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Looking straight into those haunted eyes, I say, “I’ll never take that back. I love you. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too. I’m sorry that I was so stupid. It took me way too long to do something.”
I shake my head. “You shouldn’t have.”
Peter places his hands on my shoulders and steps toward me. Looking down into my face, pressing his forehead against mine, he says, “I had to. I couldn’t lose you. Please tell me that I didn’t lose you.” Peter’s eyes are lowered to my lips. He watches me for a second and I feel it.
This is the moment that matters. What I say now will change everything. He quit so he could be with me. He resigned. I feel so guilty and so glad. I’m an emotional train wreck. My engine is derailed and there’s baggage everywhere—nightmares, worries, and regrets litter my mind. I’ve not felt like this about anyone. I never thought I’d have this chance. It was taken from me by someone I trusted. I wonder if I can really do it, if I can move on. I want to. I want to take the chance so badly I can feel it burning inside of me. Flames lick from my toes to my fingertips, urging me to move, to throw my arms around Peter and tell him how much he means to me.
But, I can’t. I gasp and my gaze falls to his chest. There are so many reasons why. Each one clangs loudly inside my mind, vying for attention, promising nothing but pain. It’s not that I don’t want him, I do. It’s that I know what this means, what that letter of resignation did. I could go back to his place right now. I could fall into his arms and let him love me until morning. I could show him how I feel about him. It’s those thoughts that scare me. The door was opened. There’s nothing holding us back, nothing keeping us apart. That makes it so much easier to see the obstacle blocking my path. I feel the scars burn, as if they might start bleeding. I’m not who I was. Pretending that I can be won’t change things. I know now. I can’t be with him, not that way. The thought terrifies me. Tears streak from the corners of my eyes. They sting and dampen my face. I open my mouth to say it, but Peter shakes his head. The look in his eyes rips me apart, but I have to say it. There’s no future for us.
Peter steps back from me. “No. Don’t say it. Sidney, give us a chance.”
“I can’t.” My voice is barely a breath. “I can’t be with you. I can’t move on. And I can’t take you down with me. I’m so sorry…So sorry.” I grab my things and walk away with tears blurring my vision. Peter calls out, but he doesn’t chase me down the steps. He watches me leave. He watches his biggest mistake walk away.
I haven’t said his name in years, not even inside my mind. It’s like summoning him, and every bad thing that happened to me while I was with him, with Dean. I wipe the tears from my eyes with the back of my hands.
As I ran down the front steps, I felt Peter’s eyes on me, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. I already ruined my life, I can’t ruin his. By the time I get to the bottom of the massive staircase and turn back, Peter is gone. I never heard him leave, never heard the click of the doors. He left without a sound. It makes me want to cry more. My vision is blurry. I can’t see a damn thing.
Yanking a tissue from my book bag, I fumble it and nearly drop everything on the ground. A few pens and Millie’s pepper spray rolls out the side. I sweep them back in, not paying attention. I’m shaking. Every ounce of me wants to fall down on the grass and cry—cry because I’m too afraid to move forward, cry because I can’t get over my past. I swallow hard and glance back up at the steps. Peter was willing to try.
But his pain is different, I think. She didn’t tie him to a seat and scratch his skin with his knife. She didn’t press harder to see if he cried. She didn’t use her strength to take what she wanted. She didn’t do things like that. His pain is different. It has to be.
I can’t relive those nightmares. That’s what being with Peter will do. I take a few breaths and steady myself. I drove over to this side of campus and need to get back to the dorm. I don’t want glassy red eyes when I walk inside. Everyone will want to know what happened.
After wiping my face again, I start down the sidewalk. The sky is so dark that it’s nearly black. There’s no moon tonight. The few trees rustle in the breeze. There are some guys ahead, toward the opposite end of the street, next to the dorm. Most are moving toward the parking lot and getting into their cars. Some are in the field next to the building, playing football. A guy with no shirt on launches the ball. I watch it streak across the sky, and it isn’t until my gaze follows the ball back down that I feel a prickling sensation on the back of my neck. I turn to see who’s watching me, but there isn’t anyone.
It seems as though I’m overly paranoid lately. I glance around, and my eyes go through the faces, most of which don’t even realize I’m there. They’re too far away, playing under the floodlights. I’m on the sidewalk in the shadows between lamp posts, two parking lots away from any of them.
Rubbing the hand over the back of my neck, I keep walking. My car is across the street. When I arrived, the main lot was full. I glance behind me one more time. I wonder where Peter went. Regret washes over me. I didn’t want to hurt him. God, the look on his face when I said ‘no’ was too much. I reach into my bag, feeling around for my keys, as I cross the street. When I’m out of the crosswalk, I hop onto the sidewalk and head into the parking lot. I’m several rows back, but it’s fairly empty tonight. Where are my keys? I pull my bag in front of me and shift things around, trying to find them. Everything is out of place from dropping the bag.
“You look as beautiful now as you did the day you ran away.”
That voice. My spine straightens. Every little hair on my neck stands on end. I nearly drop my bag as I look around for him. My fight or flight kicks in and my feet want to run, but fear holds me in place. It can’t be Dean. Why would he be here? But it is him. It’s the same voice from my nightmares. It’s a voice that I’ll never forget.
I don’t find my keys. I’m suddenly aware of how much air I’m breathing, and the way my skin is prickling. Little bumps form on my arms when I see Dean standing against the side of the building. My chest constricts. I have no words. I want to run, but for some reason I don’t move.
He pushes off the wall and walks toward me. “Damn fine way to say hello. Hello, Sidney,” he says stopping in front of me. “Then, you say ‘hello, Dean.’”
I manage to find my voice. “What are you doing here?” It’s Texas. I’m thousands of miles from home, hidden in a little town in a vast state.
Dean gives me a smile that makes my blood run cold. It’s the same look he had in his eye before he—
I push away the memories, but they won’t be tamed. I’m suddenly there again. It’s four years ago. Dean has a knife on my thigh. I can’t make a sound or he’ll cut me. I lay perfectly still, letting him use me however he wants. Another memory flies forward, from when the tiniest whimper left my lips. I feel the pain sear my neck like he just did it. There were too many times. I shiver and try to force them back, but I can’t, not with Dean standing there.
“Nice way to say hello. You were always a bit of bitch, weren’t you?” His eyes drop to my breasts as he speaks. They linger there too long before returning to my face. “Just the way I like it.” He steps toward me. He touches my forearm, runs his finger along my skin. I choke, but it’s silent. I make no sound because that’s what he conditioned me to do.
We’re standing a few spaces away from my car. My book bag is hanging off my shoulder. No one is nearby. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t, is replaying over and over again in my mind, but I say nothing. I’m frozen.
Dean’s hands touch my skin lightly, trailing a sickening path up to my neck. He pushes my chin to the side and lifts the chain around my neck. He grins. “It scarred.” He looks into my eyes and grins. “Fun times, huh, Colleli?” He drops the chain and steps back.
Dean strokes his chin and shakes his head. “Damn shame we don’t have time right now. I’d love to fuck the way we used to, but I promised your brother that we’d meet up with him as soon as I found you.” Dean grins at me. His eyes sweep over my body and it feels as if I’ve been raped all over again. He pulls a phone from his pocket and texts someone.
I find my brain and what little sense of self-preservation I have left. “My brother’s here?”
Dean nods. “Yeah. Some family shit is going on. We’re here to take you home.”
My mouth opens and I’m shaking my head. Why is that worse than seeing Dean? Having Dean and Sam drag me home is unthinkable. “No, you’re not. I live here, asshole. I’m not going anywhere with you.” I push past him, trying to get to my car.
Dean’s hand shoots out. He grips my arm hard and jerks me back. I’m standing right in front of him. “I’m afraid that you don’t have a say in the matter, but I like the spine you grew while you’ve been down here.” He yanks me, turning me around so my back is to him. “It looks great with that tight little ass.”
I kick at him, and try to pull my arm back. “Let go of me! I’m not going with you.”
Dean laughs. His grip on my arm tightens. “How sweet. You think you get a say in this. Well, you don’t. Get in the fucking truck.” I nearly fall over when I look up and see where he’s leading me. It’s the Explorer he used to drive, the same one where he did all those things to me. My knees go weak. I fall. My bag hits the ground next to me and the contents spill out. Pens, pencils, and papers go everywhere. The wind takes the pages and blows them down the street like they’re snowflakes.
My eyes are too wide. My lips are parted. The voice in my head keeps telling me to scream, but I can’t. I have no air. It’s as if someone hit me in the back with a board.
“Get up and get into the goddamn truck before I throw you in.” Dean pulls at me, but I’m dead weight slumped on the ground in a heap. He pulls harder, twisting my arm. I yelp and look up at him. “I’ll break it. I swear to God. Get up and get in the truck.”