Better (Too Good series) (2 page)

BOOK: Better (Too Good series)
12.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He
closed the refrigerator door and walked back to the bedroom. He stood over his girlfriend, watching her sleep. She was far away from him, in her own dreamland, and he couldn’t stand the distance. Not tonight.

He
pulled back the sheet and watched her curl into a fetal position. Her hand searched for the covers, but he made sure to keep them away from her grasp. He couldn’t get enough of it—staring at her nakedness. She was so tiny, so fair. A little fallen angel, he thought.

His.

He grew hard with want, running his hand up the length of her thigh to touch her hip bone. He pulled on her hip until she lay on her back, completely exposed to him. He knelt beside her and kissed her stomach. And then he lay his head on her. In an instant, he felt her tiny fingers in his hair, subconsciously searching out his cowlicks. If he was very quiet, he could hear her count them in her mind.
One, two, three. Oh, there’s four . . .

“Yes, Cadence. I have many cowlicks,” Mark whispered into her belly.

She shifted under him and sighed.

“I need you,” he said.

She lay motionless, fingers poised in his hair. He pulled away from her and watched her hands drop to either side of her head. And then he kissed up her stomach to the dip between her breasts. He kissed her mouth next.

“Wake up, Cadence,” he said against her lips.

She moaned.

He gently forced her mouth open and found her tongue. He kissed her deeply, slowly, until he elicited another moan.

“That’s it. Wake up,” he urged.

His
hand slid down between her thighs, teasing her gently. He felt her body’s response, the growing wetness between her legs. And he had to have her. Right. Now.

“Cadence?

Nothing.

“Cadence?”

He stilled his hand and watched her face. She was having a good dream. He could tell. Not like last night when he cradled her on the couch and listened as she cried in her sleep. She was exhausted from her escape—had finally fallen asleep against his chest—but minutes later she was crying aga
in. It was a bad dream, and he couldn’t rescue her. Reality proved to be no better at the moment, so he didn’t wake her.

That was yesterday. A bad day. Neither went to school today. They waited, holed up in the apartment
. Sitting. Pacing. Watching the door for Cadence’s dad. They both knew he was coming, and Mark was prepared. Calm. Cadence wasn’t. She was a mess, and as the hours ticked, her fear turned to hysteria.

But Mr. Miller never arrived. And when it was close to midnight, Cadence
finally relaxed. Mark, on the other hand, grew anxious. He knew the anxiety conjured his bad dream. And he also knew how to alleviate his heartache. But as he hovered over his girlfriend studying her face, watching a faint smile curl the corners of her lips, he knew he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t wake her to take from her. It was selfish.

He pulled the covers up and tucked her in. He walked to his side of the bed when he heard a loud knock on the door.

Cadence’s eyes flew open. “What? What is it?”

Another angry knock.

“Oh my God,” Cadence breathed, jumping out of bed. She searched the room frantically for her pajamas.

“Stay here,” Mark ordered.

“No!” she cried, pulling on her cotton shorts.

A third knock.

“I’m asking you to stay here, Cadence,” Mark said. He walked out of the room and closed the door on her. She ripped it open and followed him.

“Don’t answer,” she whispered, tugging on Mark’s arm.

“I’m not afraid of your dad. Go back to the bedroom.”

“Please don’t do this!” Cadence pleaded.

“Go back to the bedroom,” Mark said. He pulled his arm from her grasp and opened the door.

Mr. Miller shoved his way inside.
He caught sight of his daughter and froze.

“What do you want?” Mark asked.

“I want to take my daughter home.”

“She is home.”

“This isn’t her home,” Mr. Miller growled. “Cadence, let’s go.”

Cadence opened her mouth to sp
eak, but she couldn’t form the words. Just like that, in an instant, she’d become a mute. She shook her head.

“Cadence, this is a bad place. This man here?” He pointed to Mark. “He’s a bad man. A child molester. And he’s going to jail.”

Cadence continued shaking her head.
Open your mouth and say something!
she screamed inside.


I’m not going anywhere,” Mark said. “And she’s not a child.”

Mr. Miller ignored him. “Cadence. This man used you.”

“I never used her,” Mark countered.

“He took advantage
of you because you’re young.”

“I never took advantage of her.”

Mr. Miller continued to address his daughter. “It’s not your fault. He made you think he loved you—”

“I’m standing right here, you son of a bitch!” Mark roared. “Stop feeding her these lies!”

“They’re not lies!” Mr. Miller yelled. He finally looked at Mark for the first time since walking into the apartment. “You used my daughter!”

“I love her! I take care of her!
And what do you do? You sock her in the eye!”

Mr. Miller lunged at Mark, grabbing his throat
and forcing him to the ground. Cadence gasped.

Do something. Say something. Cadence, say something!
She watched in horror at the twisting limbs, recoiling at the grunts and groans of two men trying to beat the shit out of each other. Jab to the face. A clumsy dance around the coffee table. Fist in the abdomen. Moans. Another lunge. Shattering glass. Cut lip. Two cut lips. Punch to the chest. Cry of pain.

“Stop it,” she barely whispered.

The fight continued into the dining room.

“Stop it.” Her voice was coming back. Stronger. “Stop it,” she demanded with authority.

Hands to the throat once more.

“I’ll fucking kill you!” Mr. Miller shouted.

Mark punched his face. Mr. Miller reared back and clutched his eye.

“STOP IT!” Cadence screamed
.

And then she remembered
it. The bargaining chip. She felt it ache in her bruised eye, a sudden pulse of clarity, of hope.

“Don’t do it, Dad,” Cadence said calmly.

Mr. Miller’s fist was raised, ready to attack. He turned to his daughter.


If you touch him, if you go to the police, I’ll have you arrested for assault,” she said.

Mr. Mil
ler blinked. He stood frozen, processing the information.


I took pictures of my face. I have witnesses. Ollie. Mom. I’ll tell the police you punched me in the eye. And Mom will have to tell the truth. Ollie will, too.”

Mr. Miller lowered his
fist and stared at his daughter in disbelief.

Cadence continued speaking, b
ut not as the young girl she used to be. She spoke as the young woman she now was.

“He did nothing wrong. He didn’t use me. He didn’t go after me because I was lonely. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t lonely, but that’s not why he fell in love with me. He fell in love with me for me. And I chose this relationship. I chose to be with him. I. Chose.” She emphasized the last words.

“But he manipulated you, honey,” Mr. Miller said. He sounded defeated.

“No,” Cadence replied
. “He never did. But you did. Or at least you tried. Just now. Barging in here. Telling me Mark’s a bad man. That’s manipulation, Dad.”

Silence.

“Look what you did to me.” Cadence pointed to her face.

Mr. Miller averted his eyes.

“So what’s it gonna be? Huh, Dad?”

“How could you do this, Cadence?” Mr. Miller asked, facing the wall.
The sound of bitter betrayal laced his words. Cadence found that funny. He felt betrayed? She was the one sporting the black eye.

“You give me no choice,
” she said.

“Gracie’s parents will still notify the school.”

“I don’t care about Gracie’s parents. I can’t stop them from doing anything. But this? Here and now? I only care about this. And what I can do about it. And I will never speak to you again if you go to the police. But I will report assault. I will.”

Cadence breathed deeply, waiting for her father’s response.

Mr. Miller finally looked at her. The mask of betrayal on his face turned sinister, hardening his features. His next words came out a mixture of pain and pride.


I’ll say nothing. But if you don’t come home with me, you’re no longer my daughter. I mean it. No car. No insurance. No financial help of any kind.” He paused. “If you don’t come home with me, you’re no longer a part of our family.”

Cadence thought for a moment. She felt the stinging in her eyes, and she thought it was okay to le
t the tears run. So she did. And she never took her eyes off her father.

“I
am
home.”

Cadence waited by Avery’s locker Monday morning. It felt like an eternity before her friend rounded the corner and headed towards her. She was staring at the floor as she walked. Avery never stared at the floor. She looked straight ahead with confidence.

“Are you mad at me?” Cadence blurted. Avery wouldn’t look at her as she opened her locker.

“Go away.”

“No.”

“I said, go away.”

“Please talk to me,” Cadence pleaded.

“About what?” Avery asked. Her tone was emotionless. She st
ood checking her face in the mirror attached to the inside of her locker door.

“I ran away. I’m at Mark’s.”

“Congratulations. I hope you two are very happy together.”

“Avery!” Cadence screamed, grabbing her friend’s shoulders. “Look at me!”

Avery finally looked at Cadence’s face and gasped. “What the hell happened to your eye?”

“My dad.”

“He hit you?”

“Yes. But I escaped. I’m living with Mark. I’m never going home again. Actually, I can’t. Dad disowned me. God, Ave
ry. There’s so much to tell you! I wanted to tell you this weekend, but I couldn’t get in touch with you. I called you from Mark’s phone—”

“I don’t have a phone anymore,” Avery interrupted.

The girls were silent for a moment.

“Your dad took it upon himself to call my parents and let them know what was up with you. He said he wasn’t sure if I was involved in your . . . how did he put it? Oh, yeah. Your ‘little game of deception’. They barged in my room. Took my cell phone. Saw Gavin’s number. And that’s that.”

She slammed her locker door and headed down the hall. Cadence followed.

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake,” Cadence said, tugging on Avery’s arm.

Avery stopped suddenly and turned to her friend.

“No, Cadence. You didn’t make a mistake. A mistake is when you calculate a problem wrong on your math test. That’s a mistake. Okay? You knew what you were doing in that theatre. You knew you were making a sc
ene. You knew it could ruin you and Mark.” She paused for a moment. “And me. You knew it, and you did it anyway because you’re selfish. Don’t call it a mistake. Own what it really is. A sin.”

She turned on her heel and continued down the hallway. Cadence stood shocked. And then her shock turned to a
nger. She tore down the hall after Avery, catching up to her.

“Since when did you start hanging out with Gracie?” she spat.

“Fuck you.”

“I’m serious! What the hell was that comment? A
sin
?”

“Just telling you like it is,” Avery replied.

“I didn’t sin against you, Avery. I messed up. I made a—”

“Don’t you fucking say it!” Avery screamed. She pushed Cadence against the wall,
forearm to her throat. Her eyes wild and wounded. “You have no idea what you’ve done to me! I asked you to be careful! That’s it! I made it easy for you! And what do you do? You ruin my life!”

Cadence swallowed the urge to cry. She knew it would only fuel Avery’
s anger. Plus, she didn’t want her makeup to run. She worked for twenty minutes this morning to conceal her black eye as best she could.

“You’re my best friend,” Cadence whispered.

Avery narrowed her eyes.

“I know. That’s why this hurts so fucking much!”

Avery whirled around and ran for the bathroom. Cadence stayed frozen to her spot, back against the wall, feeling guilty and trapped and angry and defeated.

And scared.

Her fear intensified when a student approached her.

“M
rs. Jackson wants to see you in her office before first period,” the girl said.

“Do I have to?”
The words dropped out of her mouth before she could stop them. They were small and weak and made her feel like a five-year-old.

The girl
shrugged, confused.

“I don’t know. I’m just supposed to tell you to report to the office.”

I should run
, Cadence thought.
I should run right now
.

She eyed the girl who stood looking at her strangely.

“What happened to your eye?” the girl asked.

“An accident.”

“Like a baseball hit you or something?”

“Uh huh.”

The girl shook her head. “That’s not what happened.”

Cadence blinked. “You’re right. It’s not.” She walked past the girl towards the office and was stopped by a hand on her shoulder.

The girl whispered, “Next time, fight back.”

***

“Is everything all right?” Mrs. Jackson asked. She studied Cadence’s face.

“Oh, you mean this?” Cadence pointed to her eye. “My brother opened a door and smacked me in the face.”

Ms. Jackson nodded, unconvinced.

“Cadence, I think you know why
you’re here.”

Cadence shook her head. She knew precisely why she was in the assistant principal’s office, but she
thought if she played dumb, she’d buy more time. Time for what, she didn’t know. Maybe for Mark to make his escape? Perhaps he was at home right now packing bags. Or at the bank withdrawing money. Wiping down fingerprints. What the fuck? She didn’t know!

“Cadence?”

“Yes?”

“It’s okay,”
Mrs. Jackson said.

Cadence nodded automatically. And then she
wished she hadn’t. She feared her nod was an admission of guilt, like she was telling Mrs. Jackson, “You’re right. Mr. Connelly and I are sleeping together.”

“I want to ask you a few questions,”
Mrs. Jackson continued.

Cadence panicked, turning in her chair at the sound of the door opening. A police officer. She spun around and looked at
the principal.

“You know Officer Tyson,”
Mrs. Jackson said.

Yes. Cadence did know him. He was the officer assigned to Crestview High. He was an asshole, and right then, in her mind, the meeting was over.

Officer Tyson took the seat next to her across from the principal.

“It’s just a formality, Cadence. Whenever I need to ask students questions, he has to be present.”

The hell he does
, Cadence thought. She glanced at the officer who wouldn’t look at her.
You’re a fucking asshole!
she screamed at him silently.

“I know this year hasn’t been easy for you,”
Mrs. Jackson said. She paused, waiting for some sort of agreement from Cadence, but she got none. “I know you had it rough coming out of juvie.”

Cadence clenched her jaw. She knew what
Mrs. Jackson was up to—trying to paint a picture of a poor, lonely, dejected target for a predator. And she wanted Cadence to agree with her. Cadence wouldn’t. She remained silent, staring the principal in the face.

“I can’t imagine what that’s like: to be bullied and to feel all alone at school,”
Mrs. Jackson said.

Cadence lifted her chin
in a show of defiance. “I was bullied? Didn’t realize it.”

M
rs. Jackson stiffened and resumed her speech.

“And when we’re bullied and feeling lonely, it makes us vulnerable. I know you felt vulnerable. I imagine if anyone said something nice to you at school, you were ready to be his best friend.”

His
, Cadence thought.
Damn, this woman is good.

M
rs. Jackson paused again, waiting for a verbal response. All she got was a blink. She shifted in her seat, obviously annoyed.

“It’s so easy for adults to take advantage of children, Cadence. And a lot of the time children don’t see it. They don’t realize. They mistake the motives, thinking these adults care about their best interests when they’re really out to do emotional and psychological harm.”

Was this rehearsed?

M
rs. Jackson waited. She stared at Cadence, willing her to speak. Cadence wouldn’t, and that’s when the conversation stopped being so friendly.

“When did Mr. Connelly solicit you for sex, and how old were you?” she asked abruptly.

Cadence’s eyes went wide. “Are you asking me when Mr. Connelly approached me at school and asked me if I wanted to have sex with him? Never.”

“When did you enter into a physical relationship with Mr. Connelly?”

“Never.”

“Cadence, we have proof that you and Mr. Connelly are together.”

An absurd thought flashed through Cadence’s mind. She imagined Mrs. Jackson broke into Mark’s apartment and stole the sheet that had her blood stain on it.

“I’m done answering questions,” Cadence snapped.

“Cadence, you aren’t in trouble here,” Mrs. Jackson said. “None of this is your fault. You were seduced and taken advantage of.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Mr. Connelly resigned today. He already knows we know. You don’t have to try and protect him. He’s going to jail, honey.”

“NO!”

Cadence jumped up and fled the office. She heard the principal call after her, and she didn’t care.

“I’m eighteen, I’m eighteen,
I’m eighteen,” she whispered, grabbing her book bag from her locker and heading for the exit. She bumped into Jacob on her way out the door.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked, noting the look of fear on her face.

“Fine. I’ve gotta go,” she mumbled, picking up her pace. He followed.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t talk to you about it,” Cadence said.

“Why not? And where have you been?” He grabbed her arm and pulled her to a halt. “What the hell happened to your eye?”

“Jacob, please let me go. I can’t tell you
anything. I need to leave. It’s an emergency.”

“Fine. I’m coming with you,” he said.

“The hell you are!” she replied, running for her car. He ran after.

She unlocked the door of a beat-up black Volkswagen.

“This isn’t your car,” Jacob said. “This looks like Mr. Con . . .” His voice trailed off.

She glared at him.

“Why are you getting into Mr. Connelly’s car?”

“Goodbye, Jacob,” Cadence said, slamming the door. He opened the passenger side door.

How was that open? She thought she only unlocked the driver’s side door.

“Get out!” she screamed.

“Why the hell do you have a black eye, and why are you in Mr. Connelly’s car? And where were you two Friday?” he asked, closing the door.

“Are you fucking kidding me? You plan to b
e a detective when you graduate? Get out of the car!”

“No.”

Cadence screamed as loudly as she could. It filled the tiny space of the vehicle, and she was convinced she’d shatter all the windows. And blow out the tires.

Jacob waited until she was thr
ough before continuing.

“Did he hurt you?
Did Mr. Connelly hurt you? Are you afraid of him, and you don’t know what to do?”

Cadence looked at him in disbelief. It was all she could take.
Pointing fingers. Kneejerk reactions. It must be Mark. He must be the bad guy. Naturally. She knew her eyes turned black as she lunged at Jacob, wrapping her hands around his throat. Just like that her alter ego appeared out of nowhere. And she was angrier this time. Not like with Gracie. This version would snap Jacob’s head right off his body.

“No,” she hissed. “He would never hur
t me. Now get the fuck out of the car.”

She released him
and put the key in the ignition.

Jacob scrambled out, barely shutting the door before she tore out of the parking lot.

“Mark!” she screamed, ripping
open the door and running to the bedroom. “Mark! MARK!!”

“Cadence?” she heard from the bathroom. She burst through the door and found Mark standing at the sink, brushing his teeth. She flung herself on him, squeezing his waist from behind, burying her face in his back.

BOOK: Better (Too Good series)
12.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Murder within Murder by Frances Lockridge
Music of the Spheres by Valmore Daniels
The Poet by Michael Connelly
The Flame in the Maze by Caitlin Sweet
Dark Soul Vol. 2 by Voinov, Aleksandr
True Magics by Erik Buchanan