Page 24

 Kim Karr

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At the glimpse of his pain, my heart sinks as I think of the life he has to rebuild and the hurdles he will have to jump to do so. I feel another sudden wave of sympathy. “I’m sorry, Ben. I had no idea.”
He takes in a deep breath and slowly blows it out. “This isn’t how I ever imagined we’d end up.”
“I know Ben, neither did I, but . . .”
He stops me midsentence. “Stop Dahl, don’t say ‘but’ yet,” he says with a frown.
Rising, he moves over to me. He sits on the coffee table and faces me. He grabs my hand. “I don’t know what I was thinking back then. Why I left you here. I want so much to take it all back. Do it differently. I know I handled everything wrong. But do you think you can forgive me?”
Pulling my hand away, I keep quiet, letting my silence answer for me. Just because I can have a conversation with Ben about his situation doesn’t mean I can forgive his actions; I’m just not sure I am ready to do that.
“I know this is hard for you, but I feel empty without you . . . I want to go back to where we were. Do you think you could try?”
“Ben, I’m sorry, but no. I’m with someone else now. We can’t change the events that led us to where we are.”
He looks away. He doesn’t say another word and neither do I. We both remain quiet for a few moments, and then when I stand up, he grabs my arm and bluntly asks, “Are you happy with him?”
I take a deep breath and answer his question honestly, knowing this is going to hurt him. “Yes, I’m happy. Really happy.”
He grabs for me again, this time pulling me to his lap. “Give us a chance. Give me another chance. I need you.”
At this point I’m staring at him openmouthed, then I jump up and shake my head back and forth. “Ben don’t do this. I just told you how I feel.”
“Come on, Dahl, it’s just the two of us here. Be honest. This is about us.”
My eyes narrow on him. “‘About us’? What do you mean ‘us’?”
“Fuck, Dahl, you know what I mean. We can start over right now. You could be happy with me, too.”
I look at him, he’s the same man he always was, and even though I know I no longer feel for him what I once did, making him understand that is difficult. But my expression must be enough of a reply because he gets up and crosses the room to look out the window.
Knowing that the difficult part is over, I address something that’s been on my mind. “Ben, can I ask you to do something for me?”
Turning around, he grins. “Sure, you know I’m always up for anything.”
I have to fight the urge to roll my eyes. “Can you please stop antagonizing River every time you see him? I really don’t appreciate you bringing up our past to my fiancé. It’s just not appropriate.”
A pained expression crosses his face. “That’s one thing I’m really not up for.”
I sigh, disappointed that Ben hasn’t changed a bit. Completely exasperated, I start toward the door, knowing it’s time for me to leave.
“Wait. Can I ask you something now?”
When I turn back, it’s with a forced smile. “Sure.”
He stands up straighter. Subtle, but still noticeable. “When did you meet him?”
“Why do you keep asking me that?”
“Can you just answer my question?”
My voice comes out low. “I met River one night while we were in college and we talked, but that was it. It wasn’t until last year that I saw him again. Aerie sent me to do an interview.”
I glimpse disappointment on his face. “Makes sense,” is all he says and I don’t ask why. Feeling uncomfortable with this discussion, I look out the window and see that it’s starting to get dark. “Shit, what time is it?”
He looks at his watch. “It’s six. Why?—do you have a curfew?”
Deciding it’s best to ignore his sarcasm, I just say, “I need to leave. Are you going to be okay here with Trent?”
“Yeah Dahl, I think I can handle it.”
“You’re going to call Serena tonight? Right?”
“Look, I told you, I’m not calling her until the drugs are out of his system.”
“You can’t keep this from her. She’s his mother. She has a right to know. She’ll be worried sick.”
He cocks his hip as he leans against the doorway. “When the fever and chills set in; it will be the toughest part.” Then he braces his one hand up high on the frame. “Dahl, telling the truth is not always black and white. Sometimes it’s best to stay in the gray so you don’t hurt the people you love. Telling her now, bringing her here, would only cause her pain. I don’t want her to suffer. So why would I do that?”
What he said makes sense and I almost have to agree with him. I don’t want Serena to see Trent like this, but I can’t justify not telling her, either. “You have a good point but I still think she should know.”
He sighs and moves toward me, stepping into me. “I don’t doubt that’s how you feel. It’s just everyone handles things in different ways. You’re an idealist. I’m a realist. Neither is right or wrong.”
In the past I’d have smiled and complimented him on his keen observation. Now though, it doesn’t seem right so I simply nod and move away. “I’m leaving now. Call me if Trent needs anything.”
With a smirk, he asks, “What if I need something?”
I grab my wet clothes and reach for the knob.
He steps around me and blocks my way. “Please, don’t go.”
I look at him. “Ben, please move. I really do have to go home now.”
He stands unmoving. His brow creases and he drops his head. He runs his hand through his hair and then moves to the side.
I step forward to the door and yank it open, hurriedly leaving.
Walking to the car, I think about what Ben said—life isn’t just black and white. With that in mind, I am going to give River the benefit of the doubt. I really want things between us to get back to normal because if they don’t—I’m not sure we will make it. I hope our time apart has helped his anger because I really want to sit down with him and have a real conversation. To be honest, I just don’t think anything good ever comes from heated confrontations. My parents used to have many violent disagreements, and I never wanted that kind of relationship for myself.
On the drive home, I think maybe I should stop at a store and buy something to wear. River isn’t going to be happy that I’m wearing Ben’s clothes. But I decide to just go home—he’ll understand why after I tell him about Trent and what happened. He has no reason not to.
I scan the radio searching for songs that will make me smile—music is the one thing that always makes me happy. I thump my hands against the steering wheel and just listen to the beat of the music throbbing in my ears. Listening to each song, the lyrics seem to play out in my head—they tell me a story. Every beat plays within me, as natural as the sound of the rain hitting the ground.
Chapter 18
What I’ve Done
Ben’s Journal
Last night’s turn of events was completely unexpected. Caleb picked me up and we went to Reality Bites to grab some food and talk. I ended up doing the drinking for both of us. He was on call and refused to even drink one beer. Good thing, since he got a message that an alarm was down. When he excused himself to make a call, I wondered why he couldn’t do it in front of me. I was outright pissed when he came back and said he had to leave. I told him I’d ride along with him because I had nothing else to do. Now I know why he was so hesitant for me to come and why he said I had to stay in the car.
When he pulled through the gates of the Hills, it all made sense. I thought he had gotten fired so I had to ask if we were going where I thought we were going. He didn’t answer me as he approached a cul-de-sac and parked his car in front of what I assumed to be the fucktard’s house. I had no f**king idea that he was actually part of the irresponsibly rich and famous. It had an absurdly long upward sloping driveway, a large decorative front door that looked like he was waiting for royalty to visit, and what really got me was the modest landscaping. Doesn’t he know she loves flowers?
I sat in the car for at least five minutes and couldn’t take it anymore. I had to at least go look around. I walked up a million steps to get to the fucktard’s door. When I spotted the wind chimes I knew for sure this was where she’d been staying. I heard loud music and people talking and could tell there was a party going on. Since the door was open, I thought I might be able to steal her away and talk to her without his eyes on me the whole time.
I spotted her right away. She looked f**king amazing. She was dressed up and I really wanted those long legs wrapped around me. When she saw me, the scowl on her face was anything but welcoming. I asked her about the pearl necklace she was wearing. She ignored my question so I knew rich boy must have given it to her. I’m surprised she’s with someone who tries to buy her love. When I asked her the one thing that’s been bugging the shit out of me, my f**king worst nightmare happened.
My dirty little secret was standing next to me and talking to my Dahl. Dahl ran off and I hadn’t even noticed because my mind was engrossed in the vivid memories of all the different ways I had f**ked that girl that one night. I only refocused when S’belle looked at me. I could have sworn she was looking at me like she got me, like she saw through my bullshit. But then she asked what the f**k I was doing there, and I knew I was just imagining it. Honestly, I’m really f**king tired of that question. Didn’t matter anyway because she didn’t stick around long enough for me to answer. She fled like fire out the front door.
I followed Dahl and when I opened the door she had slammed, I was surprised to see her hope chest on the other side of the room. I looked at the unmade bed and when I saw the black thong on the floor, I nearly lost it. I was in their bedroom. Fuck me!
When she told me how she knew S’belle I nearly shit my pants. Of course she’s the prick’s sister. It wasn’t until I knew she didn’t know the entire story that I could finally breathe. Just as I thought I was finally getting somewhere with Dahl, the prick came in looking like he wanted to kill me. All I could do was laugh, wishing I had at least been trying to kiss her when he walked in. I felt an overwhelming urge to remind him who had her first, and, shit, he threw a mean right hook. But I just kept on reminding him that she was mine first. I thought I could take him if I pushed a little hard. But when he pinned me up against the wall, I couldn’t believe he got me again. Fuck, he’s fast, but I knew I was faster. But before I could show him what I really had, Caleb pulled him off of me.
When Caleb threw me into his car, he really laid into me. I didn’t say a word. I just really didn’t give a shit anymore. We didn’t talk the rest of the way home and when we exited at Laguna I told him to drop me at Ana’s Attic. He pointed to the elbow I was rubbing and said he might need to pop that in place and that I needed to get a sling.
After the pharmacy stop, I headed toward the bar and Caleb followed. Pretty boy kicked my ass and I needed a drink. I don’t remember much except that I drank until my mind was numb and Caleb brought me home.
I woke up to my phone ringing but it stopped before I could get to it. I checked my messages and instantly sobered up. My nephew was in trouble and all I knew was that I had to get to him. Serena had dropped the car off at my house so I left as soon as I could to find him.
I regret having left Laguna for many reasons but when I saw Trent lying there among the garbage and beer bottles in the alley behind the concession stand in Newport Beach, I knew he was my biggest regret. Dahl and everything else aside, my nephew needed me. He was never close with his father and over the years I had assumed that role, then when he probably needed me the most, I wasn’t there. What had happened in the years I was gone to the boy who was such a great athlete, student, and all-around happy child? He’s now so strung out he barely knew who I was. I was terrified as I sat him up and he muttered things to me a sixteen-year-old shouldn’t have to worry about.
I knew looking at him then, that if he could be the only good thing I’d done in my life against all the bad—I’d take it. My mind worked fast and I knew I was the one who could help him get clean. I didn’t want to call Serena or Mom. All I had to do was get him to my house. I pulled him to a sitting position, but with only one f**king arm I couldn’t get him to his feet. And then as if God had heard my confession of sins and was forgiving me, there she was. She was there to help me.
I was surprised Dahl didn’t know about Trent, but then again the way my sister was acting, I shouldn’t have been. She helped me get him home and settled in what used to be our room. I had wanted to get her home and alone, but not under those circumstances.
We were both soaking wet and although I really wanted to strip off her wet clothes, I knew better than to attempt that under the circumstances, and, honestly, I wasn’t in the mood. So instead, I gave her a towel and some dry clothes. Once she changed she helped me try to secure a location for Trent and then we sat down and talked. My plan to skip talking backfired. It felt wrong. I just needed to let her know I wanted her back.
It was a relief to get it out, but her reaction was far from what I had expected. I thought she would run and wrap her arms around me, maybe even jump me. After all, I changed my whole life for her. But instead, when I put it out there, she shot me down. She rebuffed my every move. Then after I laid it out and told her that I wanted her, I could see in her eyes she didn’t feel the same way.