan likes me more than you. And so do Ayden and Sadie.”
“They do, huh?” Sage rubs his scruffy jawline thoughtfully. “Maybe we should ask Sadie who she likes more.”
Both of them look at me expectantly.
I squirm. “Um …” So awkward.
Ayden stops putting food in the cupboard, his lips parting.
Before he can say anything, I set down the bags in the entryway and elevate my hands in front of me. “Okay, I’m not going to answer that question, guys.”
“Only because you don’t want to hurt Sage’s feelings.” Lyric throws a smirk in Sage’s direction, flipping her long, blonde hair off her shoulder.
Sage’s eyes remain on me. “I don’t know, Lyric. I know you’re dating her brother, but I think she might be sparing your feelings.”
I want to shrink back from his intense gaze, bury myself in the ground where no one can see me, but I keep my feet planted to the floor. “I like you both equally. I promise.”
Sage’s mouth curls into a pleased grin, causing confusion to carve deep inside me.
“All right, Lyric, you can have the drumstick.” He tosses her the drumstick then turns around, casting one last glance over his shoulder at me before disappearing down the hallway.
“What are they doing back there?” Ayden asks, walking up to Lyric.
She shrugs, peering into the box she was digging around in. “I think they’re trying to help put the furniture together, but let me stress the trying part.” She sticks her hands inside the box and takes out a framed photo. “I love them to death, but unless it involves music and notes, those two suck at putting stuff together.” She positions the frame on top of the entertainment center then moves back to admire the picture of her and Ayden taken backstage at a concert. Both of them are smiling and look so content with their arms wrapped around each other. “That’s one of my favorite pictures of us.”