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Authors: Rebecca Yarros

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BOOK: Ignite (Legacy)
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11
River

I
took
another sip of hospital coffee and tried to stay awake. We’d been traveling sixteen hours, having driven to Denver the night before to get the first flight out. Avery couldn’t wait to fly out of Gunnison in the morning.

We’d come straight to the hospital where her dad was in the ICU, and I’d been sitting out here for at least another two hours, just hoping that she was okay in there with him.

“They say if he makes it through the night, he should be okay,” Adeline said, curled into my side.

“He’s a tough guy, your dad,” I told her. It didn’t matter what an ass he’d been; no kid deserved to lose her father this way.

“I hate him,” she whispered. “Why can’t he just be like other dads?”

I put my coffee down and wrapped my other arm around her. “I know, and you know what? It’s not fair. But I do know that you and your sister are some of the strongest, smartest women I know, and I think that has a lot to do with what you’ve been through. Don’t hate him, Addy. He struggles with something we can’t understand.”

Problem was, I hated him. I hated that the moment Avery found out he’d overdosed, she’d clammed up. She went distant. Gone were the soft looks, the warm touches. Gone were the kisses, the talks about our future. She stared out the fucking window on every airplane and responded to questions in one-word answers.

My Avery was gone in the span of a heartbeat as we’d packed, driven, flown, and arrived. It wasn’t even that she’d pulled away romantically that pissed me off. It was that she’d blocked me as her best friend. She’d closed herself down and built a wall so high I’d need a damn ladder.

“Do you want me to take you home?” I asked Addy.

“No. I’m scared that if I leave…”

He won’t be alive when I come back.
I heard it loud and clear without her uttering a word.

“I understand.”

Another hour passed before Avery walked out.

I moved to sit up straight, but she shook her head. “He’s still… He’s alive,” she whispered as she motioned to Addy. “How long has she been asleep?”

“About a half hour,” I said softly.

She nodded, taking the seat on the other side of me. Her skin was pale in gross contrast to the dark circles under her eyes. The worst part was that they were flat, giving away no hint of whatever emotion she was feeling.

“How is he?” I asked.

“Stable.” She shrugged. “Aunt Dawn is a mess. I never told her how bad it really was. Figured if I could handle it on my own, why air the laundry, you know?”

I threaded our fingers and squeezed lightly. “You’ve done a damn fine job. Better than anyone else could have. What happened here is not your fault. It’s his.”

She nodded slowly, repetitively, which moved to slight rocking motions. “I should have been here.”

Boom.
I heard my heart hit the floor with every word. “This isn’t your fault,” I repeated. “You have to know that or it will eat you up.”

She kept rocking, but the head nod changed to her shaking it. “I should have been here. I know to move the meds. I know what he’s capable of.”

“Avery,” I begged.

She stood up, dropped my hand, and walked back into the ICU.

* * *

T
wo days
later he was still alive.

I wasn’t so sure about Avery. She was gaunt, quiet, and barely left his room unless the nurses told her she had to. She slept on the waiting room couches and only went home to shower.

I’d given up on trying to get her to talk to me yesterday. Avery would open up when she wanted to, and until then it was like chipping away at Fort Knox with a fucking toothpick.

So instead of sitting there for hours, waiting for her to realize I was right next to her, I started on the list Bishop had texted me.

“Friday is great,” I told the moving company. “I’m just impressed you can get it done by then. Thank you.”

I hung up and crossed
coordinate movers
off my to-do list as I chugged down a glass of water.

I’d already put his truck on Craigslist and had an appointment to show it to a potential buyer. Not bad for a Tuesday morning.

On the flipside, he was having the satellite installed at our new place in Colorado.

Is it ours? Is she even coming?

A knock at the door startled Zeus, but he was wagging like a puppy when I opened the door to find Avery standing there. Her hair was up in a messy knot, but it was clean, and her jeans and baseball tee were different than the outfit I’d seen her in this morning.

“Hey. You didn’t have to knock.”

She shrugged, preoccupied with petting Zeus. “I didn’t want to barge in. Do you have a couple of minutes?” Finally, she looked up at me, but the cool, detached look in her eyes had my stomach somersaulting.

“Of course. Come on in.”

She passed me in the doorway, careful not to brush against me, and my senses went on high alert, warning bells screaming in my ears. “Dad’s awake,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest. The move didn’t look defensive, more like what she would do to hold herself together.

“That’s great!” He was going to be okay. My relief was short-lived because when I reached for her, she stepped away. “Avery?”

She shook her head, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip momentarily. “Just stay over there. I can’t think when you touch me.”

“Okay,” I said slowly, tucking my thumbs into the pockets of my shorts to keep my hands off her. She looked so small, defenseless, and it was ripping me apart that she didn’t want me to touch her.

“He’s awake and talking since this morning, right after you left, actually.”

“That’s good. What’s wrong? This is good—no, great news. He’s going to be okay. Maybe this will be a turning point for him.”

She laughed, the sound bitter and empty. “He won’t change. He’s never going to change. And he won’t go to Colorado. He refuses. Says that this whole thing was my fault for being gone, and that the minute I leave he’ll do it again.”

“Avery…” God, I wanted to strangle him with my bare hands. None of this was her fault, but he’d gotten it into her so young—the guilt, the obligation—until it became part of her very being.

“It wasn’t even intentional, that’s the kicker. He didn’t take the whole bottle or anything, just upped his pain meds. But the dosage he was already on gave him an accidental overdose.”

“This wasn’t your fault. I will say it every minute of every day until you realize that. He’s an adult. He made a choice.”

“But it is my fault,” she cried. “I left. I believed that someone else could care for him, and this is what happened. None of this would have happened if I’d been here—where I’m supposed to be, taking care of my family.” She rubbed her hands over her bloodshot eyes, the blue even brighter than usual. “What was I thinking?”

I walked over to her, damning her instructions, and gently lifted her wrists so I could see her face. “You were thinking that you deserve happiness, too. You deserve a life, love, kids, a future that isn’t all about when he decides to go off the rails.”

“But I don’t.” Her voice was quiet, her eyes pleading for something I didn’t know how to give. “Sometimes we draw the short straw. You lost your dad, then your mom. Are you telling me you wouldn’t feel the same if it was them? If you had a chance to be there for them, would you leave? Or would you suck up the bitterness because it’s the straw you were dealt, and just be thankful you have them around?”

The small piece of hope I’d kept cradled close screamed out its defeat and died. “You’re not coming back to Colorado with me right now.”

She shook her head. “I can’t. Look what happened when I left him.”

I took a deep, steadying breath and pulled out plan B. “Okay, then we’ll spend the winter here, get him healthy, and talk about it again in the spring. By then maybe his head will be clear enough to make a better choice.”

“No,” she whispered. “He said he’ll die in that house before he moves. It’s where we all lived when Mom was alive, and that’s all there is left.”

“I typically draw the line at relocating an entire house, but I can make some calls,” I tried to joke. I was grasping at straws as they slid through my hands.

“He’s lonely. He said that I’m never there, and he’s right. Between working both jobs and seeing…”

“Me,” I offered, my tone tensing.

“You,” she agreed softly. “With all that, I’m not around for him, and there’s no one else he’ll let in.”

“What are you saying?” I asked, the pit in my stomach growing to black-hole proportions.

She looked up at me, the sadness of the world pouring out of her eyes, and I knew. I fucking
knew.
“You’re not coming at all.”

“I can’t. I would never forgive myself if something happened to him.”

My mind swam, trying to come up with plan C. “Okay, so I’ll go seasonal. I’ll work with the Legacy crew in the summer, and come back for winters. It will suck, but we can manage it.”

She shook her head. “No. It wouldn’t work. We’d both be miserable, and eventually you’d resent me. We’d just be prolonging the inevitable.”

“Don’t do this.”

She tugged her wrists free and cupped my face with her hands, scratching her palms over my day’s worth of stubble. “You are the most beautiful dream. What we could have had…that was another life, with another girl who could walk away from her responsibility. That girl is never going to be me. Maybe if Adeline was grown, but there’s just too much here.”

“I can call Bash. I’ll back out of the team. There’s one other guy they could call, and I’ll make sure he takes the slot.”

She brushed her thumb over my lower lip. “You staying won’t fix anything. I’d cost you the chance to be on the Legacy crew.”

“I don’t care. Nothing matters without you.”

Her hands fell from my face, and I realized that I was wrong. I wasn’t grasping at straws—I was desperately clutching at her, and she fell through my fingers like running water, impossible to hold and yet even harder to whisk away in its entirety. She’d already soaked into my soul.

“I can’t be with you, River. Not now. Not ever. I can’t go, and you can’t stay. Our dream was beautiful—the happiest few days of my life—but it’s time to wake up. I’m not a child. I can’t do selfish things, and not everyone gets the fairy tale.”

“You are my fairy tale,” I argued. “You are the only woman I have ever loved. The only woman I
will ever
love, and I’m not giving up that easily.”

“I’m not giving you a choice!” she yelled, backing away from me. The lack of physical contact felt like having a limb severed. My nerves screamed to have her back. “God, can’t you see? I’m still the girl with the goddamned rusted lug nuts on the flat tire. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to leave him. That’s not what good people do!”

I raked my hands down my face. “So what am I supposed to do? Leave you because you’re honorable? Because you stepped up to do what no one else would? Do you expect me to be less than the man you know by walking away?”

She shook her head, two crystal tears streaking down her cheeks. “No. I expect you to do what you need to for
your
family. Go to Colorado. Become what you were destined to be. Live in that house and be happy, River. Just be happy!”

“I can’t be happy without you! Is that seriously what you think of me? That I can move, start over? Forget that you exist? You’re in every single breath I take, every thought I have. I’m not leaving you here to carry this by yourself. To raise Addy, to take care of your dad, to work yourself to death. That’s not in my nature.”

“It’s not your choice to make,” she said, furiously wiping her tears away. “Whether or not you’re still here, we’re over. I won’t sit by and watch you resent me, watch you kiss that picture every time you come home from a fire. That will kill me far more than knowing you’re happy somewhere else…with someone else.”

Pure, white-hot rage choked me, and I had to swallow a couple times before I was under control. “If you think you’re that easily replaceable, then you never really knew me.”

“We only had a few days,” she said quietly.

“We had seven fucking years.”

“And they’re over. We’re over.”

“Avery…”

“What’s your solution, River? What happens if you stay here and Bishop is killed on a fire? You wouldn’t ever recover from that. The guilt alone would destroy you. What if I go there and my dad dies because I wasn’t here to take care of him? I’m his daughter. His flesh and bone. I owe this to my mother. I promised her, and as much as I—” My heart stopped as she sucked in a breath, closing her eyes for a moment. “As much as I care for you, it would turn to hate for putting me in that position where I have to choose to abandon my family to be with you.”

Hate.
The word drove a knife through my chest, and as sure as if it was a physical wound, my heart bled out on my hardwood floor. “You’re really ending this.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

I shook my head. “No, you have
all
the choices, you’re just refusing to make them. I’m not saying they’re easy choices, but at least you have them. Me, on the other hand, I get to stand here while you shred me because you’re not willing to take a fucking chance!”

BOOK: Ignite (Legacy)
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