Page 15

 Kim Karr

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River shakes his head and I swear I see the hint of a smirk, but, before he can comment, Bell chimes in, “Oh he’s my ex-boyfriend. That would be so cool.”
Everyone at the table laughs and looks at her.
“What?” Bell asks.
Xander being Xander just says it like it is. “Bell, just because you meet up with a guy once doesn’t mean he was ever your boyfriend.”
I’m surprised he uses the term meet up, but I guess he doesn’t want Charlotte yelling at him for swearing at the table.
Bell pouts her lips. “Shut up, Xander, you’re just jealous because I actually have friends.”
“Sure, friends Bell, that’s what they are.”
I really have to stifle my laughter when Bell sticks her tongue out at him. But I’m quickly reminded of River’s despondency when he doesn’t join in their banter like he usually does.
Charlotte clears her throat. “That’s enough.” It’s all she has to say and the conversation comes to an end.
We spend the rest of the night talking music, and, whenever the Wilde Ones’ tour is mentioned, River withdraws into himself even more. I can see Charlotte notice and I’m surprised she doesn’t say anything.
Once we’ve all helped clean up, River turns to me. “You ready to go?”
I nod my head and we say our goodbyes. Xander is right behind us as we leave and Bell has already run up to her room to get ready for a date with another “boyfriend.”
Once River closes my door, I hear Xander call him over. I watch the two brothers and they appear to be arguing. I’m not sure what’s driving River’s moodiness—reluctance over the impending tour, Ben’s return, or just simply exhaustion. I am determined that tonight we will finally sit down to talk and we can work through everything together.
Chapter 11
High for This
When we finally pull in the driveway it’s after eleven and I’m so tired. We hardly talked on the short drive home—the only conversation we had was when I asked him why his family reacted strangely to Damon Wolf’s name and River told me Xander dated Ivy years ago. I didn’t ask any more questions because he seemed to close the door to that conversation quickly with his abrupt answer. He opens my door and quickly leads me to the stairs. I know it’s now or never, so I tug his hand in the opposite direction.
“What?” he asks.
“Let’s go sit outside, I think we should talk.”
Jaw clenched, he says, “You sure you want to do this now?”
Staring at him, I sigh, “River . . . I think we’ve avoided too many conversations in the last few days. So, yeah, I think we should do this now.” I know it probably isn’t the perfect time, especially since he just told me about his father, but even at dinner I could feel the strain between us and I don’t want it to continue. We can talk about anything and everything—so why can’t we talk about Ben?
He nods his head and leads me out the door to the lower pool deck. He pulls another chair over to where he sat last night and tries to avoid knocking over the beer bottles still there. We sit in silence for a long while, both of us facing the pool and the Hollywood sign. When I kick my shoes off, he does the same and catches my eye. I can see he’s unsure about how to proceed, so I just start the conversation by blurting out what’s on my mind. “We talked a little bit last night about this, and even though Grace asked you not to tell me who attacked me, I wish you did. It’s not that I don’t get why you didn’t—I just don’t like you keeping things from me. Actually, I really, really dislike it.”
He leans over with his head down and his hands behind his neck. When he looks up at me his eyes seem clouded with indecision. “Dahlia, it’s not just about keeping things from you. It’s more complicated than that.”
Starting to get angry, I try to control myself. “What do you mean? In what way? What’s complicated about not keeping things from me?”
He closes his eyes. “I didn’t see it as keeping anything from you. I intended to tell you. Just not right away. You don’t understand how I felt.”
Through clenched teeth, I respond, “What do you mean how you felt? You haven’t told me how you felt or anything else so how about you start with that?”
He cringes and sits back up. “Grace’s phone call that morning was a shock. I was never expecting that. But the guilt I felt for not going running with you, the sick feeling I got when they wouldn’t let me see you in the hospital, and then the regret that overwhelmed me when I finally saw you and you were lying there in the hospital bed, it was all just too much. The last thing I wanted to do was explain who had done that to you. I knew all it would do was open an old wound and cause you more pain and you were hurt enough.”
My anger fades in the face of his loving confession. He was trying to protect me in the only way he knew how, and, after hearing about his father, I understand his actions so much better. He’s rubbing his palms over his jeans with his eyes focused on me. I have to let him know I get it, that I understand. So I scoot my chair as close to his as I can and taking his hand in mine, I kiss it, then place it over my heart. No words can express my feelings right now. My head drops as I think about the amount of love I have for this man. And for me to be so upset over him not telling me, when he thought it was the right thing to do, it doesn’t seem right anymore. I don’t want to argue with him or cause him pain so I have to let this go.
He lifts my chin. “Hey, I didn’t tell you that to make you sad. I just want you to understand it wasn’t a simple decision. It’s not like I consciously made a choice. I just felt in my heart that Grace was right. A couple of days for you to heal before telling you the news wouldn’t matter either way. So although I’m sorry you got upset, I’m not sorry I didn’t tell you right away. I did what I thought was best for you. I’ll always do what I think is best for you.”
A cool breeze rushes by and I shiver. I have to apologize, so I sit up and inhale a deep breath. But when I cross my arms and rub them with my hands, he immediately notices and walks over to get my sweatshirt that’s lying on the ground from last night. As he picks it up, the note from Ben falls out of the pocket. Immediately my heart starts pounding and I bolt out of the chair, trying to retrieve the paper before he reads it. But he’s too fast. He snatches it first and quickly scans it.
I search his eyes trying to get a glimpse of what’s going through his mind. “River, it’s not what you think.”
Anger flashes across his face and it doesn’t take me long to figure out what he’s thinking as his body goes instantly rigid. With a look of betrayal, he stands there, just feet from me on the pool deck with his hands fisting at his sides, not saying anything—just staring at the note.
Stepping closer to him, I reach for the piece of paper. “Let me explain. Ben . . .”
He cuts me off as suspicion washes over his face. His voice is harsh, almost commanding. “Yeah, I think you should explain why you have a love note from your ex-fiancé in your pocket. You told me you didn’t see him again. Did you lie to me?”
My jaw drops. I’ve never thought of Ben as my ex-fiancé and his words paralyze me for a moment. But as the silence becomes deafening and the tension turns unbearable, I finally manage to say, “No, I didn’t lie.”
Taking a step back, his green eyes alternate between looking at me and looking at the note he’s waving in the air. “Then how did you get this?”
Flinching at his accusation, I start trembling as nerves overtake me. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but the way he’s looking at me makes me feel guilty and it terrifies me. Not in a physical way, more in a he’s-done-with-this kind of way. With that thought, I inhale a deep breath and say, “When I left my house yesterday it was on the windshield of my car. I needed to leave a note for Serena so I tore off the bottom half and shoved the rest in my pocket. It doesn’t mean anything.”
He closes his eyes and I can see his body start to shake as well. When he opens them again they’re unfocused—looking everywhere but at me. “Let me get this straight. So not only did you spend the day at the house you shared with him, but he was there with you.”
His observation is so blatantly false I don’t falter in my response. “I told you he left it on my car. He never came in the house. I never saw him after I left Grace’s. Like I said, the note doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Fuck, Dahlia, how can you say it doesn’t mean anything? He wrote you a love note and you kept it in your pocket. That means something to me.”
I move forward. When I step into him and try to cup his cheeks, try to get him to look at me, he steps back. Crumbling the note in his hand, he shakes his head and tosses it into the pool. Without even looking at me, he walks over to where we were sitting, picks up a beer bottle and smashes it against the stairs. I watch it break into a million tiny pieces. The sound deafens me as he throws another and another.
I rush over to him and grab his arm. “River, stop it.”
He bats my arm away and continues until every bottle lies broken on the ground. Looking down I hope I’m not looking at a reflection of the despair I swear I see on his face . . . is his faith in me shattered? Touching him, talking to him, I need to figure out how to make him understand. Grabbing his arm with one hand, I clutch his face with the other. “River, please talk to me.”
Jerking his head back, he glares at my hand and then yells louder than I have ever heard him yell before. “Do you have any idea how it makes me feel to know that you’re still a part of his life? Dead was one thing, but now he’s alive.”
“He’s not in my life.”
He stops me with one look, clenching his jaw as he walks away. Near the railing, he stops and leans back, crossing his arms. Glaring at me he seethes in anger and spits out, “Do you have any idea how I felt when I woke up yesterday and you were gone? Do you?”
Tears sting my eyes. I don’t want to fight with him anymore. I just want all of this to go away and for us to go back to us, not these two angry people who don’t know how to calmly discuss their issues. Trying my best to remain calm I quietly start to explain, “River, I left you a note . . .”
But again he cuts me off. His eyes dart to mine as rage clearly defines every inch of his body. “You left me a f**king note that you were going to see the man you spent your whole life with. The man you left me for the first time we met. The man whose ghost I have had to compete with every day of our lives together.”
My eyes widen in disbelief that he felt that way, maybe still feels this way, and sorrow washes through me. My lip trembles as I try to explain. “River, why didn’t you ever tell me how you felt? I had no idea. We could have talked about it. You know how I feel—that part of my life is over.”
Clearly frustrated, he runs his hands through his hair. Then he quickly moves toward me, and, grabbing my arm, he points to my wrist. “Then why do you still wear this? Why haven’t you taken it off? You know what? Let me answer that for you—because you can’t let him go. Do you still love him?”
Irritated now, I raise my hand and contemplate slapping him. Having decided against it, I hastily drop it. But really, how dare he accuse me of that.
His eyes narrow. “If it makes you feel better to slap me again, go ahead.”
My irritation returns, but I don’t hit him. I’m really not a violent person. So instead I twist away, pause briefly, then head for the door. Fuck him. He isn’t the only one who gets to be mad.
He’s behind me in an instant, grabbing my hand and pulling me back. I turn around on my heels. “I am not going to talk to you when you’re like this,” I snap.
“That’s it? You’re just going to walk away?” he yells. Then letting me go, he turns around and walks back to the chairs.
Muttering under my breath I whisper, “This is getting us nowhere. I’m going inside.”
My words set something off inside of him and he’s quickly beside me again. For a few short seconds, we stand there, face-to-face, glaring at each other. He takes me in, every inch of me. There is a sense of urgency between us I’ve never felt before. My heart is racing. He walks me backward until my legs are flush against the stone railing surrounding our patio. With his eyes still burning into mine, he lifts me so that I am sitting on top of the wall. He fits his body between my legs. I run my hands down his chest and around to his back, my fingers digging into it.
Enunciating his words so that his message is crystal clear he tells me, “You’re not going anywhere. Dahlia, I’m done with you walking away every time we have an argument. You got it?”
Nodding my head yes, I’m a little stunned by his aggressiveness but for some reason I’m also incredibly turned on.
“River . . . the note means nothing. Those are Ben’s words, not mine. He’s just stuck in the past. And you know the reason I wear the bracelet isn’t about Ben. I told you why—to remind myself to live life to the fullest, to have no regrets. But River, you mean everything to me and I don’t think I can get you to see that right now. I’m not sure you’re in any state of mind to hear what I have to say. That’s why I was leaving.”
He forces me to look at him. “Dahlia, you’re wrong. We can talk about this now; we are talking about this now. What it comes down to is that unless you tell me you still love him, there is nothing we can’t work out.”
Staring at his bleak expression, I break. “I love you. I want you. It’s simply only you. I promise.” My hands fist the hem of his shirt, wanting to pull it off. My hands clench and unclench in the fabric as my heart beats even faster.