Read Reasons to Leave (Reasons #1) Online

Authors: Lisa J. Hobman

Tags: #Highlands, #Scotland, #Love and loss, #contemporary romance, #second chance

Reasons to Leave (Reasons #1) (10 page)

BOOK: Reasons to Leave (Reasons #1)
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Once she had calmed and her sobs had subsided into whimpers, he tilted her chin up so that she met his gaze, their noses only an inch apart. His eyes trailed from hers down to her lips where they hesitated for a moment before locking onto her eyes again.

“I know you don’t believe me. And I don’t blame you, but you
were
the most important thing in my life. In fact, you
were
my life.”

Her heart fluttered at his closeness. “Then please tell me why you left me.”

 

Chapter Six

Stevie straddled Jason’s lap, just like she would have done in his room all those years ago. Oddly enough, it didn’t feel strange to be sitting this way. Jason tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and caught the last of her tears with his thumbs.

He closed his eyes and took a deep, slow, shaking breath. When he opened them again, he had a hard, distant look about him.

“It started at primary school. I was doing so well in every subject. I was getting really good reports. I was…what…ten?” He shrugged. “Everything was going great. That is until I got chicken pox from Danny Milton. Remember?”

She vaguely remembered him being off school for a while, but at age ten she and Jason weren’t such good friends. He was always teasing her. She nodded anyway.

“It made me really ill. I had such a bad case that I ended up in hospital for a few days and I was off school for weeks. Anyway, when I went back I struggled to catch up. I tried hard, but apparently I didn’t try hard enough.” He clenched his jaw and she could feel the tension radiating through his body.

He closed his eyes again.

“Jason?”

He snapped his eyes open as if remembering she was there with him. “Sorry…yeah. So my dad was…erm…not too happy that I’d fallen behind. He was so used to being able to brag to his friends that his eldest son was the brightest kid in school. Me lagging behind suddenly meant that he had to make excuses for me.”

She frowned. “What do you mean he had to
make excuses
for you? He’s your dad. Why would he have to tell anyone
anything
? You’d been ill, for goodness sake.”

“Yep, most parents would see it that way too. Mum did. But not
him
…no…
he
was pissed off that I got seven out of ten in my spelling test that week instead of my usual ten.”

She swallowed hard. “So what’s this got to do with anything between you and I?”

“He started by just slapping me around the head and insulting me. It hurt, but I was a tough kid.”

“Again, what has this got—”

“Stevie, I’m trying to start at the beginning…please.”

She cringed. “Sorry…okay…go on.”

“He’d warn me to try harder. I
would
try really hard, but no matter what happened… If I didn’t get full marks, he’d slap me around the head and back a few times and call me thick. Tell me I would amount to nothing… I was
ten
.”

She gasped. “That’s so cruel.”

His laugh was humourless. “You think?”

“Did things get worse?”

“Oh, hell yeah. I didn’t dare get poor grades for anything. I even tried lying. But I’m human…humans make mistakes, although
he
wouldn’t accept that. No kid of his was going to make him a laughing stock. That’s what I was reminded of regularly.”

An unwelcomed picture began to build in her mind. She bit her lips to stop herself from speaking as he continued.

“The older I got, the harsher the punishments were if I didn’t quite meet his expectations. He had a piece of garden cane that he kept in his shed. If I got less than the expected full marks, he’d remind me with the cane across my back just how badly I’d done. Not that I needed reminding. I felt humiliated enough simply by hearing him belittle me, telling me how stupid I was. Telling me how he wished I’d never been born and that I was an embarrassment. That I’d ruined his life.
I’d
ruined
his
life.” He shook his head as if disbelieving his own words. “But he was clever…he never left permanent marks. The hits were hard enough to hurt like hell, but not enough to scar me, initially. I was told that if I tried to complain things would get worse and that no one would take me seriously anyway.”

As tears welled up in her eyes once again, she had the overwhelming urge to comfort him. To hold him and try to erase the horrid memories he’d harboured for all this time. But instead, she sat silently, allowing the tears to spill over as she listened.

“The further on in school I was the stakes got higher and higher. It became less about my grades and more about him just hating me. He’d use any excuse.” He snorted a dry mirthless laugh. “By the time I was eighteen, we’d gone beyond the garden cane and moved on to the leather belt.” Suddenly, he made direct eye contact with her and held her face gently in his hands. “Stevie, what I wanted…what I desired more than anything in my life at that time was to make love to you. To lose myself in you. To just forget everything. I wanted to love you and be loved
by
you…but…I couldn’t. The marks that were being left on my body then were…ugly… I didn’t want you to see. I didn’t want you to be repulsed. And I didn’t want you to know what a coward I was by letting it happen.” His lip trembled as he spoke.

She watched the man before her begin to crumble. His glassy eyes held so much pain and regret. He had tortured himself more than she could ever hurt him. Not that she wanted to do that. Not
now
.

Her tears were relentless. “How could you think that? How could you think I wouldn’t still love you? What we had went way beyond looks, Jason. How could you think that I would have let that continue? I could’ve done something to help.” Her voice was just above a whisper.

He smiled sadly. “You couldn’t have done anything. You were such a beautiful girl…inside and out. I didn’t want you to be tainted by knowing all this shit back then. It was
my
problem to deal with.”

“But why didn’t you report it? Get someone to make him stop?”

“I didn’t know who to tell back then. And I didn’t want him to get into trouble, as stupid as that sounds. He was still my dad, and he would still tell me he loved me when Mum and Dillon were around. I’d believe him, and then it’d be back to the beatings when I’d not done the right thing. I still…still have faint scars, but the worst marks weren’t the physical ones. He made me feel worthless…like I didn’t deserve happiness. He took a wrecking ball to my self-esteem. I hated myself as well as him. I was so sure that I deserved the treatment. I was so sure that I’d done something terrible to have been punished in such a brutal way.”

A sob left her throat as she imagined him being so terrified that he couldn’t tell anyone and that he’d felt the need to stay covered up in front of her, the girl he loved. She had always thought he was waiting. He had always told her that’s what he was doing, and she’d had no reason to disbelieve him. He had told her he wanted their first time to be perfect, but in the end, she thought he hadn’t wanted her at all. Clearly, now she realised she was so very wrong,

“I’m so sorry, Jason. I should’ve known.”

He gripped her arms. “No, don’t you
dare
blame yourself. This is
not
your fault. I won’t have you feeling guilty for me. There was
nothing
you could’ve done.”

She placed her hands on his chest. His heart was racing under her touch. “But it wasn’t
your
fault either. You didn’t deserve any of that.” She reached up to touch his cheek.

“I didn’t know that at the time. I felt…I felt like such a disappointment…like I could do nothing right. You were the only light in my dark tunnel of a life. I just wanted…no…
needed
to get away from
him
…from my life.” His bottom lip quivered and a tear balanced on his lower eyelid, teetered for a spilt second and then fell. “I knew I hadn’t done as well in my finals as he’d want. I
knew
I wasn’t going to get the required four A’s.” His voice broke again.

“That was going to be another reason for him to hit me and make me feel like shit.
He
wanted me to be a doctor.
I
never wanted that. It meant more to him to be able to brag to his friends and live vicariously through me than it did to have me happy. And if I’m honest, I have no idea what would’ve happened if he laid another finger on me…or belt…or whatever the hell implement of torture awaited me. But I’d turned eighteen, and I couldn’t wait around to find out. I would’ve killed him. I’d been on the verge of retaliation so often, but I didn’t want to
be
like him. And I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t tell Dillon. I couldn’t tell
anyone
. When I left I didn’t
want
to be found. If I’d have been found, I would’ve ended up coming back to more of the same or…or worse. I would’ve ended up in prison…or dead.”

She nodded and lifted her hands to gently wipe his tears away. She wished at that moment that she could go back. She would’ve done anything she could to stop it all from happening.

“I hope you understand why I couldn’t tell you. I know how much you loved me, and I know you would’ve tried to intervene. So I couldn’t risk you getting involved…not in
any
way.”

“Did…did your mum know?”

Jason huffed out a held breath. “I honestly don’t know. It was all so well hidden. But she can’t have been totally oblivious to the fact that our relationship was strained. How can you live in the same house as someone who’s capable of that level of cruelty and not know? But I didn’t blame her. She was probably scared too.”

“Did he do the same to Dillon? Or your mum?”

“No, I kept an eye on Dillon. I think I maybe
would
have killed him if he’d started on my little brother…and my mum was always just so…positive all the time. They never argued. Well I never saw or heard them. She was maybe in some kind of denial, self-preservation and all that. I’m guessing if she did know she believed if she ignored it long enough it would stop…or go away maybe. I really don’t know. I know how much she loved me though. My heart tells me she had no idea.”

Placing her hands on either side of his face, she rested her forehead on his. “I…I hate him. I hate him so much for ruining your life…and in turn, ruining my life too.”

Jason clenched his jaw and closed his eyes for a few moments. “No one hates him more than I do.
No one
.”

“Have you seen him since?” She wondered how much he actually knew about life back home.

“Nope. I never made contact with anyone. Once I left, that was it. I drew a line under everything. I couldn’t look back. I joined the army and tried to forget.”

She raised her brow. “The army?”

He smiled at her reaction. “Yes, I needed some way of getting my anger and aggression out in a controlled way. The army taught me how to channel my feelings into something positive. I needed the discipline. Fighting for my country was…well…if anything good could come from all this shit, then
that
was it.”

“When you talked about wanting to un-see things, was that connected to your time in the army?”

He nodded. “I saw terrible things. I saw my friends killed. I saw innocent people killed. It was horrific. I still have nightmares about the things I experienced.”

She closed her eyes, dreading delivering the next piece of information. “Oh God, Jason, you don’t know.”

“Know what? What’s wrong?”

“Oh Jason, I’m so, so sorry. Your mum…she passed away…two years ago.”

A pained sob left his body, and he crumpled into her chest.

Chapter Seven

Stevie held onto Jason as he convulsed with agonising sobs. She could tell that the news of his mother’s death had been like a blow to the solar plexus. The painful heart rending cries racking his body were almost too much for her to bear. But bear them she did. She stroked his hair as he rested his head on her shoulder, his tears soaking through her fleece and tank top. Her own tears fell silently as she clung to him.

She had visited Shirley in hospital on several occasions and had been support for her through the years that Jason was missing. Shirley had always said Stevie was like a daughter to her. Her illness had simply gotten worse and worse until it finally took her. Stevie now knew that guilt could have played a huge part in her not fighting the heart disease. It was as if Shirley felt it was somehow a befitting and just punishment. Looking back now, things made a lot more sense.

Jason cried for what felt like an age. When he finally stopped, he gazed up at her with a look of deep regret. “I should’ve been there.” He paused for a moment, deep in thought. “I think I always presumed they’d go on forever…you know…somehow frozen in time. Don’t get me wrong, I know people change and life goes on, but naïvely I just thought Mum would be fine.” His voice broke again and her heart lurched.

BOOK: Reasons to Leave (Reasons #1)
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