Raveling you, p.8
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       Raveling You, p.8

         Part #2 of Unraveling You series by Jessica Sorensen
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  “Look, I know this seems a little sketchy, but I’m keeping you out of the loop for a reason.” With a glance at the guy, his fingers circle my arm, and he steers me toward the gate. “You need to leave before you get into trouble.”

  I dig my heels into the ground. “Are you in some kind of trouble? Is that what this is about? Because I can help you if you are. But you have to tell me what’s going on or else I can’t do anything for you.”

  “I’m not in trouble.” He withdraws his hand from my arm then rakes his fingers through his hair. “I just don’t want you involved in this. If you knew what I was doing, you wouldn’t want to, either.”

  “Well, tell me and I’ll let you know if you’re right.”

  He blows out a breath, his hand falling to his side. “I’ll tell you, but you have to promise that, as soon as I do, you’ll leave.”

  I shake my head. “I’m not going to promise that.”

  We silently stare at each other while the wind howls and kicks dead leaves across the dry grass and around our feet.

  “It’s about my sister,” he finally surrenders.

  My heart misses a beat. I wasn’t expecting that.

  “What about your sister? Is she in trouble?”

  “That’s what I’m trying to find out.” He peeks over at the guy, who is texting on his phone, and then leans in and lowers his voice. “Today at the police station, I saw a letter in one of the files that was from my sister. When I asked the detective about it, he told me it wasn’t any of my business.”

  “Did you tell Lila and Ethan?”

  “Yeah, and they pretty much gave me the same attitude.”

  “You think they know what it is?” I ask, astounded. “That they’re keeping stuff from you?”

  “I’m not sure. I mean, I’d like to think they don’t keep secrets from me, but there’s been a couple of times I’ve overheard them whispering about me, and I have to wonder if maybe they know more about my past, this case, and my sister.”

  “But how would they know?” The wind picks up and blows strands of my hair around my face. “And why would they keep it from you? It makes no sense.”

  I suddenly remember something I overheard the night the police broke the news to Ayden about his brother. A short conversation between Lila and Ethan when they thought I was out of hearing range.

  “Ayden, I think maybe I should tell you something I heard Lila and Ethan talking about, but after you take care of whatever you’re doing with that guy, because he’s staring at us right now and looks really, really creepy.”

  Ayden tracks my gaze to the guy then inches toward me protectively when the guy shoots me a nasty look.

  “Who is that guy, anyway?” I ask, plucking pieces of hair out of my mouth.

  “On the Internet, he calls himself Rebel Tonic,” Ayden says. “I don’t know what his real name is.”

  “Rebel Tonic?” I question with a really look.

  “He’s supposed to be really good with computers,” he tells me as if it explains everything. “Good at hacking, too.”

  I try piecing everything together. “Is that why you’re meeting him here, to have him hack for you? And is that what you were doing the other night, meeting him then, too?”

  He warily nods. “I want him to hack into the social services records and track down my sister. I met him the other night and have been trying to figure out if I wanted to risk it and how the hell I was going to come up with the money.” He pauses, frustrated. “After seeing that letter, I have to do this, Lyric. I need to know she’s okay.” He looks at me, pleading for me to understand where he’s coming from.

  I’m glad I can’t understand, at least in the same context as him. I’ve had a really good life and will never fully comprehend what it’s like to go through what Ayden has. I remember how I used to envy him, because he’s experienced life. Now I’m grateful for what I have.

  “How much does it cost?”

  He stuffs his hands into his pockets and kicks the tip of his boot against the grass. “The fee is a thousand dollars.”

  “A thousand dollars!” My eyes widen. “Where the heck did you get that kind of money?”

  “I don’t have it all. I’ve saved up six hundred from the times I helped Lila with her catering events. The other four hundred I was going to pay off with...” He pats his pocket.

  I eye him suspiciously. “What’s in there?”

  “A knife that belonged to my brother. It’s rusty, but the brand is pretty high quality. I’m honestly not even sure where he got it from.”

  Tears instantly prick in my eyes. Here Ayden is, doing something highly illegal, risking getting into trouble, giving up something that belonged to his deceased brother and he does it so simply, so matter-of-factly.

  “You need four hundred dollars, then?” I mentally count what I have stashed in my sock drawer. After my last record shopping spree, I’m guessing about four twenty-five, give or take ten bucks.

  “I’m not taking your money, Lyric.” He pushes me in the direction of the gate and points for me to go. “Just like I’m not letting you get involved in this.”

  “Tough shit for you, but I’m already involved.” I stand my ground. “You’re my best friend. I care about you. And I’d be a freaking jerk if I just bailed out now.”

  “You’ll still be my friend if you bail. You’ll always be my friend.”

  “No duh. That’s the most obvious statement ever. But I’m still going to go get you four hundred bucks so you can pay that asshole over there and keep your brother’s knife.”

  “Lyric, I—”

  I conceal his mouth with my hand. “Ayden, it’s just money. It means absolutely nothing compared to our friendship.” I remove my hand from his lips. “Now, go tell Mr. Rebel Tonic,” I roll my eyes, “that I’m running back to the house to get some cash and not to go anywhere.”

  I raise my pinkie to make him swear he’ll wait for me. Once he does, I start to jog toward the exit of the park but stop near the gates.

  “Ayden,” I call out, and he turns toward me. “We’ll find her, okay? You don’t need to do this alone.”

  He mashes his lips together, nods once, and then heads back for Rebel Tonic.

  I run like hell for my house before Ayden can back out on our pinkie promise.

  By the time I return to the park with a ball of money in my pocket, I’m sweaty and breathless. Relief washes through me when I spot Ayden and Rebel Tonic hanging out on the merry-go-round. He hasn’t left, which means Ayden didn’t break his promise.

  I approach them, reaching into my pocket for the money.

  Ayden quickly jumps to his feet and blocks me from Rebel Tonic’s view as I hand Ayden the cash.

  “I’m going to pay you back every penny,” he promises as he stares at the bills in his hand.

  I wave him off. “Let’s just get this guy paid and go home.” He turns toward Rebel Tonic, but I capture his sleeve. “Are you sure you can trust him?”

  He lifts his shoulders and shrugs. “I don’t know, but it’s the only idea I have.”

  I free his sleeve and Ayden gives Rebel Tonic my wad of cash along with a crumpled stack of his own. Rebel Tonic counts it out, and then a greedy grin forms on his acne-covered face.

  “Fan-freaking-tastic,” he says, balling up the bills and stuffing them into his jacket. “Give me like a week, and I should have the information for you.”

  “How are you going to contact me?” Ayden asks as Rebel Tonic backs toward the gate.

  “By email,” he tells him, pushing his glass up the brim of his nose. “And don’t try texting me on that phone number I gave you the other day. My mom took my phone away.”

  “His mom? How old is he?” I frown, doubtful that this ordeal is going to end well with Rebel Tonic. The only thing that stops me from chasing his skinny butt down and snatching the money back is the glimmer of hope in Ayden’s eyes.

  “I’m not sure,” Ayden mutters with his eyes still fixed on Rebel
Tonic. “Maybe like fifteen?”

  “As old as Kale?” Yeah, I highly doubt this is going to end well.

  Ayden finally looks at me when Rebel Tonic disappears out the park gates. The sky has shifted to stardust, darkness blankets the land, and the streetlights have clicked on, highlighting the way home.

  “So, what were you going to tell me about Lila and Ethan?” he asks.

  I scuff my boot across the grass. “The night we heard the news about your brother, I overheard them talking about how they knew your brother getting … killed was a possibility, that the people were out there, and they could come for you guys or something like that.”

  He rubs his hand across his forehead. “I knew that, too. That it was a possibility.”

  “Oh,” I say at the same time he adds, “But…”

  “But what?” I press with interest.

  “But I don’t know. I’m starting to wonder if they know more about my sister, brother, and me than even I know.”

  Silence encases us.

  “What are you going to do?” I finally ask, zipping my jacket up all the way to my chin.

  “I don’t know.” He draws the zipper up his own jacket then glances up at the moon. “We should get going before Lila and Ethan get home and notice I’m gone.”

  “Were you supposed to leave the house?” I ask as we hike across the grass.

  “Not after what happened today. At the class, I mean. Plus, they’re worried about that guy we saw watching my house.”

  “Yeah, I’m sorry I told my mom about that. I just felt that, with everything going on, they should know.”

  “It’s okay. I’m glad you did. I should have told them myself.”

  I twist a strand of my hair around my finger. “Ayden, do you think what happened today … Was that a panic attack?”

  He’s quiet before he answers. “I was remembering stuff.”

  My head whips in his direction. “What?”

  He exhales. “It happens sometimes … when I’m stressed out … or when things happen that remind me of my past.”

  We arrive at the iron gate and veer down the sidewalk, past the homes sparkling with Christmas lights, wreaths, inflatable globes, and even some with artificial snow.

  “Was it the stress of today?” I scoot over as one of our neighbors strolls by, giving us a friendly wave.

  “Yeah, kind of,” Ayden replies, waving back.

  “Kind of? Was it the letter from your sister?”

  “Yes and no.” When I stare at him, silently pressing for more, his shoulders slump. “I don’t want to lie to you anymore.”

  “Then don’t,” I say frankly. “When I told you that you could tell me anything, I meant it.”

  He contemplates what I’ve said. “It was because of all the touching we’ve been doing.” His voice is barely audible and crammed with apprehension.

  “Oh.” My shoulders sink along with my mouth. “I get it.”

  He abruptly slams to a halt, grabbing my arm and stopping me with him. “No, you don’t get it.” Panic floods his eyes. “I want to touch you. I think about it all the time… Have ever since that day in your dad’s office when I…”

  I can’t see his cheeks, but I can picture how red they are, like every time he talks about something sexual.

  “When you got turned on,” I calmly finish for him.

  On the inside, I’m a wreck.

  All the way back then,

  His heart danced for me,

  Spun a longing for my soul

  And sought the taste and feel of me.

  All this time, all this time, all this time,

  He wanted me.

  He bobs his head up and down. “You’re the first girl who ever made me feel that way.”

  “The first that’s ever turned you on?” I ask, astonished.

  I’ve often wondered how sexually experienced he is, if he’s still a virgin. The first time I met him, he was wearing all black along with a leather collar, gauges in his ears, and he was sporting black nail polish. I assumed back then that, because of his rough appearance, he was experienced. Then I actually got to know him and discovered how much he hated being touched, and I questioned my initial assumption. I still don’t know for sure, since he never offers to talk about his past.

  “You’re the first girl I’ve ever wanted to turn me on.” He chokes up, his hand on my arm trembles, and his fingers dig into the fabric of my jacket. “It’s not the first time I’ve ever been turned on… just the first time where I wasn’t… being forced…” His voice cracks.

  His comment rolls over me like a vicious wave. What he’s trying to say without actually saying it. That he thinks he’s been sexually abused.

  The reality of how harsh his life has been knocks the wind out of me. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? With the way he hates being touched.

  “Ayden, I…” I’m speechless, unsure what to say to him and freaking terrified I’ll say the wrong thing.

  “I don’t know if anything actually happened to me in that house. All I know is that, at fourteen-years-old, I went into that house feeling okay with being touched. But, when I came out of the house…” He skims a finger along my jawline. “Sometimes, something as simple as a handshake can make me feel like I’m going to throw up. But I’m working it, working on getting better,” he whispers, sounding more as if he’s trying to convince himself than me.

  My lips part as I prepare to ask him how he’s working on it, but then his lips come down on my mouth. I stumble back from the unexpected contact and grab onto him to stop from falling. My fingers grasp his shirt, and I end up pulling him back with me. Losing our balance, we slam against the fence, but our lips remain fused together, even when Ayden moans.

  “I’m trying,” he whispers through kisses. His tongue tangles with mine as his hands find my waist and he pulls me toward him in desperation. “I want to be able to kiss you like you deserve to be kissed.”

  I have no clue what he’s talking about, because I am being kissed like I deserve.

  This kiss, it makes my body pulsate.

  Makes flames blaze under my skin.

  Steals my breath from my lungs.

  But it’s not really stealing

  When I’m giving the air to him.

  Willingly giving him anything he wants.

  Just say the word, Ayden, and it’s yours.

  My heart.

  My soul.

  Whatever you want.

  “Ayden,” I gasp into his mouth as his body starts to quiver, “it’s okay. I’m fine with how things are. And I love our kisses.”

  He abruptly pulls away, his solid chest heaving as he struggles for oxygen. “No, it’s not… okay… nothing is.” He avoids looking at me, staring at the corner of the street. The Christmas lights reflect in his eyes, making it appear as if he’s tearing up. “You deserve so much better than some guy who can’t even touch you.”

  “You can touch me.” I grab his hand, lace our fingers together, and pull him. I refuse to let him go. Ever. “See.”

  His gaze drops to our linked hands. “It’s not the same as if you were with someone else who didn’t have so many problems.”

  “Of course it’s not.” I swing our hands. “It’s so much better.”

  His Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he swallows hard. “You say that now, but you’ll change your mind eventually.”

  “No, I won’t. You leaving my life would crush my heart, and I refuse to let my heart get crushed.”

  “It may take forever for me to get over this. And it could get worse when I start seeing the therapist for my amnesia.”

  “I don’t care.” I stand firm, knowing that, through all my indecisiveness and sporadic choices, I do want Ayden. I decided that the moment he kissed me for the first time to try to erase the painful memory of my first kiss that William stole from me. “I want this … want you.”

  His hand shakes in my hand, but he nods his head once. I’m not positive what the nod m
eans. If he wants this—wants me, too. If he’s giving us a shot. I’m hoping so, hoping what he says is true. Because what I’ve said is the truth.

  He’ll crush my heart if he leaves my life.

  Will I live? Sure. I’m not going to become overdramatic and think I’ll drop dead if Ayden decides he can’t be with me. Will my life be destroyed? For a while maybe, but eventually, I’ll get over it the best I can. But there will always be a scar on my heart connected to every memory of Ayden. And I’d rather not have a scar.

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