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Authors: Melissa Pearl

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BOOK: Betwixt, Before, Beyond
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Chapter Nineteen

 

When we reach his house, we climb the stairs in silence. Dale closes the door behind him and I take a seat on his bed.

"Where's Jester?"

"He's been banished for the day after peeing on Mom's Persian."

I chuckle and move further back on the bed as Dale lies down on his
back. I lay down so my head is resting near his then roll onto my side so I can see him. He turns in my direction.

"I wish I could touch you right now."

"Why?"

For some reason that makes me nervous. Plenty of other boys have said that to me before and I've always given in. I don't want it to be like that with Dale. Not that I can actually sleep with him right now, but if I could and
I did...would he speak to me in the morning?

My voice shakes as I ask, "What would you do?"

"Well," Dale smiles, "you know your long bangs, how they always fall forward and cover up your left eye?"

I nod.

Dale moves to his side, so we're lying face to face. "I'd tuck them behind your ear and make sure you were looking at me so I could tell you that I don't think you're horrible, I think you're amazing."

"No you don't." I scoff.

He grins at me. "I think that's another reason why I was so annoyed this morning. All the people you choose to hang out with have no idea who you really are. They're spending too much time bringing out the worst in you to discover how awesome you can be."

"I'm not awesome, Dale."

"Yes you are. I asked around...talked to your old friends. One of them told me you used to write these amazing poems. Brody, the guy from your English class, said you used to invite everyone over for these movie marathons and your mom would cook enough popcorn to feed a country."

I smile as I remember the large bowls we used to fill to overflowing. Popcorn would be found for days afterwards, shoved behind couch cushions, hidden under the rug. Dad would get so riled and Mom would ju
st giggle and shake her head...then Jody would start eating it.

"Lisa from your dance class said you guys would spend hours choreographing moves and performing these recitals for your parents. And Jake from Graphics said you used to read books and
then redesign their covers. And—"

"That's enough Dale." Far out. Had he been playing reporter all day?

"Don't you see, Nicky? You're brilliant."

I think about all the covers I had spent hours designing on photoshop. It's what I wanted to do with my life, become a graphic designer and work for authors all over the globe. I used to spend hours in bookstores studying covers, pointing out things I liked and would have done differently to anyone who would listen. My mother used to accuse me of being obsessed. I used to pin my designs up all over my walls.

The summer after Jody died, I ripped them all down and threw them away.

I lick my lips and look to the ceiling.

Shaking my head, I sigh. "When Jody died my whole family shut down. We had nothing to say to each other." I could hardly tell them the truth about that day. I swallow and shoot a nervous glance at Dale. Thankfully he can't see me. "I didn't know what to do. I was so lost and when I got to high school, Brad Schuman noticed me. He thought I was cute...or vulnerable, I don't know. When he started flirting with me, I couldn't resist. He was the first person to talk to me and not follow it up with some sympathetic look or awkward hug. He pulled me into his life and just made me forget about everything. Once I slept with Chris all the girls thought I was cool and all the guys thought I was easy. It was a done deal after that." I grimace at the memories. “Before this happened, I would have sworn I'd be lost without them."

"Pretty big wake up call, huh?"

I turn back to look at him. "Anything like yours?"

He wrinkles his nose.

"Come on. What were you like before the scars?"

Dale's laugh is cold and hard. "Awful. I was a little shit." He swallows. "My mom was sixteen when she had my sister. It was pretty bad. Dad was a senior heading off to seminary and they made a mistake. Mom was whisked away to live with her grandparents and they never thought they'd see each other again. Ten years later they
bumped into each other and got married before anyone could stop them...and then I came along.

“They had so much to prove, s
o many people against them. I think they were just afraid that if they weren't super strict that Rachel and I would make the same mistakes." He sighs. "Rachel didn't care, she was such a good kid and loved following the rules. I felt suffocated. When I turned fourteen I started hanging out with the bad kids at school, just to stress my mom out. They didn't know what to do with me."

He starts picking at a thread on the pocket of his jeans.
"I started smoking and sneaking out to parties, it wasn't long before I was drinking...and then came the joy riding. We'd break into really nice cars and drive as fast as we could around the back roads. Then we'd return them exactly as we found them and run home laughing. It was a rush. We nearly got caught by the cops a couple of times."

His face bunches with pain as he goes quiet.

"What?" I touch his frown lines, trying to smooth them away. He looks at me, his eyes filling with a sorrow he'll never fully be rid of. He closes his eyes and sighs.

"I wasn't dri
ving the night of the accident, Jack was. I was squished into the back seat with Hugh and Luis. I don't know what happened. We hit something and tumbled down a hill. Luis went straight through the windshield." Dale's face bunches with agony. I can only imagine the images taunting him right now.

He takes a deep breath and keeps going, slowly opening his eyes.
"It took an hour for Jack to die and then another two before Travis stopped moaning...he was in the front passenger seat." Dale bites his bottom lip, his gaze frozen. It's like he's back there reliving it all for a moment. His voice is barely a whisper. "I don't know when Hugh died. He was in the seat across from me and spent about an hour screaming that his leg hurt. I couldn't do anything. I was pinned. My face was caught on a tree branch that had punctured the window. Every time I tried to move, I thought I might rip my head off and my shoulder was radiating pain. I didn't think I'd ever be able to use it again."

I blink at tears as I listen to his story. His voice is detached as he runs through the rest of the details.

"Eventually it got really, really quiet. I knew it was only a matter of time before I joined these guys. I don't know why, but I just started talking out loud. I wanted to live, so I started pleading."

"With who?"

"God." A gentle smile crosses his face as he breaks free of the nightmares. His eyes are bright and clear as he faces me. "I begged him to let me live...and He did. As soon as I could think straight again, I decided to stop wasting the second chance He'd given me and start using it for good."

He looks serious as he nods.
"I think about it every day...and every day it motivates me."

I thought I liked
Dale before this story, now he's moved up another few notches and all I want to do is be close to him. I shuffle to his side, wanting to curl into his arms, but knowing I can't. I rest my knee against his leg.

"Your parents don't seem so strict now."

"I wasn't the only one who needed to change. Mom quit work and home schooled me while I recovered. She helped me with my physical therapy and made me do all my exercises, kept telling me if I ever wanted to play the drums or be able to carry my wife across the threshold, I better get my shoulder working." He chuckles. "Dad gave up being a minister and we moved up here. They wanted to take me away from my old life, start afresh."

He glances at me.

"He took up counselling and mom decided to stay at home and care for me. We set some new ground rules and one of them was honesty. Every time I feel a little suffocated, I tell them and every time they think I'm slipping back they reel me in. It's been working okay so far...and ending home schooling probably averted World War Three."

"It must have been hard for you, coming into a school in your junior year, halfway through."

A quiet smile crosses his face, like he knows something more than he's telling me. I frown and am about to ask, but then he licks his bottom lip and starts talking again. "It wasn't easy, but there was..." He clears his throat and glances at me. "It was time to join the world again." He shrugs. "And it was better than being home and telling my mother I was suffocating every day."

"I wish I could talk to my parents like that."

"Well, when you make it out of this, you should start."

"If I make it out."

He looks at me. "You will. This will be your second chance...just like mine. All you have to decide now is what you want to do with it." He gives me a gentle smile. "What do you want?"

"I don't know," I whisper back.

Dale's smile is sad, but he nods anyway. Stretching out his arm, he beckons me to lie on his shoulder.

My hesitation is brief and I'm eventually snuggling into his firm chest. I run my hand over his shirt and he shivers. I wish I could feel him. I have to concentrate really hard to hover on his shoulder. Every time my mind starts wandering I feel my head melting into him.

We lie in silence for a while. Me concentrating. Dale dropping into a light slumber. The night has set in. I can feel an odd coldness creeping into my bones. I inch closer to him, wishing I was snuggled beneath the covers, wrapped in his arms. I glance at Dale. His eyes are closed. I wonder what it would be like to sleep next to him all night.

I'd never done that with a guy, lain beside him, just cuddling.

"Are you a virgin?"

Dale opens his eyes and sighs. "I wish I could say yes."

"Me too."

The answer comes so
swiftly, I know it must be true. I frown.

Dale clears his throat. "I've decided I'm not going do it again until I meet the girl I'm going to marry."

"What?" I turn my head on his shoulder. "But you're a guy?"

"So?"

"Don't you have certain needs?"

"Yeah." He nods. "I need to make love to my wife and not just screw any girl that comes along."

"I guess there is a difference...between making love and having sex."

"There most definitely is."

"I don't think I've ever made love before."

"Me neither."

I drape my arm across his chest. "Do you think you'll be able to do it?"

Dale chuckles. "Wait for the right girl?"

"Uh-huh."

"Yeah...
I just hope I meet her in college."

I laugh. "She's a lucky one, whoever she is. Most guys don't think like you, they just take and walk away."

"That's only because you hang out with dickheads."

"Let's face it. It's what I deserve."

"No it's not," he whispers.

How does he know? I don't want to think about it anymore so instead bury my head in his neck. "Can you feel that?"

"Yeah."

"What's it like?"

"It's like fine mist is resting on my skin."

"Does it feel nice?"

"Yeah, Nicky. It feels really nice."

Why does Nicky sound so sweet on his lips? The name was tainted after Jody screamed it befor
e her death, but he makes it...hear-able again.

I look up and his eyes start to close. He has a contended smile on his
lips as he drifts to sleep.

 

Chapter Twenty

 

I want to stay and watch him as the night drifts away, but something compels me home. Sneaking into the house, I pad to my parents bedroom and find it empty. Frowning, I turn towards the kitchen. Mom is sitting at the counter steeping yet another cup of tea. She's in zombie mode again.

I watch her pull the teabag in and out of the cup of steaming water.
Up-down, up-down, like a robot. She's staring into space looking empty and desolate.

"Where's Dad?"

Her only response is an eye blink.

I step away from the counter and head into the
living room. With the darkness outside, I can't see the dreaded tree, but I can still picture it in my mind... a little girl is falling from a high branch and all I can do is watch in muted horror.

Shuddering, I close my eyes to ward off the image. I head for the stairwell. A light is on in my room.

I run up there to find my Dad sitting on my bed. Party photos are scattered around him and my diary is open. Bile burns my stomach as I step into the room. He looks like he's been hit by a tsunami and all I can do is stare at him.

The word sorry is resting on my lip
s, but I can't quite get it out. I'm too disgusted with myself to speak. I hate that they've found these. I hate that they know what I've been doing to myself.

"It hurts, doesn't it?"

I jump at my mother's voice. She stands there with her cup of tea, leaning against the doorframe, just like Dad had yesterday.

"I—
I had no idea."

My mother takes in a shaky breath and blinks at tears.

Dad starts packing up the photos, piling them together with a pained expression creasing his face. He holds the edges as if he doesn't want to touch them. Running his hand over the open pages of my diary, he lets out a slow sigh. "Do you think that Finnigan kid might be right?"

"I don't want to think about it."

Dad glances out the window, his mouth set in a pinched line. "Ignoring the issues doesn't make them go away, Tru."

Mom looks hurt by his statement, her expression is beginning to fracture, but she takes a
breath and pulls it together...just.

"I don't know which is worse...
her struggling out there on her own...or her dea—"

"DON'T say it, Mitchell." Her eyes are wild when he turns to meet them. "I can't lose them both."

My Dad's face cracks as his eyes fill with tears. "We've already lost her." He points to the pile of pictures.

"But at least if she's run away there's still a chance she'll come back."

Dad runs his fingers into his hair and grabs a fistful. "Why would she want to?"

I can feel my heart splintering as I watch Dad's mouth fight back a sob.
"You were right, Tru. We should have done better. We thought this freedom would help her deal with her pain."

"We didn't want her to feel any blame or responsibility for what happened. We didn't want to put any pressure on her."

"But she felt abandoned!"

Dad shoots up from the bed and thumps his hand on the wall. He leans his head on his fist and looks ready to smash something.

"She felt completely unprotected. I'm her father." He spins to face Mom. "I was supposed to look after her and instead I fed her to the wolves. Look at this!"

He grabs the photos and throws them across the room, then reaches into my drawer and pulls out a packet of condoms I had hiding in there. They spray out of the box as it's flung towards the window.

"She was sleeping around. My little girl was having sex! What else was she doing? Was she into drugs?"

I shake my head. "Never," I whisper.

"Is she O.Ded somewhere... at some party where no one cares about who she is or where she's come from?"

Tears are streaming down my face as his shoulders slump. My mother is quietly sobbing into her tea.

"I love her." He drops to his knees. "She's my little girl. I love her so much and I'll never get to tell her."

Burying his head in his hands, he sobs. His
shoulders shake as loud moans come out of his body.

Mom places her tea on the desk and kneels beside him, running a hand over his back and burying her head into his neck. They weep against each other and I can't help joining them.

Covering my mouth, I let the tears stream unchecked.

He loves me. My Dad actually loves me.

"I'm sorry," I cry. "I'm sorry, Daddy."

My head starts to sear with a sharp pain as my bed rushes towards me. I fall to my knees and cry out as the sobs and aches mingle together. I'm heading back to my body. Part of me wants it. I can't watch my father fall apart. Another part can't bear to leave.

I open my eyes as my room goes blurry, there's no stopping this now. A soft whistle plays in my brain as I'm pulled back. It sounds familiar, but I can't think where I've heard it.

My parents fade and the whistling gets louder.

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