Authors: Molli Moran
.” Jonah coughed, trying to clear his throat, but the lump seemed to have taken up permanent residence there. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. But I had to go, Reece. And looking back, I was wrong. I shut down, and if I could take back all the hurt I caused, I would. That kid who left…” Jonah shook his head. “I’m not him anymore. So, I
He was watching his brother closely, so Jonah saw Reece’s entire demeanor change in increments. The look in his eyes shifted, and Jonah recognized it for what it was: an olive branch.
“I’m here. I’m in this family again. I
I’m not going to run.”
The seconds ticked by, and Jonah’s heartbeat filled his ears, a drumbeat that made the earlier pounding seem quiet in comparison. He didn’t look away from his brother, but he did blink when Reece’s hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed. The simple gesture, combined with the smile that tugged at Reece’s lips almost undid him. And somewhere in the moment it took to try to stitch his composure back together, Reece pulled him in for a hug.
Stunned, it took Jonah a few heartbeats to realize what was happening. When he did, he hugged Reece back, holding on with all his strength.
,” Jonah choked out. “She left, and it hurt so damn much, and I thought it was my fault.” He took in a ragged breath, feeling his brother’s muscles tense. “All I could think was that something was wrong with me, and I had to get away from everyone I cared about before I hurt someone like she hurt me.”
He couldn’t say her name out loud. Not yet, and not to Reece. Telling his brother this much of what happened was more than he’d opened up in years, and it hurt. He’d never told his family what happened, just some story about how the two of them had gone their separate ways.
“Jonah.” Reece pulled back, and Jonah cleared his throat. “Darren told me she left, but I didn’t know more than that. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How could I?” He leaned against the railing, adopting Reece’s earlier posture. “I still don’t know what happened. I was ashamed, and scared.” The sigh sounded loud, even to him. “I know I should have talked to you…let you in. I made some mistakes.”
“Yeah, kid, you did. But we both did.” Reece ran a hand over his face, and for the first time, Jonah noticed his brother seemed tired.
“Where do we go from here? I’m here, and I want to be a real part of the family again, but I don’t want to assume that everything is great again. I know we’ll have to work at it.” Jonah glanced at Reece, a sharp blast of relief arcing through him at the sight of the frost in his brother’s eyes slowly melting.
“We do the only thing we can do. We start over again.” Reece grinned then, and something of the old Reece shone through. “And we get it right this time.”
She flipped a page in the book, and his smile faltered. He knew she heard him, but he didn’t let her disinterest faze him. He hadn’t been able to get her out of his head since the day they’d met, however briefly. Even though his older brother told him she was from one of the rich families in town, and he shouldn’t even try to get involved with her, there was something a little lost about her blue eyes. She looked like she needed to be found. She looked like she needed excitement, and a reason to be brave.
“I said hello.” Jonah took off his helmet, fighting the urge to try to tame his hair. It was hopeless anyway.
“Oh…” She finally glanced at him, her eyebrows climbing. “Were you talking to me? You didn’t say my name so…”
Jonah smirked. “Sorry ’bout that. Hello, Quinn. I was starting to think I imagined you.” He’d seen her once, surrounded by her friends, but that wasn’t the same. He wanted to see her in the sunlight and in the moonlight and in his arms. “It’s good to see you again.”
“You too.” She returned to her book, walking faster.
Surging forward, Jonah caught up to her easily. “Why are you walking?” Unless he was imagining it, a delicate blush stained her cheeks. She frowned, and put a bookmark in her book after a few seconds, but didn’t stop moving.
“I don’t drive yet. My family is…” She chewed on her bottom lip, and his gaze zeroed in on her mouth. “Over-protective.”
“That’s a bummer.” Jonah hooked the helmet over one of the handlebars, studying her. “So I guess going for a ride with me is probably out of the question, huh?”
She finally gave him her full attention, and those eyes were just as piercing as he remembered. Her hair was in a high ponytail with just wisps framing her face, and Jonah thought she was one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen. Her funky yellow dress with patches on it somehow suited her, and he had absolutely no idea what to make of her or what to say. She was off-limits to him,
out of the realm of possibility, and he wanted her like he’d never wanted anything or anyone.
“Why do you want me to go with you so bad, Jonah Walker?”
Jonah flashed her a wide smile. “Maybe so you’ll have to wrap your arms around me and hold on tight.” He dropped the act, sobering. “Maybe I just want to get to know you better.”
Quinn hesitated for long enough he almost gave up, then slipped the book into her messenger bag. She blinked, and the lost look was gone, replaced by something so mischievous and fleeting, he almost thought he’d imagined it. “One ride. One chance.”
He waited until she settled behind him to hand her his spare helmet. She wound her arms around his stomach, and Jonah inhaled her scent. It was strong, and fit her, and he was so off his game it wasn’t even funny.
“I’ve always thought I only need one chance to get it right when I want something bad enough.”
The scenery outside her window was familiar, but the overcast skies shaded everything gray, and Savannah was unrecognizable to Quinn. Turning her head, Quinn looked away from the window, resting her head against the pillow. She exhaled softly into the stillness. For the first time since she’d woken after the accident, her small space was quiet. Normally bustling with nurses, her doctor, the hospital’s grief counselor, and relatives, for now it was finally just her. And the silence, while welcome, felt oddly loud. Every time her room filled with people until Quinn thought it resembled a stretched-out balloon, she hoped for silence. Now she had it and wanted to trade it because it gave her too much time to think.
Too much time to
The accident swam through her mind in constant, ripped-up fragments, and normally, not being able to fully recall such an important event would irritate her. But all Quinn was able to focus on was that her final moments with her mother weren’t good ones. They’d fought during her mom’s last moments. In fact, they’d done nothing
fight for the last years. Quinn’s memories of happier times with her mother were all from before she’d left home. And despite the hard feelings, the judgment from her mother, the icy phone calls…
All Quinn wanted was one more good day with her mom. And now she would never have it.
Memories fluttered by as she closed her eyes, images drifting like slowly falling flower petals. Her mom taking her to her first ballet class. Handing Quinn a bouquet after each recital. Beaming the first time Quinn danced a solo. Taking her to the movies for “girl’s day,” and popcorn drenched with butter. School dances, her mom waving goodbye as Quinn and her friends left.
They were close then—until her father’s law practice opened, introducing wealth into their world. Her parents both changed in first smaller, then bigger, fundamental ways. And the older Quinn grew, the more clearly she saw her mother, until their relationship was nothing but tattered pieces—and insinuations Quinn would never be good enough. By the time she left, she was only thinking of getting as far away as she could.
Some part of her had thought there would be time…at least to understand what happened to them. But there wasn’t. Her mother was gone, and her father was still in a coma. According to his doctor, the longer it took for him to wake, the higher the odds were against him making a full recovery. Quinn needed him to come back, so that she could repair at least one relationship in her life.
The knock at the door startled her. Opening her eyes, Quinn sighed when the door opened, expecting another new parade of visitors, or her doctor. But it was Lanie, uncharacteristically dressed in black. Quinn never knew what to expect her friend to attempt next, fashion wise, but it was a given that whatever Lanie wore, it would be bright, and cheerful. Seeing her in a black dress, her hair pinned away from her face did what so many other signs hadn’t: it hammered home the reality of today.
Quinn swallowed. The ever-present tightness in her throat only increased.
“Are you ready?” Lanie crossed the room, frowning when Quinn shook her head.
“For Mom’s funeral? No.” Quinn glanced down at her outfit. It was a black dress similar to Lanie’s; Quinn hadn’t wanted to wear it, but it was the easiest option with her various injuries. After today, she would never be able to wear it again. It would always remind her of how in a few short hours, the funeral would be over, and her mother would be laid to rest.
Rest. As if she was merely taking a long nap and would eventually open her eyes, whole, and safe, and alive. Everyone used euphemisms with Quinn now. “Passed away.” “Laid to rest.” “Gone home with the angels.” No one would say plainly what was happening: her mother was being buried today, because she was dead. There wasn’t any sense trying to gloss over the ugliness. It wouldn’t change anything.
“Baby girl,” Lanie sighed.
Delicate fingers on her face wiped away the tears that stung as they trickled down her cheeks. Quinn’s eyes felt as if someone were continually rubbing sand in them, and nothing she did would take away the soreness. She’d glanced in the mirror as Lanie helped her get ready, and barely recognized herself.
“Let it out.” The whisper fluttered fragilely around her, butterfly comfort taking flight just as she grasped at Lanie’s words.
“I can’t.” Fresh grief unfurled and Quinn laid her head on Lanie’s shoulder, because she didn’t know what else to do. She wasn’t normally one to make the first move when it came to affection, but she needed comfort. The sigh trembled on Quinn’s lips, emerging shakily, and she shuddered as a sob built. “You k-know why I can’t.”
“You can, sweetheart.”
Warmth descended over Quinn and she opened her eyes. The familiar, tall figure towering in the doorway did what nothing had been able to do for days. Quinn felt a smile tipping her lips upward; the motion spilled tears from her eyes—and these were tinged in happiness. She blinked them away in order to take a good look at the cousin who, for most of her life had taken on the role of older brother to her.
He was broader than she remembered, and wearing a ridiculous cowboy hat, which he thankfully removed as he stepped into her room. He set it in a chair in the corner, and then crossed the room to her bed in long strides, never taking his eyes off her.
“Dare?” She couldn’t have said why she phrased it as a question. Logically, she knew he had probably been in and out since her surgery, but for the life of her, she couldn’t recall seeing him before now.
“Quinnie,” he returned.
Their childhood nicknames evoked memories of a thousand firefly-dazzled summer nights, and for a moment, joy battled against grief. Quinn held out her hand, and Darren took it, his warm fingers closing easily around her own. Lanie helped Quinn into a sitting position, adding another pillow behind her back so she was supported. Taking a deep breath, Quinn focused on the pressure of Darren’s hand, and the thread the contact wove between them.
For the first time in days, she didn’t feel like she was drowning. Looking into Darren’s storm-hued eyes, Quinn felt like gravity was settling around her, and she finally had something to hold her in place. Darren’s free hand rose, the pads of his fingers settling onto her cheek. His touch was light, but it summoned another wave of tears.
“It hurts, Darren. It hurts so much.” Quinn rubbed at her chest, at the ache that felt permanent.
“I know.” Her cousin’s baritone softened. He looked down, flaxen hair falling into his face, and obscuring his eyes from her. Quinn knew he was likely hurting too, and would do his damnedest not to show it.
“I don’t know how to
this,” she whispered. “I thought I hated her, but now she’s
, and I can’t make any of it seem real.”
Darren leaned toward her, and embraced her. The hug was gentle, but as he made circles on her back with his hands, Quinn sighed, and let herself slowly relax into his strength. Even though letting someone hold her still felt surreal, she told herself it was okay. It was Darren. She was safe with him. She didn’t have to pull back and put distance between them. She didn’t ever have to fear him rejecting her.
“One step at a time, Quinn.” Pulling back, Darren put a finger underneath her chin, tipping it up. “The funeral first. I’ll be there, and so will—” He paused, turning his gaze toward Lanie.