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  • 1. Beautifully BrokenBy Amanda Bennett
  • 2. Copyright © 2012 By Amanda BennettAll right reserved. Printed in the UnitedStatesNo part of this book may be used or repro-duced in any form or by any meanselectronic or mechanical, including photo-copying, recording or by anyinformation storage and retrieval systems,without prior written permissionof the author except where permitted by law.The characters and events portrayed in thisbook are fictitious.
  • 3. 4/414Any similarity to real persons, living or dead,is coincidental and notintended by the author. Cover By Amanda Bennett
  • 4. For my son Christian and Lincoln, without your undying love I would be incomplete.For my brother Cory and sister Stephanie,thank you for always loving me despite myfaults. Life would have been quite boringwithoutthe both of you.And lastly, Thank You to Marsha Savery, myhigh school English teacher. Your love foryour students is unprecedented. You taughtme how to believe in my work, while encour-aging me to be a better version of myself. Iwill forever be grateful for you.Inspiration comes in many forms and forthat I am thankful to all of the people in mylife, who have one way or another providedme with the insight and courage to keep do-ing what I love to do.
  • 5. Table Of ContentsPrologueOneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenElevenTwelveThirteenFourteen
  • 6. 7/414FifteenSixteenSeventeenEighteenNineteenTwentyTwenty-OneTwenty-TwoTwenty-ThreeTwenty-FourTwenty-FiveTwenty-Six
  • 7. PrologueYou can’t always predict what will happen inlife. I think some of my best memories are ofvery unpredictable events. The one’s younever see coming, but that make your lifethat much more worth living. I think on somelevel, I always knew that I was in love withhim. Who wouldn’t be? He was beautiful in avery understated way, smart, witty and hadthe kindest heart I had ever known. He wasalways the popular boy, and girls wouldspend their entire high school career throw-ing themselves at him.We had known each other since the summerbefore fifth grade, and had been inseparableever since, at least until now. I should havetold him how much I loved him. I would havegiven my life to have him love me back,without hesitation. I honestly think, that deepdown I knew how much he loved me, just as
  • 8. 9/414I knew how much I loved him. That’s thething about life; you never know when yourswill get cut short.I know now that I should have confided inhim, he would have understood, that’s justwho he is. There would have never been alook of disgust or pity in his beautiful blueeyes. I underestimated him and myself, asindividuals, as best friends and as lovers.That’s the thing about death, it will open youreyes to the most unforgiving things you nev-er knew about yourself. Who would havethought at twenty-two I would find out justhow true that statement could be, and theweight that it would carry.
  • 9. One Four Years EarlierI pulled into the parking lot of the high schoolfeeling a great sense of accomplishment. Idid it! I had made it through the last year ofmy high school career unscathed. It was ourlast day of school before graduation and Iwas elated. I jumped out of my beat upToyota Corolla and headed towards Gray’sbeautifully lifted Chevy truck. I practicallyskipped my way into my best friend’s long,muscular waiting arms. Lunging myself intohis big burly arms I was beyond grateful tohave known this wonderful boy almost mywhole life. He hugged me back without trep-idation and with true joy. I couldn’t help butsqueeze his muscular neck as I planted aswift kiss against his unshaved cheek.
  • 10. 11/414“We did it Gray! Can you believe it? We ac-tually made it out alive!” I giggled as hegently placed me back onto the asphalt park-ing lot. “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Ismiled up at him. His blue eyes shining backat me.“I know, right? Come on, let’s go get this dayover with.” He grinned down at me as I lacedmy arm through his.As we walked through the front doors of theschool we were about to leave behind, thesadness of it all it suddenly hit me. This isthe last time that we would walk throughthese halls together. The last time we wouldsit through Mr. Rows boring ass algebraclass. The last time we were going to sit andeat lunch under the old oak trees, and thelast time he and I would be together all day,everyday.
  • 11. 12/414I missed him already. Just thinking of himheading off to the police academy and meheading off to college made me want to runaway and cry. I stole a look at him throughmy veil of hair, and noticed the forlorn lookthat he was wearing on his face. It matchedmy mood and I knew exactly how he felt. Heglanced down at me at that moment, and Icould feel the longing running through eachof our veins.As we approached our lockers, four mem-bers of the ‘oh-so-gorgeous’ cheerleadingsquad come bounding towards us. I wish Icould say that this wasn’t a regular occur-rence, but I would be lying. Ever since fresh-man year when Gray started growing into hissix foot three frame, filling it out with musclesupon muscles, all the girls started taking no-tice. It was like someone sent out a memo to
  • 12. 13/414every hormonal teenage girl that Gray wassingle, and filling out quite nicely.Gray had always been something to look at.The summer after eighth grade he went fromfive foot nine and gangly, to an athletic sixfoot three. He let his copper brown hair growout a bit, so it now sat longer on top andshorter on the sides. He never let it get toountidy or too long and for that I was grateful.Along with sky blue eyes, he also had astrong squared jaw and amazingly longblack eyelashes. I have to admit, Gray wasHOT!I wish I could say my changes happenedright along with Gray’s, but I wasn’t as lucky.Freshman year I went through the inevitableawkward phase that most girls go through.By the end of sophomore year, I was finallyfitting in with the rest of the girls at school. Istarted filling out my five foot eight inch
  • 13. 14/414frame with all the right curves. I let my au-burn hair grow out so it skimmed the top ofmy waistband, and I figured out how to applythe right amount of makeup.Of course I had to teach myself, but throughtrial and error and some assholish remarksfrom Gray along the way, I figured it out. Ihad spent my summers working as a life-guard at the local water park, so I had a nicetan that I made sure to keep up withthroughout the winter months. I wouldn’t saythat I was as good looking as Gray, but Ithink I measured up quite nicely with thepretty girls in school.I rolled my eyes at Gray as I turned to openmy locker. He just smirked and leanedagainst his locker awaiting the girls’ arrival.“Hey ladies how are we today?” He knew theeffect he has on these girls and he totallyused it to his advantage, constantly. I
  • 14. 15/414couldn’t help but laugh at them under mybreath before wandering off to find some ofmy other friends. Of course, as I turned toleave all I could hear was them swooningover the almighty Gray.I made sure not to look back at Gray and his“groupies” as I headed down hallway B to gofind Hannah. It only fuels the Gray fire if Iwatch, so I kept my head down. As I roun-ded the corner I spotted Hannah minglingwith some of the underclassman. Secondslater I was running right into what could onlybe described as a brick wall. The books andpapers I was holding against my chest wentflying across the hall in every direction. Istood staring at the ground in disbelief, get-ting ready to rage out on whatever imbeciledecided to not watch where the hell theywere going today.
  • 15. 16/414“You have got to be kid-” The sentence liter-ally vanished from my mouth as I found my-self staring up into the deepest chocolatebrown eyes I had ever seen. They were liter-ally smoldering, and burning a hole throughmy pale gray eyes. Before I had a chance tolet myself recover, he was speaking and Iwas rendered speechless.“Are you okay?” His voice was deep andrugged, and I couldn’t take my eyes off ofhim. “Hello? I said are you okay?” I finallytuned into what he was saying but could onlynod my head.I watched intently as he bent his, what has tobe at least six foot two frame, down to re-trieve my belongings. He was gorgeous, alltanned and defined. His shirt tightened overhis bulging back muscles and biceps and Ibegan to swoon. Dammit, I was turning intothe cheerleading bimbos and I instantly
  • 16. 17/414hated myself for it. His hair was cut into amilitary style buzz cut and it was the lightestshade of blonde. He almost looked bald, un-til the sun would glisten off of the tiny spikes.My heart literally skipped a beat. Who wasthis glorious creature in front of me? I beganto compose myself as he stood back up,handing me my belongings.“Hi.” I squeaked and instantly blushed at thefact that that was all I could come up with tosay.“So you do speak?” He laughed and manwas it a throaty manly laugh. I couldn’t helpmyself, I was laughing along with him.“What’s your name?” His voice was justabove a whisper and it did things to me,deep down that I have only ever felt once.“Bennett? Are you okay?” I heard the all tofamiliar voice of Gray coming up behind me,
  • 17. 18/414and I tried to hide my embarrassment fromthis beautiful man in front of me.“Yeah Gray, I’m fine. I just wasn’t watchingwhere I was going and I ran into…. I’m sorryI didn’t catch your name.” I pointed towardsthe man in front of me.“That’s because I didn’t give it.” He smiledand started walking down the hallway to-wards the office. “Don’t worry, I have a feel-ing we will be seeing each other real soonBennett.” He winked at me and then he wasgone. My name sounded arousing comingout of his mouth, and I wanted to know thisman more. I started questioning how I wouldsee him again, when Gray’s voice found itsway into my thoughts.“What the hell was that all about?” He soun-ded mad.
  • 18. 19/414“I have no idea. I came around the cornerand he ran right into me.” I shrugged andheaded towards first period, missing out ontalking to Hannah all together. I felt Gray’sarm around my shoulders, and I suddenlywished that we didn’t have every single classtogether. All I wanted to do in this momentwas run to Hannah and gush about the per-fect stranger that I just met, but Gray was infull-blown overprotective big brother mode.With a roll of my eyes I continued walking toclass.“I don’t like that guy Bennett. I don’t know,something about him screams psycho-crazy-stalker guy.” He was glancing down at mewhen I slapped him playfully on the chest.“You don’t even know him Gray.” I slippedthrough the door to Mr. Bowen’s class andwe took our seats.
  • 19. TwoAfter the fourth period bell rang Gray and Iheaded off to the lunchroom. As we werestanding in line, I flashed back rememberingthe first time Gray and I met.It was the summer before fifth grade and wehad just moved into the house right nextdoor to the Weston’s. Gray’s parents hadmade him come over and introduce himselfto me when I first jumped out of my mom’sTahoe. I stood in the grassy front yard twirl-ing and doing cartwheels repeatedly. I hadn’tnoticed when he first walked up, mainly be-cause I was enjoying my brand new freshlymanicured lawn.We came from Arizona and all I had everknown was rocks and dirt. The Connecticutlawns were amazingly full of life, and
  • 20. 21/414brilliantly green. I remember wanting to donothing but run my fingers through the longblades that stood below my feet.In the middle of one of my careless twirls, Iended up hitting him across the chest withmy outstretched arm. I instantly turnedaround and began crying. I had felt so badlyfor hitting this poor brown haired little boystanding in front of me. I took the two steps ittook to reach him, and threw my armsaround his shoulders in a deep hug. I contin-ued to cry and apologize profusely. He justsimply hugged me back and told me that hewas okay, and not to worry.I had looked up at him through my glossy,tear-ridden eyes knowing that we were goingto be the best of friends. He told me hisname was Gray and all I could say was, “likemy eyes” as I pointed at my hooded eyes. Itold him my name was Bennett and he gave
  • 21. 22/414me a quizzical look that I knew all to well. Iexplained to him that it was my mother’smaiden name and that I would never meetmy grandfather, whom she absolutely ad-ored, so she bestowed the name onto me.We remained inseparable for our wholechildhood. Our parents became the best offriends as well, and we rarely spent a mealapart from each other. We stayed outsideplaying in either of our yards until the street-lights came on, and then we headed to ourindividual houses. There were many nightsthat our parents would let us stay the nightwith each other, and we never knew any-thing different.Holidays and birthdays were always spent to-gether. We knew each other like the back ofour hands and I never questioned whatwould happen if one of us should move. Ourchildhood was surreal. Our parents were
  • 22. 23/414wonderful to us and to each other. I lovedGray’s parents almost as much as I loved myown. It’s amazing how one little event canchange the lives of everyone around you. Inever pictured my life without my parents,mostly because I was young and naive.Gray’s and mine idealistic lives wouldchange forever in the months before andafter our sixteenth birthdays.“Hey, what ya thinking about so hard overthere?” Gray playfully bumped into myshoulder, instantly bringing me back toreality.“Oh nothing.” He knew I was lying so I re-vised my statement. “I was just thinkingabout the day I moved next door to you.” Ismiled at the fond memory and so did he.“Who would’ve thought that my very bestfriend would end up being the annoying, cry
  • 23. 24/414baby little girl from next door?” He laughedas he leaned down to kiss me on myforehead.“Ha ha, very funny Gray. I could say thesame about you.” I started laughing uncon-trollably as I headed towards our spot underthe oak tree, where Hannah was patientlywaiting for me. I would say that she waswaiting for ‘us’, but when Hannah and I be-came friends in the eighth grade, Gray tookto not liking her immediately. I think he wasjealous that I now had to split my timebetween the two of them, when he was soused to having me all to himself. I walked atiny bit faster to get to Hannah before Gray,but I failed miserably as he was right by myside the whole way.“Hey Han, how’s your day been so far?” Irolled my eyes towards Gray trying to makethe conversation light. I hate it when they
  • 24. 25/414can’t be civil towards each other. Hannahhas never minded Gray. She never took aliking to him like all the other girls in town,but she put up with him and played nice formy benefit. I loved her even more for this.“Hey Bennett, hey Gray. My day has beenokay but it’s the last day, so, I mean howbad could it really be? How’s our valedictori-an on her last day of high school? You finishyour speech yet? Her face beamed withpride and I beamed back at her knowing Icould have never made it this far without her-oh and Gray.I sat down on the grass next to her andGray. I noticed he was trying to ignore us,the best he could. I knew Gray all too well,and I knew he was just patiently waiting forme to bring up the hot guy in the hall.
  • 25. 26/414 “I’m great. I finished my speech last night. Iwould love it if you could come over afterschool and proofread it for me. I’m sonervous it’s unreal.” I could feel Gray’s eyesboring into the back of my head with jeal-ousy that I didn’t ask him to read it first. I justignored him and smiled at Hannah.“That sounds good to me. I wanted to bringby a couple of dress choices for graduationso you can help me pick one anyway. Grayyou can come over and help too if you want.I know how much you can’t stand to be awayfrom Bennett for too long.”“HANNAH!” I shouted. “Behave.” I shook myhead, “You know I still don’t understand whythe two of you can’t just get along, at leastfor my sake.” I shook my head in disbeliefwhile eyeing Gray through my eyelashes.
  • 26. 27/414“It’s okay Hannah. I’m sure whatever youchoose to wear, you’ll look just as plain asalways.” He growled as he headed off in thedirection of the other members of the footballteam.I rolled my eyes at his petty behavior. Ilooked over and saw that Gray’s words hadhurt Hannah, more than she even thoughtpossible. Hannah isn’t ugly by any means, orplain. She doesn’t stand out amongst thesea of pretty girls in school but she can holdher own. She was only about five feet fourinches tall, but she was extremely petite andslender.She didn’t have very many curves, but it fither small body not to have them. She kepther shiny black hair cut into an A-line hair-style, and she had amazing emerald greeneyes. Hannah didn’t wear much makeup butshe didn’t really have too. Her face was
  • 27. 28/414flawless, sprinkled with the smallest amountof freckles and her ivory skin, making herhair and eyes stand out unbelievably so. Ithink that’s why Hannah and I got along sowell, we are one of the same, cut from thesame cloth. It was a non-materialistic clothand I wouldn’t have had it any other way.“I’m sorry Hannah, for Gray. I’m not surewhat his issue is. He was fine up until I raninto some guy in the hall.” It instantly clickedin my head. That was exactly why he wasmoody. I didn’t quite understand why, we’rebest friends and he has never been jealousbefore. “But the guy I ran into, literally wassex on a stick Han. He was absolutely, un-believably gorgeous.” I smiled a wide mouthgrin as I continued to tell her all about him.How he didn’t introduce himself, and how hesaid he was sure he would be seeing mearound. We laughed and giggled and I
  • 28. 29/414couldn’t help but be over the moon excited tofind out how I would see him again.Hannah and I finished lunch without Gray.He never came back over to walk with me toour next class, and I found this to be ratherodd. I searched the halls for him before en-tering Mrs. Crow’s classroom, but couldn’tfind him anywhere. I told Mrs. Crow that Iwas going to run to the restroom real quick,and that I would be right back. I took offdown hallway C to look for Gray. I stoppeddead in my tracks when I spotted whom Icould have sworn was Gray. I couldn’t besure because he was making out with a girlin the corner by the exit doors. I started towalk closer when my mouth literally fell tothe dingy linoleum floor in shock. Gray waskissing Hannah! How the hell did thishappen?
  • 29. 30/414I shook my head in disbelief. I could feel thetears starting to prick the back of my eyelids,as I turned to run as fast I could to theclosest restroom. I wasn’t quite sure why Iwas crying, but the tears would not stoprolling down my cheeks. I was almost in full-blown hysterics, when I heard the girls’ re-stroom door open. I grabbed some toilet pa-per blotting my eyes, trying to keep my cry-ing to a minimum.I really didn’t need the whole school knowingI was crying over Gray Weston, of all people.I couldnt grasp why I was even crying. Imean, Gray and I are friends and so areHannah and I. I only want both of them to behappy, but I felt betrayed. The two most im-portant people in my life, which treat eachother like shit in front of me, are actually,what? In love? Dating? Sleeping together?The possibilities were endless and none of itmade any sense. I finished blotting my eyes
  • 30. 31/414and emerged from the stall, only to comeface to face with, GRAY!“What the HELL are you doing in hereGray?” Disdain was seething from mymouth. I looked at him with wide angry eyes,until he finally stepped back hanging hishead. He looked sad and all I wanted to dowas put my arms around him and comforthim, but I didn’t. I couldn’t keep putting hisfeelings before my own.“I know you saw us.” He mumbled under hisbreath. “I saw you running to the bathroom.I’m so sorry Bennett. I should have told you.”He refused to look me in the eye, and Icouldn’t help but release all my pent up an-ger on him.“You’re sorry? YOU’RE SORRY?” My voicewas getting louder and I was now yelling athim and waving my finger back and forth.
  • 31. 32/414“How dare you say you’re sorry. You twowalk around and treat each other like shit allday. You can’t even get along with her whenI ask you to do it for, MY sake. You aresomething else Gray Elliot Weston.” His facepaled at hearing me use his full name, but Iwas beyond caring at this point.“How could you keep something like thisfrom me? I thought we told each othereverything; apparently I’m the only one whostays true to that. Well, you want the truth?You are a horrible best friend.” I regrettedsaying the words the minute I heard thempass my lips. I reached out for Gray but hewas backing away, heading out of the bath-room. “Gray wait, please come back and talkto me.” He kept walking. “I’m not the one inthe wrong here Gray, you are.”I ran back to Mrs. Crow’s classroom to grabmy bag and left. I ran full speed out to my
  • 32. 33/414car, barely catching a glimpse of the taillightsof Gray’s truck roaring out of sight. I had justruined the only relationship, with the onlyguy I have ever trusted, with my shitty words.I climbed into my car and made my way to-wards home. I knew exactly where to findhim.
  • 33. ThreeI could see Gray through the old dilapidatedfence that connects our two houses, as Ipulled into the driveway of my house. I putthe car in park and grasped the steeringwheel with both hands before letting out thebreath; I didn’t realize I was holding. Mywords from earlier were coming back tohaunt me, and I could feel the hot salty tearsstart running down my cheeks. I knew Ineeded to make things right with Gray, evenif he had started this whole thing first. I wasstaring through the bug-ridden windshieldout towards my house, wondering what mylife would have been like, had I not metGray. The thought was overwhelmingly sadand I continued to cry.I slid my hand into the metal door handleand stepped out onto the driveway. I took ina deep breath and walked toward the
  • 34. 35/414conjoining fence, our parents had put in onour eleventh birthday. That was a day to re-member. We had a huge party in “our” back-yard, because that’s what it had become.Our parents decided to buy us one of thosecommercial grade tree houses. They had theguys who delivered the set tear down theproperty line fence, before installing it. I re-member Gray and I watching out of my bed-room window, perched on the edge of mybed in such anticipation we thought wewould die. It was the greatest thing I hadever seen. The whole process took aboutfour hours and we didn’t move, not one inchthat whole time.Gray would drape his arm across myshoulders and smile down at me throughthose thick black, beautiful lashes. I was inawe of him then, but not in that way. I inter-laced my fingers through his hanging hand
  • 35. 36/414and continued to stare outside, until our fath-ers decided it was time for the surprise.Mom’s voice rang through out our house,and we both bolted out of my room into thebackyard within seconds. I stood on ourporch, mouth open in amazement. Our grassfilled backyards had tripled in size. We nowhad free reign to come and go between eachother’s houses, and we were both beyondelated. We shared a quick smile and ranstraight out to the large pine wood structure.Gray ran right up the ladder into the smallerversion of our actual houses. I slowed mypace and walked around the tree house withprecision. I wanted to take it all in. I ran myfingers along the wood, lifting them before Icould get a splinter. I took in all the beautythat was ours. It had a ten row metal ladder,that lead up to the small cutout door. Onceinside it opened up into a two-room
  • 36. 37/414playhouse. It was painted pink in one roomand blue in the other. Our names hungacross the two pieces of wood that metacross the doorway, before sprouting out tomake the steeple for the ceiling. I couldn’thelp but touch everything.There were four windows total. All but two ofthem faced our back doors. The main roomor living room part had a small TV with abrown suede couch sitting across from it. Inmy room there sat a white wicker chair andmatching side table. They were brand new. Ismiled with pure and utter joy. Gray’s roomhad a black suede recliner with a black lac-quer table next to it. All of our books, journ-als, toys and small belongings cluttered eachroom with love.Our parents let us spend almost the wholeday out there, until it was time to get readyfor our party. I pulled Gray into a hug before
  • 37. 38/414ducking my head and rushing into my house.I was excited to put on my party dress. Mymom had found it for me at one of thosefancy shops at the mall. The pink satindraped down my body, resting right abovemy knee. It had two small cap sleeves, and asweetheart neckline that was lined with blackdaisies. I stood in front of my full-length mir-ror for half an hour before finally heading intothe living room, meeting up with my momand dad.When I reached the archway that opened upto the living room, my mom’s tears started tofall. I did a small twirl and ran into her arms. Ithanked her at least a hundred times for thedress, and turned just as my dad swoopedme up into the next hug. He held me tightagainst his chest and whispered “my sweetbaby girl” into my ear, then released me.
  • 38. 39/414I wiped away the small tears with the back ofmy hand as I walked into the bathroom, rightoff of the front room to make sure I stilllooked okay. I was one of the most memor-able days of my short life. My tears dried up,remembering all the happiness of that day.As I reached over to unlatch the fence, Ilooked up to see Gray sitting on the ladderwatching me with bated breath. My grayeyes met his thunderous blue one’s and Imouthed ‘I’m sorry.’ He shook his head andfor the first time in three years I saw a tearfall down his sun kissed cheek. This was myundoing, I ran right into his arms. Nothingelse mattered, not what he did, not what Idid, just him and me at this moment. Ineeded to comfort him as he once comfortedme when no one else in the world could.My arms wrapped tightly around his neck asI kissed his neck, right below his earlobe.
  • 39. 40/414“I’m so unbelievably sorry Gray. I shouldhave never said that. You know I didn’tmean it, right? Tell me you know that.” I wasin tears while grasping onto him for dear life.If he couldn’t or won’t forgive me, my lifewould fall into a million pieces.“I’m sorry too Bennett. Of course I forgiveyou.” His big arms snaked around my waistand pull me into his lap. “You know you’rethe one girl I will always love, don’t you?”I gently leaned up to kiss his cheek to reas-sure not only him, but also myself. “I doknow that Gray.” I slowly ran the back of myhand down his face, stopping just before Ireached his jaw line. “Gray, why didn’t youjust tell me?” I didn’t want to ruin this mo-ment between us, but I had to know.He pushed his fingers through his hair whileletting out a gasp of air, before looking into
  • 40. 41/414my eyes, with a look I have never seen onGray Weston’s face before. “I didn’t want tosee the look on your face that you have rightnow. You’re looking at me as if I have threeheads. It’s not like that with Hannah, I prom-ise Bennett. A couple months ago when youstayed to help the dance committee, she andI ran into each other in the parking lot. I toldher I was sorry for always being a dick, andthat we should try to make things, pleasant,before we all graduated.She agreed. I bent down to give her a quickhug and she kissed me. It was a swift peckto my lips, but then it dawned on me that Ihave only kissed one other girl, besidesyou.” I watched the blush reach his cheeksand I could tell that he was embarrassed. Iwas his first and only other kiss, besides hisstupid ex-girlfriend. I smiled shyly up at himwhile he continued.
  • 41. 42/414“So, I pulled her in and kissed her again. Itwasn’t a lustful kiss, but it helped mefeel...something. We snuck around, just kiss-ing, whenever we could. We both knew thatif you ever found out, you would hate us, sowe decided not to tell you. Today, in the hall-way, it was the last time Bennett. I was run-ning late to class and saw Hannah walkingtowards the office. I ran up to her and toldher that now that I was leaving,” he looked atme, waiting for my reaction.“I also told her that I needed to tell you, andmake things right before I left. Then wekissed for a few minutes. When I pulled backto say good-bye to her, that’s when I heardfootsteps running down the hall. I turnedaround and there you were. I was mortified. Iwanted to crawl up into a ball and die. Icould never imagine hurting you.”
  • 42. 43/414I shifted my weight on his lap, draping a legover the side of the cold metal ladder. I couldsee the hurt in his fallen face. I gentlygrabbed his face cradling it in my hands andwith absolute certainty, I kissed him. Thiswas not a small chaste kiss. This kiss meantmore, much more. I poured every ounce ofmy beating heart into this one kiss. I crackedmy lips and he took full advantage, exploringmy mouth tenderly and lovingly.I pushed my hands into his hair and lightlytugged. We were now fully intertwined andlocked together, as our kiss lasted for whatseemed like hours. I hesitantly let go push-ing my forehead onto the bridge of his nose.I couldn’t find the strength to open my eyes.His overly large hands lifted my chin up, so Iwas now looking into his endlessly blueeyes. They were as blue as the ocean, and Ifound myself lost in them. I couldn’t bring
  • 43. 44/414myself to look away, no matter how hard Itried. His eyes were burning bright with lust,love and longing. He had wanted this for fartoo long, and it was written all over his face. Irealized now that I may have wanted this justas much, if not more than him. I smiled at thethought. He pressed his soft puffy lipsagainst my swollen one’s in a swift kiss, buthe lingered for a couple seconds too long. Itook my chance and pressed our lips togeth-er one more time.
  • 44. FourI must have dozed off because when I cameto, I was alone in my bedroom. I rolled overonto my side and stared at my small cozyabode. I hadnt changed it, not once in theeight years that I had been living here.My small white wooden desk still sat in thefar corner by my closet door. My bulletinboard had grown in size over the last eightyears, and now took up half of the pink wallacross from my door. I still slept in my fullsize bed, with quilt made by my mother whenI was only two years old. Across from mybed stood my eight drawer mahogany dress-er, cluttered with pictures of me and my par-ents, and me and Gray. I rolled over a bitmore staring at the small, framed picture onmy matching nightstand. It was a small pic-ture of my mom and dad when I was firstborn. They were staring into each other’s
  • 45. 46/414eyes with more love than I have ever knownor felt in my life.My dad was holding me in his right arm, withhis other arm wrapped tightly around mymothers waist. As I ran my finger across thepicture a stray tear fell onto my pillow. Imissed them dearly and my heart was yearn-ing to feel their touch. I carefully set the pic-ture back down sliding myself up against myheadboard. I sat staring blankly out the win-dow when I heard voices coming from thekitchen. This was an unusual occurrence,given the fact that my kitchen only everhoused Gray and myself since my parentsdied.I pushed myself up off my bed and lazilywalk towards the voices and clatteringsounds. I stopped dead in my tracks when Ispotted Gray and his mother in my kitchen,cooking dinner. The picture playing out
  • 46. 47/414before me came off as odd. Gray and hismom hadn’t been getting along since hemade the decision to go into the policeacademy this fall. As if hearing my innerthoughts, they both turned to stare at myshock-ridden face.“Well Dear, dont just stand there. Come sitat the table while Gray and I finish makingdinner.” His mother crooned. Her sleek cop-per brown bob swayed as she walked to-wards me.“Im a little confused.” I said, as I let her leadme to the dining room table. I sat backwatching as Mrs. Weston moved gracefullyaround my kitchen, just like my mother usedto. I smiled at the memory of my mother.“Gray told me you two had quite the daytoday, it was his idea.” She whispered thelast part in my ear as she set the French
  • 47. 48/414bread on the table. The aroma of oregano,basil, tomatoes and garlic pleasantly tickledmy nose. It suddenly dawned on me, I hadnteaten all day, and I was mouthwateringlyhungry.“It smells great Mrs. Weston, but really youdidnt have to do this, I manage just fine.” Itried to stifle a yawn.“Call me Reagan Dear. Mrs. Weston wasDaniel’s mother you know that. Like I toldyou, Gray here is the one who has doneeverything, I just cut the bread.” She gaveme a whimsical smile and went to search forglasses in the cupboard.“They’re in the cabinet above the stove.” Isaid, waiving my hand in that general direc-tion. I nestled into the chair at the smallglass dining room table, staring at Gray andhis mother as they interacted with one
  • 48. 49/414another. I had forgotten how much he andhis mother looked alike. Gray inherited al-most all of his looks from his mom. Her elec-tric blue eyes, and copper colored hair wereidentical to his.I admired his mother for all that she hadbeen through. After Gray’s dad died a fewyears back, she managed to keep herselfstrong and composed. She never left Gray tofend for himself. If anything, she showedeven more love than any adolescent couldimagine needing.Gray’s father, Daniel died in September ofour junior year. Mr. Weston had been a hom-icide detective for ten years before hisshocking death. Mrs. Weston had neverminded her husband’s line of work; she wasamazingly supportive of his sometimes-dan-gerous job. Of course she worried, as any
  • 49. 50/414wife of a detective would, but he alwaysseemed to stay out of harms way.The day he died was the day a piece of Mrs.Weston died as well. From what I could gath-er of that day, he and his partner were in-vestigating a homicide in a small apartmentcomplex outside of New Haven. The first of-ficers on the scene had cleared the apart-ment before Mr. Weston and his partnerentered.Ten minutes into their search a neighbor hadcome by to let them know that they heard astrange noise from the apartment above.Two men, shooting in their direction, wereambushing Mr. Weston and the other of-ficers, a few minutes later. Mr. Westoncaught a bullet to his chest and diedinstantly.
  • 50. 51/414After school we had headed home without acare in the world, until we spotted Mrs. We-ston waiting for us on their front porch, cof-fee cup in hand and a tear stained face.Gray broke down instantly, knowing what itwas she was going to say. Me on the otherhand, I stood looking dumbfounded at theboth of them, not knowing what was wrong.As soon as Mrs. Weston could speak again,she explained to me that Mr. Weston haddied. My heart broke into a million pieces forthe second time in a matter of 4 months.Gray and his mother were devastated, Grayrefused to leave his house for a month. Mr.Weston was like a second father to me, so Iguess I took the news almost as badly. Hewas one of the kindest men I had ever hadthe pleasure of knowing. The Westons tookme in as one of their own the minute we allmet one another, and that’s where westayed.
  • 51. 52/414I caught a glimpse of Gray smiling down athis mother, and I could see a part of Mr. We-ston in his smile. It filled my heart with happi-ness. I slowly stood up to grab myself aglass of water. Gray and his mother werecaught up in a discussion about our currenthealth care system, and I had no problemtuning them out. I stood in front of the sinkstaring out into our backyards with over-whelming sadness. Even though there wereothers in my house to keep me company to-night, I still found myself feeling alone.I noticed that Gray and Reagan were stillchatting amongst themselves, so I snuck outthe sliding glass door out onto the lawn. Itook a long sip from my water glass andsteadied it on the edge of the porch.I lay down in the overgrown grass, staring in-to the star speckled sky. I had spent many
  • 52. 53/414nights after my parents’ death, just lying inthis very spot wondering if they could seeme. I caught the small tear that had startedto fall down my cheek just as I heard theback door crackle as it opened. I didn’t haveto turn around or even sit up to know that itwas Gray. In a matter of seconds he was ly-ing right next to me.His hand slid through the grass, searchingfor mine. When he found it he intertwinedour fingers, squeezing tight. I didn’t say aword, just reciprocated by squeezing hishand back. I found peace just being in thepresence of Gray, and tonight was noexception.I gradually turned my head in his direction,only to realize that he had been looking atme the whole time. “Do you even realize howbeautiful you are?” He whispered quietly, I’mnot even sure I was meant to hear him.
  • 53. 54/414A small smile reached my face as my eyesinstantly locked onto his. “You know this, meand you, won’t work right now right?” I knewI was ruining this moment we were sharing,but he had to know.He turned his head to face the night sky. “Iknow Bennett. I wasn’t asking for anythingfrom you. I never have.” His voice was lacedin anger and I knew I had ruined our perfectmoment.His fingers let go of mine and he pushedhimself into a sitting position while shakinghis head. “Don’t you see it Bennett? Can youreally not see beyond yourself? I lo-. Justnever mind, dinner is ready, let’s go eat.” Hestood and wiped his hands down his pantsbefore heading inside.
  • 54. 55/414I huffed as I stood up and grabbed my glassfrom the porch. I knew I had hurt his feelingsjust now but if he was leaving me in a coupleof months, I had to start pushing him awaynow. It only made sense to spare myself theheartache I knew that I was going to have toendure. It was inevitable, and it made mewant to die.
  • 55. FiveDinner was amazing. I hadn’t had a homecooked meal or at least one that hadn’tcome from a box, in I didn’t know how long. Imade sure I told Gray, at least a dozen timeshow great it tasted. He was acting strangeand I knew it was my fault. Mrs. Westonprattled on about meaningless things; I couldtell that she sensed the tension between thetwo of us. I knew it wasn’t in her nature topry. When we were all done eating, I imme-diately went to cleaning and loading thedishes into the dishwasher.Gray helped clean off the counters and thenturned to leave with his mother. I was takenaback with the fact that he didn’t even hangback a second to hug me good-bye. Mrs.Weston said a quick good night and theyboth walked out the front door. I stood on theother side of the closed door, baffled. What
  • 56. 57/414had just happened? My sadness suddenlyturned into pure rage, unleashing all of itonto the contents of my house.Picture frames and glass shattered at everycorner of the living room. I heaved the halfmoon wicker chair across the entryway alongwith CDs, books and movies. I ripped eachand every picture from every wall in thehouse, my nails chipping the paint in the pro-cess. I moved my way into the kitchen andnothing was left untouched. Pots, pans,plates, silverware, glasses and vases werehelpless to my fists. When I finally made myway into my bedroom, I slumped downagainst my bedroom door tears falling un-controllably down my face.I wish I could say that my fit made me feelsome sort of relief, but it didn’t. If anything, Iended up feeling worse off than before. I satmy head against my knees that were pulled
  • 57. 58/414up to my chest and let every emotion I hadboiling up inside of me, out. When my legsstarted to fall asleep, I crawled across mybedroom floor and up onto my bed. I curledup in the tightest ball possible and faced myback towards Gray’s window. I knew that hewould at least check on me that way, but Iwasn’t going to give him the satisfaction ofseeing me.My eyes felt like twenty pound weights onmy face when I woke the next morning. I letout a yawn, stretching the length of my bedin all directions. My body was extremely stiffdue to the fetal position that I had stayed inall night, but nothing compared to the painthat went shooting through my knuckles. I in-stantly cried out in pain. I wandered into thebathroom to wrap my hand.I put some antibacterial ointment on myknuckles after checking for shards of glass. I
  • 58. 59/414wrapped it in gauze and then again in anACE bandage. As I was fastening the Velcroon the bandage, I heard crunching glass. Iflung open the door and started screamingas I ran down the hall. “BE CAREFUL! ITSEVERYWHERE!” When I finally reached thesource of the noise Hannah stood staringwith a perplexed look on her face. All I couldthink, was at least it wasn’t a look of pity. Iwas getting really sick of that look.“Hi Han.” I made sure to keep eye contact,with no hint of forgiveness in mine. “Whatare you doing here?” I was pissed and Ineeded her to know. I walked into the kit-chen pantry to grab the broom, ignoringHannah in the process.“What happened to your house?” Shewhispered.
  • 59. 60/414“Nothing. I’ll say it again, why are you hereHan?”She moved to sit at the kitchen table. “Icame by to apologize Bennett. I am s-” I cuther off mid sentence. I was so over her andGray, and their apologies. For once, I justwanted one of them to be honest. I knewwhat I was going to say next would make hernever want to speak to me again, but I wasbeyond caring.“Hannah, I don’t give a shit how sorry youare. You claim to be my best friend. Youhave always been there for me, but then youhide this shit from me.” I began waiving myarms in the air for emphasis. “You straightlied to me more than once. Not once did youthink to yourself, maybe I should tell Bennett.Not once. You and Gray are beyond selfish.You were only concerned with yourself andhow he made YOU feel. Well, I deserve a
  • 60. 61/414better friend than you. I would have neverdone this to you, EVER! Now get out of MYhouse.” I slammed the broom into the dust-pan as I continued to sweep. I didn’t have tolook up to know that Hannah was runningout of my house, in tears. I heard the doorslam and I let out a deep sigh.“Well, if I would’ve known that this was whoyou were going to become, I would havenever told you.” His voice startled me and Icouldn’t help but roll my eyes and continuecleaning.“What do you want Gray?” I whispered.“What happened here Bennett?” His voicewas stern. It was sexy as hell.“Why the hell do you care? Nothinghappened here. You left. Some pictures fellshortly after.” I couldn’t turn to look at him.
  • 61. 62/414“That’s bullshit Bennett, and you know it. Didyou decide to throw yourself a little pityparty? Huh?”It took everything in me not to turn aroundand deck him across the face. Who did hethink he was coming into my house and ac-cusing me of throwing a pity party. “You’redamn right I did, asshole. When you turnedyour back on me last night and didn’t evensay good-bye, I guess I did throw a pityparty! What’s it to you?” I spat.“Are you trying to push everyone away Ben-nett? I’m pretty sure after that little speech,Hannah will never speak to you again. Ihope that makes you happy.”“It does! Now leave me alone!” I turned towalk into the living room but a strong handcaught my forearm in a tight grip.
  • 62. 63/414“Don’t touch me Gray. Just let go and leave.”I jerked my arm trying to free it, but he onlygripped tighter. He pulled me into his chestand I immediately gave in. I leaned into himand couldn’t stop the sobbing that followed.He gently wrapped his comforting armsaround me, squeezing me just enough to letme know he wasn’t letting go. “Stop pushingeverybody away Button.” I heard a chucklevibrate through his chest.“Don’t call me that.” I chuckled back.Gray led me to the kitchen table and sat medown, while he fetched me a glass of water.“Here drink this. Plastic was all I could findthat wasn’t broken. You sure did a numberon your parent’s place.” He sat next to mewith his hand on my knee.
  • 63. 64/414“Don’t call it theirs Gray. Its been mine nowfor two years.” I tensed under his gaze. Icould tell that he had forgotten that it hadbeen exactly two years ago today, that I hadlost my only reason for living.The back of his hand brushed down mycheek gently, instantly calming me. Tearsbegan to fall again, and he caught them withhis fingers one by one. “I am so sorry Ben-nett, I should have remembered.” He hunghis head in what I could only guess wasshame.“I’m fine Gray, I promise.” My tears told an-other story. He leaned in to hug me but Isqueezed past him, heading out into the liv-ing room to finish cleaning up my mess.“I’ll help you.”
  • 64. 65/414I nodded in appreciation. We cleaned in si-lence for at least two hours. I gathered eachbroken picture frame off of the glass-coveredfloor, not being able to bring myself to look atthe pictures they held. We finished around3:30pm and I glanced over at Gray andsmiled. I saw my best friend as a new man,and not a young boy. I ran into his arms andapologized profusely. I needed him to forgiveme, almost as much as I needed air tobreathe. I looked up at him through my veilof hair and squeezed him tighter, before let-ting him go.“You want to stay and hang out for a bit?” Iwas surprised when he said yes.We spent the rest of the day lying in eachother’s arms on the couch, watching movies.After one in the morning I shifted around tolook at him. “Will you stay with me?”
  • 65. 66/414He nodded his head and I snuggled deeperinto his chest and drifted into a dreamlesssleep.
  • 66. Six End Of SummerGraduation had come and gone, as did sum-mer. I had known this day was coming forexactly eight months and ten days. It stilldidnt make the fact that he was leaving meany easier. Knowing the time was comingonly made it that much harder to deal with.Gray had literally been my whole world forthe last thirteen years. He knew me betterthan I knew myself, and I was petrified to bewithout him. Sure, I would be starting collegesoon but it just seemed wrong that our liveswere headed in separate directions.When Gray told me he was going to be join-ing the police academy, I cried for two wholedays. I couldn’t bring myself to leave my
  • 67. 68/414house. This wasnt how we had planned it.We were both supposed to go to the sameschool, have some classes together, andshare the college experience the way bestfriends should. Knowing that Hannah wouldbe there with me gave me some sense of re-lief but it just wasnt the same.It took some time, but she eventually forgaveme for my outburst and we ended up closerthan we had ever been. It took a little whilefor her and Gray to be able to hang outaround each other, but we managed. We allended up having the best summer ever. Wewent to parties, clubs and even made it intothe city a few times. I was sad to see it allend.Once the last bit of pink sky turned to black, Idecided to head back into the house. I hadspent most of the day in the tree house.Gray was busy getting his things together
  • 68. 69/414and ready for the academy. I figured I mightas well get used to the loneliness now. I slidopen the back door not knowing what to dowith myself. I glanced at the clock on the kit-chen wall and sighed heavily realizing thatsleep would most likely be evading me, yetagain. My house had turned into my solitaryconfinement since laying my parents to rest,and I had learned to accept it. Four months before Gray’s father passed,my parents had been in a terrible car acci-dent that claimed both of their lives. The onlything that I can remember clearly from thatnight was Gray’s mom coming over to giveme the news, which would forever changeme. Gray hadnt left my side since that fate-ful day. His mother tried to get me to move inwith her and Gray more than once but I justcouldnt bring myself to leave “my” home. Itwas the last place I was with both of them
  • 69. 70/414and leaving just felt wrong, like I would beleaving a part of them behind.I still spent practically every minute of theday over at Gray’s house with him after that.I would head over in the mornings beforeschool, study, hang out and then after Graywould walk me home at night. Gray used tooffer to stay with me every time he wouldturn to leave, but I insisted that I was fine.Even though I was anything but. Those weremy moments of weakness, when I would crymyself to sleep and he should have neverhad to see that. Gray and his mother werethe most selfless people I had ever met. Hismother always told me that our grief wouldmake us stronger people. After a month, Iwas beyond repair. Gray began sneakingback into my house through one of the kit-chen windows and sleeping on the couchshortly after.
  • 70. 71/414The crying rarely eased up, and slowly Graywould start holding me while I would cry my-self to sleep. My crying stints became lessand less, but only if Gray was there to holdmy trembling body in his arms. We spentnight upon night talking, once I stopped cry-ing all together. He eased my pain in a way Inever thought possible and just in time forme to help him with his. I would be eternallygrateful to him.I rolled over towards my small bedroom win-dow that faced Gray’s, trying to see if he wasin his darkened room. It only took a secondfor his eyes to find mine. I watched him ashe turned on his bedside lamp. It illuminatedevery chiseled facet of his gorgeous faceand body. A smile broke out on his face, andI couldnt help but smile back. Against mybetter judgment, I waved for him to comeover. In less than a second his light was offand I could see his muscular frame crawl out
  • 71. 72/414of his window, sprinting straight over to mine.I pushed up on the frame, while staring athow his white cotton shirt hugged everymuscle across his chest and shoulders. Graywas definitely something to look at.He climbed onto my bed and discarded hisshirt onto my bedroom floor. I pressed myback into his chest, letting his strong armsconsume my body. This was home but yetagain my comfort in this, in how we were to-gether, would be leaving soon.I breathed a heavy sigh before I whispered,“Hi.”“Hi yourself. You doing okay Button?” Hechuckled in my ear. Gray had been callingme Button since the sixth grade, when hedared me to stick a button up my nose. Heswore it wouldnt fit. Boy was he ever wrong.My mom took me straight to the emergency
  • 72. 73/414room knowing damn well she couldnt get itout herself. I was humiliated, but Graythought it was hilarious and the name hasstuck ever since.“You know I hate it when you call me that.” Inudged him in his ribs making him laugheven harder. “I guess Im okay, for now.” Isighed.“I know its going to be hard Bennett but Ipromise you, things wont change betweenus. You’re my best friend and that I swear,will forever remain true. I love you Button.”He kissed the back of my head quickly andgave me a slight squeeze. I nestled furtherinto his chest not wanting this moment toend. He was my best friend and no amountof distance could change what weve beenthrough, or what we mean to each other,nothing!
  • 73. 74/414I woke the next morning to a cool breezeblowing against my back. I shivered involun-tarily and reached for my comforter. Instead Istumbled across a piece of paper tucked upunder my side. I scrambled to wrap my com-forter around myself and lay back to readwhat good ol’ Gray had to say.Sorry, I had early testing today and I didntwant to wake you. I hope you slept ok, Iknow I did;) Ill text you when I get done.LoveGI couldnt help but smile. I knew that we wereslowly but surely blurring the lines of ourfriendship but I was beyond caring. I sat up,closed my window and then headed out tothe kitchen for a bowl of cereal and coffee. Iso needed coffee!
  • 74. SevenMy day seemed to drag by extremely slowwithout Gray. I ended up cleaning my entirehouse, which only took about three hours. Itried to keep myself busy, but nothing wasworking. Around 3:00pm my phone went off,alerting me to a text message. When I sawGray’s name flash across the screen, Ibegan beaming. I didn’t want to, but I missedhim terribly. I just wanted to hang out withhim as much as possible before he left. I slidthe bar across the screen opening up thetext. A smile as wide as the Grand Canyonspread across my face as I read his sweetwords.HEY BEAUTIFUL, JUST FINISHEDUP AND WAS THINKIN ABOUT YOU.YOU WANT ME TO COME BACK OVER?G
  • 75. 76/414My stomach filled with butterflies. It waskilling me how badly I wanted to see him. Isat against the couch and pondered whetheror not it was a good idea. I knew what myheart wanted, but my head was fighting toothand nail to push him away. My smile fellwhen I realized what I needed to do.SORRY HON. I HAVE SOME ERRANDSI NEED TO GET DONE BEFORE SCHOOLSTARTS, RAINCHECK??I knew I was going to break his heart, butbetter his than mine at the moment. I neededto keep some of my dignity in tack. It wasn’tall a lie; I really did have things I needed topick up for school. I just needed some timeto process and deal.NO WORRIES, IF UR BUSYUR BUSY. LET ME KNOWWHEN YOU GET DONE.
  • 76. 77/414GI knew he would be pissed and after his text,I decided to leave it alone. I knew we wouldhang out again before he left. I felt bad for ig-noring Gray all day but I just couldn’t bringmyself to get wrapped up in, whatever it wasthat was happening between us. My feelingswere growing way beyond friendship, and Iknew that was hopeless.I turned onto our street at half past ten. I no-ticed that his front porch lights were turnedoff and I assumed he was in bed. Okay,more like I was hoping he was in bed. Notlikely, seems how it was only 10:00pm on aSaturday night. I didn’t know how to explainany of this so Gray would understand.I closed the door to my car as quietly as Icould. I stared in the direction of his frontdoor as I threw my hip into the door closing it
  • 77. 78/414the rest of the way. I let out the air I washolding and turned to head inside.“Holy shit gray, you scared the Hell out ofme. What is your problem?” I smacked hischest while clutching mine to catch mybreath.“Me? Why were you being all sneaky, clos-ing your car door all-quiet? Are you avoidingme?” There was emptiness in his voice.I slid my finger down his cheek, “No I’m notavoiding you. I didn’t know if your mom wassleeping or not. I didn’t want to go aroundslamming doors. That’s all.”LIAR!My subconscious yelled at me. I made myway around his tall figure, making my way to
  • 78. 79/414unlock my front door. He was right behindme.Damn it!“Well, I’m glad you made it home okay.” Hestarted off towards his house then yelledback across the lawn, “Oh yeah, Hannahwas looking for you earlier. Looks like youwere avoiding her too.” His long legs pulledhim further from me.“Gray, wait.” I paused briefly, “You want tocome inside?” The words were out of mymouth before I could stop them. Great Ben-nett, let’s go ahead and complicate thingseven more.“No, that’s okay. I’m going to go out for a bitwith Vince. See ya later Bennett,” he yelledright before he disappeared into his house.
  • 79. 80/414I stood on my porch, mouth agape. Did heseriously just turn me down to hang out with,Vince? I was utterly confused and disappoin-ted. Gray never turned down the chance tohang out with me. Maybe he was trying todistance himself as well, or maybe, I was justbeing that big of a bitch. I shrugged myshoulders and made my way inside. I fixedmyself a frozen dinner and headed into myroom to finish getting things together for myfirst semester at Connecticut University.I set my food down on my desk and noticedthe note still lying on my bed. I crawled ontomy stomach and lay there staring at it, hop-ing it would tell me what to do. I was beyondconfused with everything that was going on.It didn’t help that my emotions were strewnabout all over the place.I snuck a glance towards Gray’s window andnoticed him sitting at his desk. That’s weird;
  • 80. 81/414he said he was going out with Vince. Whoknows, maybe he changed his mind.Vince had been Gray’s best friend sincemiddle school. They both played on thesame football team, and ended up playingon our high school team. They were bothheading to the academy together, go figure.Those two and their damn Bromance. Ichuckled to myself.Vince was a good-looking guy. He was smal-ler than Gray. Vince only stood at about fivefeet ten inches, and he was tall and lanky.He was fit, but had nowhere near the samemuscle structure as Gray. I used to have asmall crush on Vince in middle school. Hehad naturally bleach blonde hair and lightblue eyes. He used to flirt with me a bit backin the day, but Gray put a stop to that beforeit could go anywhere. Not that I would haveever dated Vince anyway, the minute he
  • 81. 82/414opened his mouth, he became such adouche. I couldn’t even stand to be aroundhim half the time these days.I didn’t realize how long I had been staringuntil his brilliant blue eyes caught mine. Iblinked and tried to look away. When myeyes came back to focus on his windowagain, he was gone. I shrugged to myselfand went to my desk to eat my dinner.Around eleven o’clock my phone alerted meto a text message. I half ran to my bed tosee who it was. Disappointment clouded myexpression when I saw it was only Hannah.HEY GIRLY. BIG PARTYTONIGHT, YOU IN?HANI really wasn’t in the mood to go to a party,but I was so sick of hanging out at home by
  • 82. 83/414myself all the time. I let out a sigh before Itext her back.I’M IN. COME GET MEIN 20;)I pulled myself off of my bed and forced my-self to get a little dolled up. I only had twentyminutes, so I had to make it quick. I sat atmy vanity and brushed mascara on mylashes, and swiped some dark pink shadowacross my lids. I brushed some bronzer andpowder over my face and finished it with apale pink lip-gloss my mother had boughtme. I had straightened my hair earlier, so Ionly had to run a brush through it to make itlook presentable.I opened my closet door and stepped in, lost.I had no idea what to wear to a party. Han-nah always dressed to the extreme, showingtoo much of, well, everything. I on the other
  • 83. 84/414hand, rarely showed anything at all. Everytime we had gone out over the summer, Iwas sure to wear jeans and a loose fittingshirt. I didn’t like the attention like she did.Tonight I was going to throw caution to thewind and wear the pink and black pin stripedhalter top that Hannah had given me for mybirthday this summer. I didn’t give myselftime to talk myself out of it. I discarded mybra on the floor of my closet and slid the silkyhalter over my head. I zipped up the sideand pulled on my favorite pair of skinnyjeans. I grabbed my black boots and socksand made my way to the kitchen.I didn’t bother looking in the mirror beforeleaving because honestly, I wasn’t trying toimpress anyone so I didn’t really care all thatmuch. A few minutes later, I heard Hannah’shorn honk. I grabbed my purse off the halltable along with my keys and locked up.
  • 84. 85/414Excitement was slowly starting to creepthrough my veins as I jogged to the passen-ger side of her car.“Hey Han,” I yelled over the music she in-sisted on blaring through the speakers. I slidin and buckled my seatbelt not knowingwhere we were going, and not really caringfor once.Hannah reached to turn the stereo down abit before talking. “Hey girly, you look HOT!!Every guy at this party is going to shit theirpants when they see you. Love the top.” Shesmiled and winked at me knowing I had nev-er dared to wear the top she bought me, be-fore now. “Where’s Gray on this lovely even-ing?” She chuckled to herself. “Isn’t he likeattached to your hip?”I could see her roll her eyes. “He’s not at-tached to my hip Hannah. I think he’s
  • 85. 86/414hanging out with Vince tonight. Who knows.”I shrugged and continued to look out thepassenger side window. As much as I didn’twant it to bother me, it did. I usually knewwhere Gray was and what he was doing, buthe was acting so weird lately.Hannah’s voice cut through my thoughts likea knife. “Well, who cares? We are going tohave a blast. I heard about this party frommy sister. She says that it’s supposed to bekiller. She’s meeting us there. Its in thedorms next to hers.” Hannah smiled thebiggest smile I had ever seen on her face. Iquestioned whether a guy had something todo with it, but knew better than to ask.Thirty minutes later, we were pulling up infront of Missy’s dorm at ConnecticutUniversity. Hannah and Missy hadn’t alwaysgotten along like they did now. Missy wasfour years older than Hannah and she never
  • 86. 87/414let Hannah forget it. They looked nothingalike, and I always found it rather odd. Missywas about my height and a bit on the pudgyside. We used to tease her, saying that shegained the freshman fifteen and never got ridof it. She didn’t like that at all. They had thesame green eyes, but while Han had reallydark hair, Missy was platinum blonde.She used to come home on the weekendsand take us out, until she became too coolfor her little sister to be tagging along. Nowthat Missy was entering her last year of col-lege, she seemed a bit nicer. At least untilwe start attending school with her thissemester. I always thought that Missy wassecretly jealous of Hannah and all the atten-tion she would attract from guys. There wasreally no other explanation for the way shetreated her.
  • 87. 88/414I checked my lip-gloss and hair real quick inthe side mirror before exiting the car. Thenight air had turned crisp, and I suddenlywished I had remembered a jacket. Theleaves were just beginning to start to turntheir glorious brown and orange hues, and Icouldn’t help but notice some of the fallenbuds along the walkway. Connecticut wasdefinitely a beautiful sight to behold when fallstarted coming around.I walked briskly to catch up with Hannah andlooped my arm through hers as we made ourway to the doors. “Thanks for inviting meHan, I really needed this.” I squeezed herarm to my side in a half attempt at a hug. “Iknow you do Bennett. Come on, were goingto have so much fun.”Missy was walking down the hall towards theparty when we reached the top of the
  • 88. 89/414staircase. “Missy!” Hannah yelled to get hersister’s attention but Missy just kept walking.“What a bitch! Oh, I can see this is going tobe fun.” Hannah sighed.We eventually caught up to Hannah’s sisterand she played it off like she never heardHannah. Yeah right! We entered into a bigfour-room dorm. I had never seen one thissize before. Granted I had only ever seenMissy’s room and a few others, but still thisplace was huge in comparison. There was abig open common room with a small kitchento the left and then four big bedrooms withtheir own doors in every corner. It was theperfect party pad that’s for sure.When we walked in we didn’t notice a singleindividual. We had only been to three otherparties in Missy’s dorm, but we usually raninto the same crowd at every one.
  • 89. 90/414“Don’t worry, I’m sure we will run intosomeone we know.” Hannah nudged me.We headed straight for the drink table. Iwasn’t much of a drinker so I decided to stickwith soda for now and be DD. Hannahpoured herself a vodka cranberry, and anextra shot of vodka to get warmed up. “Yousure you don’t want a drink?” Hannah yelledover the music that a DJ was spinning in theback corner. “We can always crash atMissy’s if we need to.”I shook my head, “No, I’m okay for now. I’lljust stick to soda.” I smiled lifting my can ather. She clanked her shot glass to my alu-minum and waved for me to follow her ontothe balcony outside. The air felt at least tendegrees cooler being up on the seventhfloor. I shivered and wrapped my armsaround myself.
  • 90. 91/414We ended up running into Leslie, a girl wemet at our first party. She was your quintes-sential college party girl. She belonged toone of the sororities and was currently datingone of the most gorgeous guys I had everseen, and the star quarterback. She wasstunning. She looked exactly like Malibu Bar-bie with long straight blonde hair, almondshaped blue eyes and a rack that even I wasjealous of.“Hey girls, how are you ladies doing? It’sbeen far too long since we have partied.”Leslie hugged us both, a little too tight forcomfort. I could tell she had been drinkingsince way before now.“Hey Les, we’ve been busy getting ready forschool next week. Where are all the hot guysat?” Hannah shouted.
  • 91. 92/414“Oh, don’t you worry little lady, they will startflowing in like water in no time.” She winked.Hannah and Leslie stood off to the side talk-ing about who knows what when I felt myback pocket vibrate. I slid my phone out andsaw that I had a new text message fromGray.HEY SORRY ABOUT EARLIER.HOPE YOUR NIGHT IS GOOD.VINCE & I ARE HEADED TO A PARTY,CATCH YA TOMORROW.GAt that very minute I was beyond livid. Ipushed past the new bodies that had takenover the back balcony, to smoke andchitchat. I made my way over to the drinktable and poured a tall shot of vodka in arandom shot glass. I threw it back andslammed the glass back down on the table.
  • 92. 93/414Once my distorted face went back to normal,I filled up another and shot that one backtoo. I could feel the warm liquid coating myinsides and I knew it was only a matter oftime before I would be feeling the effects. Iwas in the midst of pouring myself anothershot when I felt a hand on my shoulder.Thinking it was Hannah; I quickly turned witha second shot in my hand ready for her. Imust have turned too quickly because one ofthe liquid filled glasses was now all oversome guy’s shirt.“Oh shit. I am so sorry.” I reached back tothe table for some napkins and absent-mindedly started wiping off his shirt myself. Islowly looked up from beneath my lashesand my voice literally caught in my throat. Itwas him!“It’s you.” I finally stuttered.
  • 93. 94/414“It’s you.” He smiled, and I melted. His teethwere perfectly straight and bright white. Hislush lips pulled up over them in the most per-fect smile I had ever seen.I couldn’t help but smile back. “It is me. I’mBennett by the way. I don’t think we ever hada proper introduction.”“Hi Bennett. I’m Raylon. Welcome to myplace.” He held his arms out as if I was sup-posed to be impressed.I laughed, a real laugh for the first time inweeks. “This is a nice place you have here,”I winked.He laughed a loud boisterous laugh thatmade me smile from ear to ear. My fadedmemory of the first time we had met didn’t dohim justice. He was in incredible shape. Hisblack shirt hugged every curve and ounce of
  • 94. 95/414muscle that made up his upper body. His T-shirt was paired with ripped jeans and a pairof flip-flops. He was the epitome of sex, andhe was standing here talking to lil ol’ me.“Are you okay?” I heard Hannah come upbeside me a minute later. “Oh my gosh haveyou been drinking?” Her eyebrows werepulled together, a smile tugging at her lips.“Yes Hannah, I am drinking.” I couldn’t helpbut smile. Hannah was always trying to getme to drink. I never wanted to, until now.“Well, thank the fucking Lord. It’s aboutdamn time you stopped being so good all thedamn time.” She wrapped her arm aroundmy shoulders while handing me a cup ofsome concoction she had made. I couldalready tell she was beyond drunk, but I wasquickly starting to catch up.
  • 95. 96/414I threw back the drink and reached for anoth-er before I realized that Raylon was stillstanding in front of us. “Oh sorry. Han this isRaylon, Raylon this is my best friend Han-nah. He’s the guy that ran into me in the hallthe last day of school.” I arched my eye-brows at her.“Oh...well Raylon, seems you left quite theimpression on our lil Bennett here.” Shesmiled over at me, “Well, it was nice to meetyou Raylon. I’ll come catch up with you in abit, Bennett.” She turned and gave thumbsup behind his back so he couldn’t see her.“Sorry about my friend.” I said.“Nothing to be sorry about. She seems likefun.” He smiled while taking a sip from hisred solo cup.
  • 96. 97/414“She is. So, what year are you?” I knew Isounded stupid but it was the only thing thatcame to mind.“Senior. I’ll actually be graduating in Janu-ary, a couple months before all these losers.”He chuckled as he waved his arms towardseveryone in the room.I couldn’t help but laugh with him. His laughwas contagious. “I see. Well then, maybe Iwill see ya around for the next couplemonths. I mean before you leave us losers.”I feigned being hurt but then chuckled whenhe leaned in to apologize.We eventually made it onto the couch andwe talked about anything and everything. Hewas the only child of a divorced couple. Hehad lived with is mom, and his dad nevercame around. He just turned twenty-three atthe end of summer. He had played football
  • 97. 98/414since he was six and he made it to Connecti-cut University on a full ride scholarship for it.He and his mom are very close. He talks toher almost every day and he has only everhad one serious relationship, in high school.I started to tell him the Cliffs Notes version ofmy life, leaving out all the bad when I heardan all to familiar voice announcing his pres-ence. I slowly stood up and rounded thecorner, when he came into view. He stoodwith both arms up drink in one hand like hewas some kind of God at this party. I tooknotice of Vince standing a little bit behindhim, and then I noticed the small redheaddirectly underneath Gray’s arm. His armcame down gently around her shoulder and Iwatched as he kissed her on the top of herhead.“Someone you know?” He had just wit-nessed me staring, shit!
  • 98. 99/414“I thought I did but that’s not him.” I turnedand grabbed his hand so he would follow meback to the table where the drinks sat. Idowned three more shots of vodka and thenmade myself a cocktail, consisting of vodkaand a tiny splash of cranberry juice. I wasfeeling better already.“You might want to slow down a bit there,kiddo.” He said smugly.“I think I know what I can handle. Oh, anddon’t call me kiddo.” I spat back and turnedto find Hannah. She was still on the backpatio, only now with a tanned muscular armwrapped around her waist as she stood stilltalking to Leslie.“Oh Hannah, how you?” I could hear mywords starting to slur. I inched closer to herspilling drops of the contents of my cup
  • 99. 100/414along the way. “I see you found a man,hmm?” Nothing was making sense and Icould feel my body getting heavy and my lipswere becoming numb.“Oh my God Bennett, how much have youhad to drink?” She grabbed the red cup frommy hands, throwing it in the tall blackgarbage can in the corner. “Let’s get you awater.” She started pulling me inside when Istopped her.“No! No! I can’t go inside.” I turned crossingmy arms over my chest.“What do you mean?” As soon as the ques-tion came out of her mouth, I saw her gazelock on his. “Oh shit Bennett. What is he do-ing here, and with her?” I could hear the dis-gust in her voice.
  • 100. 101/414Gray had only ever dated one person, wellbesides Hannah. Bobby Jo Levingston, thered headed firecracker who was a bitch toeveryone imaginable, especially me. Gray’sfriendship and mine was their final undoing.He dated her for six months before she star-ted making my life a living hell, and in returnGray made hers one. Apparently, she hadforgiven him. I couldn’t help but watch as hisblue eyes looked into hers while they stoodgrinding together on the makeshift dancefloor. As quick as I went to turn away, hisgaze caught mine. I could see the sadnessand apologetic look in his eyes, but I waspissed and I wasn’t giving in that easily.
  • 101. EightHis hand was on my arm before I couldmake it past the small doorway into one ofthe rooms. I held my face away from him, notwanting to cry. I could feel the tears wellingup behind my eyes, but I was damn sure notgoing to let him see that.“Bennett, look at me. I didn’t know you wouldbe-” his voice cut off.I snapped my head around quickly sendingme off kilter. After regaining my sense of bal-ance, I stared deep into his ice blue eyes.“YOU’RE SORRY? You didn’t know I wasgoing to be here, right? That’s what youwere going to say. You made me feel like acomplete asshole for blowing you off todayand then you come here, with HER?” I poin-ted in the general direction of where BobbyJo was standing. “How dare you. How dare
  • 102. 103/414you Gray. She treated me, your best friend,like absolute shit the entire time you guyswere together and now you’re just going towhat? Take her home? Get her drunk andthen sleep with her?” I unleashed years offrustration on him. I couldn’t stop myself. Itwas something he had to hear.“Bennett, please just talk to me. Not like this,let’s go home and talk. Please!” He had mewrapped in his arms so tightly; I couldn’tsquirm out of their hold. I tried to pushagainst his chest but nothing happened.“Bennett you have to talk to me,” hewhispered.I was about to give in when I heard his voice.“I believe she asked you to let her go.” Hisvoice was powerful and in a second Gray’sarms dropped to his sides with his handsballed into fists. I knew what was about to
  • 103. 104/414happen. I positioned myself between the twoof them and tried to calm Gray down.“Who the Hell are you?” Gray puffed.“I’m the guy whose house you’re in. I’m alsothe guy who is going to have to hurt you, ifyou try to man handle her again.”“ What the Fu-, oh I remember you. You’rethe guy who ran into her at school. I knewyou were going to be trouble. This has noth-ing to do with you, so butt the fuck out.” Grayreached for my hand but I was instantlypulled behind Raylon’s muscular frame.“I told you not to touch her.” Raylon pokedhis finger into Gray’s chest.“STOP BOTH OF YOU!” I screamed as loudas my lungs would allow. I put a hand oneach of their chests trying to separate them.
  • 104. 105/414“Raylon you need to back off. You don’t un-derstand enough to get in the middle of this.”I looked up at him with a sympathetic look inmy eyes, hoping he would see that I wassorry that I had to choose. “As for you,” Ipushed Gray towards the front door, “youdon’t get to come up in here with another girlaround your arm, and then try to protect me.It doesn’t work that way Gray. You can’twant all of me one minute and then onlysome of me another. It’s not fair.” I looked in-to his eyes and I could see that my wordswere breaking his heart.He hung his head before he finally spokeback. “I was upset Bennett. I wanted to bringyou here with me but you blew me off, allday. I thought we had an amazing night to-gether. I was so excited to get done withtesting this morning and get back to you. Ihad a whole day planned out. Then you justbrushed me off, like nothing happened. Iknow you feel it Bennett. I’m not stupid, I can
  • 105. 106/414see it in your face.” His hands clutched ontothe sides of my face as he stared into myeyes.“Nothing was going to happen with BobbyJo, I swear it. I was just trying to make it soevery waking thought, in my God damnedhead wasn’t consumed with you.” He threwhis hands up in the air exasperated. “FuckBennett, what am I supposed to do?” Hishands fell to his sides in defeat.I reached for his shoulder to turn him to-wards me, but he evaded my touch and star-ted walking towards the stairs. “Tell VinceI’m going home. I’ll get a hold of you tomor-row. Good night Button.” He was down thestairs before I could even catch my breathenough to speak. Why did things have to beso complicated between us?
  • 106. 107/414I made my way back in to find Hannah, whenRaylon stopped me in the small hallwayleading to the common room. “Are youokay?” He sounded truly concerned, but Ijust didn’t have the patience to deal with thiskind of situation tonight. “I’m fine, but I need to find Hannah. I’msorry.”I moved around him and Hannah was stand-ing waiting for me by the first bedroom onthe right. “You ready to go Calamity Jane?”She was joking, but I couldn’t help but swal-low back the lump starting to form in mythroat. “Just get me out of here, please?” Shewrapped her arm around my shoulders andpushed our way to the front door. I didn’tlook back to see if Raylon was looking myway. Honestly, I didn’t care.
  • 107. 108/414The car ride was eerily silent. I couldn’t pro-cess what had happened through my drunk-en haze to have a coherent thought. Hannahknew not to push it; she just kept the radioup enough for some background noise. Alittle bit later we pulled into my driveway andI couldn’t help but notice that Gray’s truckwasn’t in the drive.A part of me was almost hoping he would bewaiting for me. I should’ve known better.When Gray was upset or mad, home wasnot the first place he went.I waved good-bye to Hannah. My wobblyknees carried me to the side gate leading to‘our’ backyard. I wanted to go straight to thetree house. That was where I felt the safest,and right now I was feeling anything but. Myvision was still blurry making me stumbleacross the grass in search of the ladder. Icould barely make out the shadowy figure,
  • 108. 109/414when my knee slammed right into the edgeof it.“Ouch!” I cursed under my breath. I reachedout and grabbed hold of one of the metalslats. I pulled up my leg to go climb, but fellagain. This time I fell onto the grass.“Son of a bitch!” This seemed impossible. Ireached out one more time determined to atleast get half way up. I made it to the secondstep before slipping again and falling flat onmy back onto the wet ground. The sprinklersmust have just gone off before I got homebecause my ass was slowly getting wet. Igave up and decided just to lay there in mydrunken haze, not caring about anything.I heard a laugh and immediately sat up look-ing around. When I heard it again I searchedthe dark backyard, stopping when I saw hisface through the doorway of the tree house.
  • 109. 110/414He was here. Wait, what was he doing here?And who did he think he was laughing atme?“Oh you think this is funny, huh?” I couldn’thelp but laugh along with him. It was kind offunny.“If the roles were reversed, you know youwould be laughing your ass off.” He exten-ded his arm out for me to take his hand. Itried more than once, but failed miserablyand fell back onto the grass laughing hyster-ically. After Gray stopped laughing at me, hefinally came out to help. I reached my handout for him to take it, but in a second he hadme in his arms and he was walking up theladder.Once we were inside he sat me down on thecouch and went to the mini fridge, comingback with a bottle of water for me. I nodded
  • 110. 111/414in appreciation and gulped down half of thebottle before taking a breath. As I leaned for-ward to set the bottle down on the small cof-fee table, I felt his strong arms wrap aroundmy waist. He pulled me back onto his chestand kept his arms where they were. I restedmy head back against him wrapping my fin-gers through his.“I like this.” I mumbled.“So how much did you drink tonight there, lilmiss?’ It came across like a joke, but I knewhe was being serious.“Not a whole lot.” I lied.“Uh huh, I bet. You seemed pretty tankedwhen I showed up.”“How would you know? You were busy withyour paws all over that redheaded skank.”
  • 111. 112/414My hands flew over my mouth realizing whatI had just said. “Sorry Gray.”“Trust me Bennett, I noticed you.” I knew hewas rolling his eyes.“Where’s your truck Gray?” I turned my headslightly to listen for his response.“Uh, I was drinking Bennett, I took a cab. Ican’t afford to get popped with a DUI rightbefore I head off to the police academy.”I felt like an asshole for even asking, nowthat I thought about it. “Me too. Well, not thecab part but the drinking part for sure.” Igiggled.“I figured as much.” He chuckled.“Whatever Gray, I’m aloud to drink if I wantto.”
  • 112. 113/414His arms squeezed my waist tighter beforeletting go completely. Just as I was turning toobject, his lips crashed into mine. In an in-stant I was on my back on the couch withGray hovering above me. There was purelust in his eyes as I pulled his face back tomine. Our kisses started out soft and gentle,familiarizing ourselves with one anotheragain. But they quickly turned heated. Whenmy lips fell open, Gray took full advantage.Our tongues massaged one another’s in aloving motion. Our pace became faster andhe began nibbling my bottom lip, slowly mov-ing down to my chin. He kissed me along mycollarbone, making my heart rate skyrocket.Every inch of me was a live wire and on fire,for Gray. I pushed my hands into his hairand gave a small tug. He responded by pep-pering kisses all down my sides while slowlylifting my shirt up.
  • 113. 114/414I heard the zipper on the side of my halter-top and froze. I was suddenly very nervousfor what was going to happen next. Graymust have sensed my nervousness becausehis lips were suddenly on mine. This kisswas different. I could feel the yearningpulling at him. My worries melted away aswe intertwined our tongues again. I raked myfingernails down his back, and found thehem of his shirt. With one swift move I waspulling his shirt over his muscular back andhead. Once he discarded his shirt on thefloor, I continued to run my hands over everycrevasse and muscle I could find.My insides were yearning for him to touchme. I wanted to feel him all over me. His fin-gers fell to the button on my pants, and Iwiggled them down my hips and off my legs.He gently laid me back down and hoveredabove, just staring at me. I was all of a sud-den feeling very insecure. I didn’t move a
  • 114. 115/414muscle, even though my mind was yelling atme to cover up. He slowly shook his headand leaned in right next to my ear, “You areabsolutely stunning.” He kissed right belowmy earlobe and I could feel it all the way inmy core.I could feel the wetness starting to pool inmy panties as I wriggled underneath Gray,wanting him to touch me anywhere andeverywhere. I’m guessing Gray could sensemy anticipation because in the next second,he was ripping my halter from the zipper upand throwing the shreds that were left, onthe table next to us. Our kissing becamemore intense and I pushed my hand down tohis waistline while he was preoccupied withmy mouth. I fumbled with the button and zip-per, mostly due to my inebriated state butalso because of my nerves. Gray laughedunder his breath and reached down to giveme a hand.
  • 115. 116/414A moment later his pants and boxer briefswere on top of my clothes on the woodplanked floor. Our hands ran across everyinch of each other’s bodies. I wanted toknow every last part of him, while committingit to memory, in case this was our only timetogether. Our breathing became more rapidas he slowly entered me. He pulled back alittle bit to make sure I was okay and with anod from me, he pushed himself in further.I could feel my walls starting to clencharound him and I knew I wouldn’t last long.Gray stayed at a steady pace and never tookhis eyes off of mine. It was the most intimatemoment I would ever share with a man, and Icouldn’t believe that the man I was sharing itwith was Gray Weston.We both found our release together a mo-ment later. Gray pulled out of between my
  • 116. 117/414quivering legs and laid his head on mychest. As our breathing began to even out, Ireached for his face for him to look at me.“I am starving.” I whispered and he began tolaugh.“I was afraid you were going to ask me toleave.” He gently rolled off of me andhanded me his shirt. “Here put this on. Let’sgo inside and get you something to eat.” Hekissed my forehead before reaching for hisjeans. I couldn’t tear my eyes away as hepulled his jeans over his muscular thighs. Icouldn’t help but stare at this amazinglyhandsome man in front of me. He left his topbutton unbuttoned, accentuating the ‘v’muscles as he reached for my hand to helpme stand. “How are you feeling?”I was quite sore but I didn’t want Gray to feellike he had hurt me, so I decided to lie. “I feel
  • 117. 118/414great. Never better.” I smiled as we headedinto my house.Gray cooked us up some omelets and weate in silence. My mind was moving about amillion miles a minute needing time to pro-cess what had just happened. I didn’t regrethaving sex with Gray, not for a minute. But,had I just given myself to a man who couldn’tgive himself back?“You sure you’re okay?” He glanced at meas I shoveled the last bite into my mouth. Inodded, not wanting to lie to him. I knewhow hard it was going to be for me to havehim leave. If it was going to be that hard forme, I could only imagine how hard it wouldbe for him. I scooped up both of our platesand ran them under some hot water beforeplacing them in the dishwasher.
  • 118. 119/414His taught arms wrapped themselves aroundmy waist as I closed the dishwasher door.Before I could react, his hand was sliding upthe inside of my right thigh. I let my head fallback against his shoulder, wanting to soakup every touch. As his hand reached mymound, a small moan escaped my lips.“Are you sure you feel okay enough to goagain?” He whispered in my ear and it sentgoose bumps down the whole right side ofme.“Mmmmhmmm,” was all I could manage tosay.Gray wrapped me up in his arms and madehis way down the hall to my bedroom. Hegently laid me on my bed, sliding his shirt upand over my head. He tossed it aside, alongwith his jeans and then he was back on topof me. He brushed the hair away from my
  • 119. 120/414face without ever breaking eye contact. Icould feel him looking into my soul and mybody shivered in response. This is what itwas like to be loved. True. Honest love.As Gray’s hand slid between my legs, myhand reached down and found his excite-ment pressing against my thigh. I wrappedmy hands around him and slowly moved itup and down his length. A small moan es-caped from between his glorious lips as Icontinued the motion. His hand found mymound again and began circling over mywetness. I arched my back into his body,needing to be closer. My hand slowly madeits way back up over his chiseled abs andover his chest and around to his shoulders.As he lowered himself over me, he pushedinto me with full force. My nails dug into hisskin over his shoulder blades, as if I washolding on for dear life. He eased back and
  • 120. 121/414again pushed into me, this time with moreforce than the first. My nails dug deeper, andI let out a painful but pleasurable cry. Again,we found our release together. I buried myface in the crook of his neck as he stilledhimself with me wrapped in his arms.I could feel his hot uneven breath against myneck, as we lay intertwined with one another.His breath began to become more evenwhen I heard him whisper something. I didn’thear him the first time, so I asked him to re-peat himself.“I love you Bennett. Im head over heals inlove with you.”I wasn’t sure how to respond. Of course Iloved him, I always have, even if it took methis long to admit it. I knew if I respondedwith the same heartfelt emotion, thateverything would change for us and that
  • 121. 122/414worried me. I quickly decided that I was doneworrying, if I had learned anything in the lasttwo years, it was that life is too short. I wasdone trying to deny myself the same lovethat I knew he had always felt for me, so Igave in.“I love you too Gray.” With those threewords, I felt my heart melt and I finally founda piece of happiness.Gray pulled the comforter up over my bareback when I started to shiver. It was gettingto the point in the year where the heater wasgoing to become a necessity at night. I laymy head across his chest, listening to hisheartbeat underneath me. It was a soothingand comforting feeling to have him thisclose. His hand traced small circles acrossmy back and I could feel my eyelids gettingheavier with sleep. I was just about to drift offwhen he cleared his throat.
  • 122. 123/414“Gray, are you okay?” I whispered.His hand stilled for a minute but then contin-ued caressing my back before he answered.“Honestly Button, I don’t know. I thought Ihad my whole life planned out. I knew Iwanted to be a cop the minute my dad madedetective, and it was only affirmed after hedied. But this, you and me…. this is what Ihave wanted since the first day you slappedme.” A small laugh vibrated through hischest and bounced me head. “I feel like Ican’t have both.” He let out a loud sigh.Inside, my heart was breaking. I have alwaysknown that there was something betweenGray and me; I could just never admit it tomyself. When he finally told me how he felt Ipushed it away, thinking it was absurd. Now,he was all I wanted but the thought of pos-sibly losing him killed me.
  • 123. 124/414“We can try.” My voice came out smallerthan I intended and lacked the conviction Iwanted him to hear.He was immediately pushing himself up intoa sitting position, bringing me along with him.He grabbed both of my hands in his andlooked me right in the eye. “Really? Youwould do that for me?” I could see the ex-citement pulsing through him. This is whathe was hoping for, and who was I to take itaway?“Of course. I’m not promising it will work, butI am at least willing to try. I meant it when Isaid I love you Gray. I want this just as muchas you do.” I pulled one of my hands fromhis and brushed my thumb across his bottomlip. “Just promise me that I am enough.” Ipushed my lips against his and quicklypulled back waiting for his answer.
  • 124. 125/414“You will always be enough for me. You’remore than enough Bennett.” His lips foundmine and I could feel him putting all of hisemotion behind this kiss. He meant it. I couldfeel it in my bones.We both lay back down on the bed to settlein for sleep. “I love you Bennett.” Hewhispered as he kissed the top of my head.“I love you too Gray.”
  • 125. NineThe next few weeks flew by. Gray and Ispent every waking minute together. Wewould wake up and make breakfast together,watch movies, go out to dinner, anything wecould think of. We never talked about hishaving to leave and I never brought it up. Ihad a million questions that I needed an-swers to, but I would keep them at bay.There was no need to let my own insecurit-ies become his.We never went to another party and Hannahnever invited us. I had called to tell her aboutGray and I the day after the party. Gray hadrun home to get some clothes and I took thatopportunity to fill her in, on all the details.She seemed happy for me, but I almost feltlike she was a little bit jealous.
  • 126. 127/414Today was the day before Gray had to leaveand my emotions were running at an all timehigh. I was trying my best to play happyeveryday, but today it was eating away atme. Gray was in the middle of making usbreakfast while I was showering. I climbedout of the shower and wrapped my toweltightly around my body. I woke up feeling alittle bit queasy but hoped it would go awayafter a hot shower. I wasn’t that lucky. I slidmy hand across the mirror removing the fogand noticed how pale I looked.Maybe I was getting the flu or something.Gray’s mom had said that there wassomething going around. I quickly dressedand did my hair and makeup. We had de-cided that we would go to the cemeterytoday with Gray’s mother. I hadn’t beenthere since my parent’s funeral, and Grayhad only made it back to his dad’s once
  • 127. 128/414since his funeral. It seemed fitting that on hislast day here, he would say good-bye.I ran the straightener through my hair, justenough to flatten out the fly a ways and thenbrushed some waterproof mascara throughmy lashes. I slipped my black sleevelessChanel dress on that Grays’ mother hadbought me for my eighteenth birthday thispast summer. With one final look in the mir-ror, I headed out towards the delicious smellcoming from the kitchen.“What are you making? It smells delicious.” Iran my hand down Gray’s back before givinga small pinch to his backside.“Hey now, don’t be sexually harassing thecook.” He smirked.I put both hands in the air. “Never.” I winked.
  • 128. 129/414I sat down at the kitchen table and watchedGray move gracefully around my kitchen. Hewas an amazing cook, thanks in large part tohis mother. He had spent the last weekteaching me to make my favorite recipes, soI could stop eating frozen meals. I knew thatonce he left, I would never be able to makethem as well as he could but I would ap-pease him by letting him think I would atleast try.“Here you go my Dear, Eggs Benedict justthe way you like it.” He kissed my foreheadbefore retreating into the kitchen to retrievehis breakfast.I cut right into mine not realizing how fam-ished I was. A few bites later my stomachgurgled in a way I had never felt it before. Ipushed back from the table and ran straightto the bathroom, releasing the contents ofmy stomach into the toilet. After everything
  • 129. 130/414and nothing came out, I flushed the toiletand stood to brush my teeth. I hadn’t noticedGray come in until I was wiping the remain-ing water from my mouth.“Hey Baby, you feeling okay?” He pushedhis hand against my forehead, knowing Ididn’t have a fever.“Your mom said that she has had quite a fewkids out of class lately due to some bugthat’s going around. I wouldn’t worry aboutit.” I kissed him swiftly on the lips, and mademy way out to find my jacket.A few minutes later Mrs. Weston came walk-ing through the door. “Hey kids, you ready toget going?” I hurried around the corner togreet her.“Good morning Mom.” Gray greeted hismother with a hug and kiss on the cheek. I
  • 130. 131/414was right behind him ready to greet her aswell.“Oh sweetheart, you’re looking a little paletoday. Are you feeling okay Dear?” She con-tinued to feel my forehead, just as Gray had.I pulled back ever so slightly, not to offendher. “I feel fine. I think I just have a stomachbug is all. Shall we go?” I waved towards thedoor for her to head out first.“Of course. We need to stop by the flowershop on our way. I forgot to do it on my wayhome last night.” Her smile could light up anyroom. It was warm and comforting makingmy nerves slowly subsided.I turned to lock the door behind us as Grayled his mother to her car. It was a crispSeptember day, with the smallest amount ofclouds hovering above us. I took in a deep
  • 131. 132/414breath, welcoming the cool air into my satur-ated lungs. Instantly my chest felt lighter. Islapped a smile on my face when I noticedGray watching me walk to the back passen-ger door behind his mother. He wasnervous; I could see it in his face. He smiled,but it never reached his eyes.We pulled into the cemetery fifteen minuteslater. I had bought an assortment of lilies atthe flower shop. They were my mother’s fa-vorite flower. Gray and Mrs. Weston pickedout a dozen yellow roses. The same rosesGray’s father would bring her every year, onher birthday. It was heart warming knowingthe love that they shared all those years.My parent’s headstones were quite a bit fur-ther away from Gray’s father than I wouldhave liked. I knew this was going to be hardfor me, but it was going to be hard for Grayalso. He placed his hand on my lower back
  • 132. 133/414as he led me over to their headstones. It wasa small gesture, but coincidentally it helpedtame my nerves. I could feel the tears startto prick the back of my eyelids the closer wegot to my parents. I wasn’t one for panic oranxiety attacks, but I was almost certain Iwas about to have one. I started taking smal-ler steps and eventually stopped walking alltogether, about five feet from them.I couldn’t bring myself to move any closer. Icould hear Gray and his mother a few feetbehind me, talking about random nonsense,oblivious to my tiny melt down. My heart rateshot through the roof, and my breathing be-came rapid. I clutched the flowers to mychest that felt like it was being strangled. Itried to take deep breaths, but nothing washelping. The panic was quickly escalatingand I didn’t know what to do.
  • 133. 134/414I fell to my knees, steadying myself with myhands flat on the ground. Seconds later,Gray and his mother were at my side. Graywrapped me in his arms tightly. With theslow movement of his hands across myback, I began to catch my breath. I was em-barrassed and ashamed of my actions. Ineeded to be stronger than this. I neededGray to know that I could be strong, for bothof us.My knuckles were white from clutching hisjacket in my hands. My erratic breathingslowed and my hands finally gave a little.Gray pulled my face away from his collar,brushing the hair from my eyes. He lightlypressed his lips to mine. “You’ll be okay. Ipromise, I will stay by your side until you’reready to be alone. Okay?” I nodded my headin agreement as he pulled me into a stand-ing position. My knees felt weak under my
  • 134. 135/414weight, but I was determined to make it thenext few feet.Gray gripped my hand tightly in his. Hewalked the few steps we had left andstopped in front of the conjoined headstone.I curiously glanced up and let out the breathI was holding in.Their headstone was absolutely beautiful. Iknow it sounds a bit demented but it wasamazing. The whole thing was a beautifullycarved marble slate. Our last name wasetched in the middle with lilies along bothsides, trailing down around the engraved pic-tures of my parents. I didn’t have to worryabout the details when they had died. Myparents had left everything in their will, totheir exact specifications. I could only guessthat they knew I wouldn’t be able to deal withall of it, if I was the one to have to bury them.
  • 135. 136/414I did however; pick the picture of each ofthem that would be etched into the marble.I had chosen my absolute favorite of both ofthem. The one of my mother was on the lastMother’s Day I had gotten to spend with her.We went to a quaint bistro at a beautiful rosegarden. I planned the whole day myself. Weate and spent hours wandering around look-ing at the expansive roses. When we cameacross the sterling roses, my favorite, mymom said that they had taken her breathaway. She told me that they represented mybeauty perfectly, unique and timeless. Isnapped a picture a moment later; she wassmiling holding the rose in her hand andlooking directly at me.I smiled at the memory fondly and the heavi-ness in my chest began to disappear. Ilooked over at Gray and his mother to letthem know I would be okay on my own. Graywouldn’t budge from his standing position by
  • 136. 137/414my side. His mother gave a small tug at hisarm and he kissed the top of my head, be-fore turning to walk to where his father lay. Ibent down to make sure the grass was drybefore I continued to sit on it. I leaned for-ward and ran my fingers across the pictureof my mother, but stopped when I reachedmy father’s.His picture was from Christmas Day, theyear before. My mother had bought us allmatching sweaters. Not the gaudy sweatersthat grandparents buy you, with a ridiculousreindeer or snowman on them. These sweat-ers were from Express. We had wantedthem for family pictures, my father and I butmy mother refused. We were beyond excitedwhen we received them for Christmas.My Father’s was navy blue and gray pin-stripes exactly like my mothers, while minewas a pink, grey and navy blue pin striped V-
  • 137. 138/414neck. They were beautiful. That morning myfather and I insisted on retaking our familypictures, from the previous month. My moth-er happily obliged. I tried to take a candidshot of my father putting a fallen ornamentback on the tree, but he turned at the lastsecond with an enormous smile on his face. Isimply rolled my eyes and kissed my fatheron the nose before heading into the kitchento help with the turkey.I chuckled to myself at the thought of thatvery memory. It had been the best ChristmasI had or would ever have. I slid my fingeracross my father’s picture before placing theflowers underneath. I sat back on my feetnot knowing what to do or say. I had alwaysseen people talk to their loved ones whilevisiting, but it felt ridiculous to me. I couldn’tquite grasp, how talking to a piece of marblewould make me feel better.
  • 138. 139/414I glanced beyond the next hill of grass andcaught sight of Gray and his mother. Bothlooked unbelievably happy. There were notears falling down either of their cheeks. Iturned back to my parents, deciding that Ineeded to at least try to talk to them. Even ifthey couldn’t hear me, I knew I could andthat made me feel better. I sighed before be-ginning. I glanced in every direction to makesure no one else could hear me.“I’m not quite sure what to say. I hope youguys can hear me, but even if you can’t Ithink you’ll get the message. I miss you guysterribly.” I could feel the tears welling up, butthis time I just let them fall. “Not too muchhas been going on since you left. I gradu-ated from high school. I hope you got to seeit. I was the valedictorian. I think I gave apretty decent speech, but Gray teased memercilessly afterwards. Something about
  • 139. 140/414how it was too cheesy for his taste.” I let outa small laugh.“Hannah and I didn’t talk for a while duringthe summer, but we’re fine now. Gray and Ifinally decided to give our relationship achance. Of course, we decided to do thisright before he is about to leave for the po-lice academy in Virginia. That should makethe two of you happy. I know how much youboth loved him. It’s hard though. I’m finding iteven harder now than when you guys firstleft me. I haven’t changed a single thing inthe house. I know how mom lovedeverything just the way it was. Oh, I startclasses next week.”“I’m going to stay at home while I attend. I’mnot sure how I am going to deal with Grayleaving right now. We just started dating,and now he has to leave for twenty-twoweeks. I know that if our love is true, we will
  • 140. 141/414make it work, but I’m scared. I’m so afraidthat he will realize that he deservessomeone better than me. Someone whowasn’t completely and emotionally broken. Ijust want to make him happy, and that’s hardto do when he is that far away.”“I miss you guys more each and everyday.All the things that happen, I just want toshare with you. I want you to be here toshare in all of my joy and sorrow. I love youguys more than ever. Be kind to one anotherand I promise I will be back to visit. Don’t for-get about me.” I wiped the stray tear from myface with the back of my hand. I kissed myfingers and pressed them firmly against theheadstone. As I stood to find Gray and hismother, his hand pressed against my lowerback.He pulled me into a soft embrace, kissing thetop of my head. “You are more than I
  • 141. 142/414deserve, Bennett. You make me the happi-est I have ever been. Don’t ever doubt that,not for one minute. Your parents will neverforget you. They are looking down on you atthis very moment with nothing but pride andlove for you. Can’t you feel it?”I nodded and tilted my head back to look intohis sparkling blue eyes. “Don’t break myheart Gray, please!”He shook his head and whispered “never” asI pressed my lips against his. He stood thereand held me for a few more minutes, beforewe headed back to the car. His mother hadalready taken her place in the passengerseat. Gray and I smiled at each other beforereleasing our hands from one another. Theyweren’t our fake emotionless smiles fromearlier. No, these smiles lit up our eyes likethe Fourth of July and mine stayed thereacross my face the whole car ride home.
  • 142. Ten“Ow Baby! What do you want?” His handsflew up to protect his face from anotherassault.“Turn off the alarm, GRAY! Did you seriouslynot hear it the seventeen times it went offbefore?” I was already ornery and I wasbarely waking up. Gray’s alarm had been go-ing off since 5:30am, and I was at my witsend with the racket it was making. I rolledover towards my bedroom window, pur-posely taking the comforter with me. If I hadto be awake, so did he.Gray tugged on the comforter hard enoughto roll me over near him. “Are you seriouslypouting already?” He smirked.“No! I just don’t like having to hear youralarm a million times when you sleep right
  • 143. 144/414through it. Its not fair.” I stuck my tongue outwhile crawling over him, making my way tothe bathroom.“Oh no you don’t, little lady.” Both of his armswrapped around my waist, pulling me ontohis chest. “Where do you think you’re go-ing?” He briefly touched his lips to mine.I pulled back worried about my morningbreath. “I was going to go use the facilitiesand brush my teeth. Is that okay with you,Dad?” I pushed myself up with my palms flaton his chest.He snatched my wrist as I stood. “If I said no,would you stay in bed with me?” His eyeswere pleading with me not to leave. I wasweak when it came to those hypnotizing blueeyes, and I caved.
  • 144. 145/414“I’ll stay for a few more minutes.” I crawledback over the top of him and snuggled mynose into the crook of his neck. He smelledamazing, even first thing in the morning.How did I get so lucky? Gray slowly ran hisfingers up and down my spine, while Ibreathed him in. I didn’t want to forget hissmell. It would be too long before I couldsmell him again.We lay unmoving for at least another twentyminutes when my stomach started to growl,loudly. I shrugged it off to not eating a wholelot the day before, but it quickly worked itsway up my throat. I clamped my hands overmy mouth, bolting for the bathroom. I hadbarely gotten the toilet seat up before mybody started heaving. Gray was instantly atmy side, holding back my hair and rubbingmy back.“Baby are you okay?” He whispered.
  • 145. 146/414I grabbed some toilet paper and wiped mymouth before answering him. “I’m fine. Ididn’t eat very much yesterday. I’m sure mybody is just upset with me.” I gave him ahalfhearted smile. He swept the straystrands of hair back that started to stick tothe sheen of sweat that had built on my fore-head. I stood to rinse my mouth with water.“I feel bad leaving you when you’re sick.” Hebrushed my hair to the side planting smallkisses along my neck.“Gray you have to go. You don’t have achoice. I’ll be fine, I promise.” I turned andkissed the tip of his nose before heading outto the kitchen. I started to brew a cup of cof-fee. The aroma was the sweetest smell. Mylips turned up in a smile. There wasn’t muchin the way of food at my house, so I told
  • 146. 147/414Gray we would have to stop by Starbucks fora muffin on our way to the airport.I watched the illuminated numbers on thedash of my car, as we grew closer to the air-port. It was only six in the morning but every-body seemed to be on the road, going whoknows where at this hour. My stomach wassuddenly extremely nervous. It felt like athousand butterflies taking flight. I tried toswallow the lump that was growing in mythroat. I couldn’t tell if I was going to be sickor pass out, but one of them was more thanlikely to happen in the next couple ofseconds.“Gray pull over quick.” I screamed. The carhit the gravel on the shoulder of the highwayand I flew out of the car before Gray couldeven put it in park.
  • 147. 148/414I heaved the non-existent contents of mystomach on the side of the highway. Great,this is so not how I wanted this day to go. Islid back into the passenger seat after I wasfinished leaving my stomach on the side ofthe road, Gray ran his hand back through myhair. His look was one of disapproval, but hecontinued driving the last ten miles to the air-port without saying a word.I held my breath as the car inched closer tothe departure drop off zone. “You don’t wantme to go in with you?” I was starting to pan-ic. I didn’t know I was going to have to saymy good-byes in a fast fashion. “Gray areyou serious right now?” My voice raised anoctave higher than normal.His hand rested on my knee as he pulled upto the curb. “Baby, I think it’s best if we do itthis way. I don’t want to make this anyharder on you than it already is.” His eyes
  • 148. 149/414refused to look at me. He was being acoward.“This isn’t about me. You just don’t want tofeel any guiltier than you already do. I can’tbelieve you. This is how you really want toleave things? You are an ass Gray Elliot We-ston, a giant ass.” I pushed open the pas-senger door and slammed it shut witheverything I had in me. I stood in front of thehood of my car, staring at Gray through thewindshield with my hands on my hips. Hehadn’t gotten out of the car yet and I wasnow fuming while he was trying to ignore me. A minute later he was reaching for thehandle on the inside and the door sprangopen. He started walking to me before re-trieving his luggage from the trunk. I knewthis was going to end in a fight, but I wasstanding my ground.
  • 149. 150/414He stood in front of me with his armscrossed over his puffed out chest. The sightof his T-shirt hugging his bulging biceps wasaffecting me, more than I would have liked toadmit at that moment. His piercing blue eyesmet mine a moment later; I was melting be-neath his stare. I tried to keep my stance buthis gaze was more than I could handle. Howcould I stay mad at him, when he looks SODAMN GOOD!His hand came up to my cheek a secondlater. “Why do you have to make things sodamn difficult woman? You’re absolutelyright. I AM trying to make this easier on ME.It’s fucking killing me to have to leave you.You are delusional if you think that I’m doingokay with all of this.” His hand dropped frommy face and he began raking it through hispolished brown hair. I dropped my handsfrom my hips and reached for his arm, but hepulled away.
  • 150. 151/414“If this is how it’s going to be the whole timeI’m gone, then….” His eyes finally met mineagain. “I don’t want to be fighting with you forthe next twenty-two weeks Bennett. I WON’Tdo it!” I could see the anger bubbling up in-side of him. His hands clasped my face inbetween them, “I can’t stand fighting withyou and I love you far too much to do it. Idon’t want you to feel insecure. It’s not you.You know me Bennett. I’m your Gray. I’m thesame guy I have always been.” He let out aloud sigh before his lips were pressed firmlyagainst mine.My anger melted away instantly as I stoodon my tip toes, wrapping my arms around hisneck. He tried to pull away some time later,but I couldn’t let go. I held to him for dear lifeand lost myself in his mouth. I let every intim-ate detail from the last week flash throughmy mind, fueling my desire for him right then
  • 151. 152/414and there. Eventually, I pulled back knowinghe had to leave. I pulled his palm up to mylips and gently kissed it. I stood staring athim for the next few minutes as he gatheredhis belongings from the trunk. I already feltlost and alone, and he hadn’t even left yet.We kissed a few more times and said our ‘Ilove you’ and ‘good-byes’ and then he wasoff. I watched as he crossed the small walk-way heading inside the airport. “GRAYWAIT!” I ran the short distance to where hewas standing. “I forgot to give you this.” Ipulled the letter I had written him last nightout the back pocket of my jeans. “Read itafter you take off, okay?”“I promise.” He kissed me one last time. Iblew a quick kiss and waved my final good-bye after I got back to the car. He did thesame and I climbed into my car with tearsstarting to spill down my cheeks. My head
  • 152. 153/414fell against the steering wheel as my cryingjarred my body. A car horn sounded behindme, making me jump. I checked the rearviewmirror before pulling out into the rest of theairport traffic. I looked behind me one lasttime as the tears continued to cloud my vis-ion. He was gone. This was going to be thelongest five and a half months, EVER!
  • 153. ElevenGray and I had spoken at least three times aday, for the three weeks. He was settling intohis new routine of getting up at five o’clockevery morning, and I was still trying to fightoff the bug I had when he had left. Mrs. We-ston had come by at least once a day tomake sure I was doing okay, and eatingsomething of substance. It was nice to havea mother figure around again. I hadn’t real-ized how much I had missed out on, not hav-ing a mother.I heard my phone go off for the second timein a row but I was otherwise in disposed. Iwas literally at the point of throwing up abso-lutely nothing but stomach acid. My eso-phagus was burning. I could feel the layersof tissue disintegrating inside my throat. Iquickly rinsed my mouth out with water and
  • 154. 155/414ran to catch my phone, before it stoppedringing again.I was too late. By the time I made it into myroom and grabbed my phone, the screenflashed two missed calls from Gray. I slid thebar across to call him back hoping I couldcatch him, before he was headed to class. Itwent straight to voicemail. I cursed under mybreath as I checked the three missed textmessages. One was from Hannah and theother two were from Gray.HOPE YOUR DOING OKLOVE. I JUST WANTEDTO LET YOU KNOWHOW MUCH I MISS YOU!I’LL TRY CALLING IN A MINUTEBEFORE CLASS!LOVE YOUG
  • 155. 156/414My heart sped up as I read the last line. Imissed him so much; I could barely breathmost days. I checked the other one beforechecking Hannah’s.I’M GETTING READY TO LEAVEMY 1ST BORING ASS CLASSAND WANTED TO SAY HI. I’MCALLING YOU IN 2 SECONDS,YOU BETTER ANSWER:)GMy face fell and my heart felt heavy. Thiswas the first time I had missed his call. Iquickly typed out a text back to him, hopinghe would see it first thing when he got out ofhis next class.I HOPE YOU’RE HAVING ANAMAZINGLY BORING DAY;)I MISS YOU MORE THANWORDS COULD EXPRESS.
  • 156. 157/414SORRY I MISSED YOUR CALLI’M STILL FEELING LIKE CRAP!YOUR MOM MADE ME A DOCTORSAPPOINTMENT FOR TOMORROW,HOPEFULLY IT IS JUST THE FLU.CALL ME WHEN YOU CAN.LOVE YOU ALWAYSBI hit send before calling Hannah, instead oftexting her back. We had only been in schoolfor two weeks, but I’m sure she had somegossip from her sister to share.“Hey, where have you been all day?” Hervoice was high pitched and full of worry.“Sorry Han. I have been stuck in the bath-room all day. It’s getting ridiculous. I’m think-ing I should just move my bed into the bath-room, or the toilet next to my bed. One or theother.” A laugh escaped between my lips. I
  • 157. 158/414missed laughing. It seemed all I did latelywas cry, be depressed or throw up, none ofwhich were fun by any means.“Bennett, I think you should go to the doctor.It doesn’t sound like it’s the flu anymore.”There was a long pause, “HOLY SHIT!”I pulled the phone away from my ear as shescreamed. “Well, now that I am officiallydeaf. What the fuck is your issue Han?”I heard her take in a deep breath, before shedecided to grace me with her new foundknowledge, “Bennett, when is the last timeyou had your period? Think about it Bennettdid you and Gray ever use protection?Honestly?”I tried to swallow past the bile that wascreeping up my throat. My mind was racingtrying to put 2 and 2 together, when I finally
  • 158. 159/414found the words to answer Hannah’s ques-tion. “We used protection every time, except,except for the first time in the tree house. Ohshit and the time later that night.” I couldbarely catch my breath. My vision becameblurry and I couldn’t think straight.“Hannah?”“Yeah I’m here.”“What if I’m pregnant?” The words barelycame out in an audible tone. My brain was inshock. If I were pregnant, it would ruineverything. “Hannah, Gray and I just officiallystarted dating and we’re technically not eventogether right now. Holy shit Hannah, thiscannot be fucking happening. How could Ibe so fucking stupid and irresponsible? Ican’t tell him Hannah. If this is what it is, heCAN’T know!” My hand came to rest on mylower abdomen as I listened for Hannah to
  • 159. 160/414give me some words of wisdom, in analready fucked up situation.“Bennett you can’t be serious. Slow down fora second. Of course you have to tell Gray.He is the father. He would want to knowsomething like this. I honestly think, hewould be happy about it.” I could hear thefaint trace of happiness in her voice and itscared the shit out of me.“NO HANNAH! He would leave me. He is go-ing to think I trapped him, like I did this onpurpose. Oh my God, what am I going todo?” I could feel the hot tears falling downmy clammy cheeks. I swiped away the onesthat I could catch but in a minute flat, I wasall but balling my eyes out.“I’m on my way over. Stay there Bennett! I’mserious, I’ll be right over.”
  • 160. 161/414Our phone call ended second later. I satcross-legged on my bed staring into mycloset. I was at a loss for words, in the midstof trying to comprehend the never-endingthoughts that were floating through my mind.I hadn’t heard Hannah let herself into myhouse, until she was sitting next to me. Herarm rest around my shoulders as I pushedmy face into her chest. I couldn’t stop thetears from falling.Eventually, I pulled myself together. As Iemerged from the bathroom I noticed Han-nah holding a long white and pink box. Itonly took me a second to figure out exactlywhat it was.I cocked my head to the side with my browspulled together, “Hannah, I’m not takingthat!” I knew it was inevitable that I was go-ing to have to or suffer through the rest oftoday and all day tomorrow before seeing a
  • 161. 162/414doctor. I rolled my eyes at her out stretchedhand, and then ripped the box from her fin-gers. “I’m only doing this to prove you wrong,understand?” With a nod of her head, Iturned around and slowly walked the fivefeet back into my bathroom.After I closed the door, I stood staring at thelittle white and pink box that would changeour lives forever. I wasn’t ready to be a mom,even if by some miracle Gray was ready. Ipulled the contents out of the box, did as theinstructions said and waited the threelongest minutes of my life. I couldn’t bringmyself to look at the stick myself. I coveredmy eyes and motioned for Hannah to comeread it. I took a deep breath and held it in un-til Hannah spoke.“I’m so sorry Bennett.” Her arms werealready wrapped around me as I struggled tobreak free from her tight hold. “I promise,
  • 162. 163/414everything will be okay. We can figure thisout.” Her words were meant to be encour-aging and supportive but they were anythingbut. She finally let her arms fall to her sides.She wasn’t looking at me and I felt hurt. Iknow I was pushing her away but still, shewas all I had.I reached for the stick to see the results formyself. Sure enough, clear as day two pinklines were staring back at me. “I can’t believethis happened. We were so careful everyother time. It was just that once.” I brushedthe loose strands of hair back that had fallenout of my ponytail.“You know how the saying goes, it onlytakes one time.” The sadness in her voicestruck my heart with blunt force. I was in-stantly kneeling down on the floor holdingmy face in my hands, while the tears contin-ued to roll down my already swollen cheeks.
  • 163. 164/414“I can’t keep it Hannah.” I whispered low, notknowing if I wanted her to hear me.“Bennett, this isn’t the end of the world. Ithink you would be an amazing mother. Hell,I even think Gray would be an amazing fath-er. Any child would be lucky to have the bothof you for parents.”I lifted my chin enough to see her face. Shelooked calm and peaceful, almost contentwith my news. “Han, I’m not ready andneither is Gray. He still has nineteen weeksleft. I know it doesn’t seem that long, but inpregnancy months that was a lifetime. Fuck!Christ Hannah, I’m only eighteen years old.I’m still a fucking kid. This is all wrong. All ofthis is just wrong. This isn’t how it was sup-posed to go.” My head fell back against thecool tile wall. I just sat there staring at theceiling. No more tears were shed and no
  • 164. 165/414words were spoken. The only sounds werethat of my racing heart and Hannah’s shal-low breaths.Hannah peeled me from the bathroom floorquite some time later. I told her I was tiredand needed to get some rest. She was hesit-ant to leave, but respected my wishes anddid just that. I heard the front door close aminute later and I closed my heavy eyes,waiting for sleep to envelop me. Needless tosay, it didn’t happen quickly. Gray tried call-ing me twice, before I finally drifted off tosleep without calling him back, or evenlistening to his voicemails. My phone alertedme to two text messages following thephone calls but I ignored them as well.The rising sun shone through my window likea burning flame. I could feel its rays warmingmy cheeks, to the point of discomfort. Myhead felt like a fifty-ton boulder was sitting
  • 165. 166/414right on my temple. I threw my comforterover my head, trying to go back to sleep. Iwanted to escape all that the day had instore for me. When that didn’t work I finallydrug myself out of bed and into the shower. Istood under the stream of scorching hot li-quid, hoping to erase the past days events.As I lathered my body with soap, I couldn’thelp but look down at my currently flat stom-ach. I inched my hand up my side and overonto my stomach. Even knowing now, I stillfelt no connection to the life that was grow-ing inside of me.I took my time dressing in my favorite pinkand black pair of Victoria Secret yoga pantsand the matching pink tank. I looked at my-self in the full-length mirror from all angles.My toned thin frame was going to become aframe of fat, if I kept this baby. That was theonly thought running through my mind. Iwasn’t having any of the ‘normal’ thoughts
  • 166. 167/414women have, when they found out they werepregnant. I wasn’t excited, happy, jumpingfor joy or even smiling. I should be elatedthat there was half of me and half of Graygrowing inside of me, but all I felt was guilt. Ifelt guilty for not wanting this baby, for notwanting to tell Gray and for not wanting toeven try to feel something towards the wholesituation. I was lost and alone and Gray wasnever going to know.
  • 167. Twelve“Hey Baby, it seems like forever since I lasttalked to you. How are you feeling this morn-ing?” His voice was music to my ears. I hadonly gotten about three hours of sleep buthow could I not be over the moon to wake upto his soothing tone, that I was longing tohear.“I’m feeling a little bit better, so far.” I let outa small laugh. A small smile flashed acrossmy face when I heard him chuckling alongwith me. “I’m really sorry I didn’t call youback last night. It was a long night and bythe time Hannah left, I was beat. Please sayyou forgive me.” I made my pouty face eventhough I knew he couldn’t see it.“Tuck your lip back up Baby, I know you’repouting.” He knew me all too well. “It’s okay.I forgive you. Vince and I ended up going out
  • 168. 169/414for a drink last night anyway, so I probablywouldn’t have heard my phone even if youdid try to call back. I miss you more thanever Bennett. I wish I could come home toyou.” I could hear the sadness in his voiceand I knew, now was not the time to bring upthe fact that I was carrying his unborn child.“I miss you too Gray, so much. It’s beenrather lonely being in my bed all alone.”“I know Button. Trust me, I know! I can’t waitto be done with all of this and be back inyour arms, just you and me. We will have allthe time in the world for it to be just us. Ican’t wait, I will have an awesome careerand you will be through your first year inschool. We’ll have endless possibilities laidout ahead of us.” I could hear the smile andhappiness in his tone.“Gray? There’ something we need...”
  • 169. 170/414Hey Baby, I hate to cut you off but Vince justshowed up and we got to head out to ournext class. Fell better my love. Miss and loveyou tons.”I could hear Vince in the background, callingfor Gray to hurry up. “I miss and love youtoo. Talk to you soon.”“K Baby, bye.”And with that, our conversation was over. Irolled onto my back, arms splayed out justlike I was making a snow angel. I let the coolmetal phone slip between my fingers. I heardit thump against the floor and my eyes slowlyblinked shut. At least I can tell Hannah that Itried to tell him. Could I have been moreforceful about it? Probably, but he was al-ways so busy with class.
  • 170. 171/414When I was done brushing my teeth, I drugmyself into my room to get ready for the restof the day. I pulled on my favorite pair ofdark wash skinny jeans and tugged on mycharcoal grey and navy striped cable knitsweater. I readjusted the collar and pulled onmy black suede knee high boots. I nodded inacceptance of my appearance. Hell, if I wasgoing to have to leave the comfort of myhome, I was going to look damn good doingit.Three cups of coffee later, I was locking myfront door and on my way to the doctor’s of-fice. My mood had immensely changed fromdark and somber, to light and cheerful. Icouldn’t help but hope that the rest of theday would be a better. I pulled into the park-ing lot thirty-five minutes later. Another thirtyminutes in the waiting room and I was backin a room. I had changed my appointmentthat Gray’s mother had made. I now knew
  • 171. 172/414that I needed to see my OB/GYN, not myprimary physician.“Well, good morning Bennett, how are youdoing today?” Dr. Rainey was her usuallyperky self.“Hi. I’m doing okay, I guess.” I faked a smile.“Glad to hear it. So, what are we seeing youfor today sweetheart?”My smile faded and I could feel the tearswelling up. “Well, I have been really sick,throwing up and all that jazz for a couple ofweeks now. Long story short, my friend Han-nah had me take a home pregnancy test,and…well, it came back positive.” I could feelthe blush rising up my neck making it’s wayinto my cheeks.
  • 172. 173/414“I’m assuming this isn’t a happy discovery?”She rested her hand on my leg in a comfort-ing fashion.I shook my head, “No, no it’s not a happydiscovery. I’m only eighteen and I am so notready to be a parent.”Dr. Rainey’s tall thin frame crossed theroom, to grab some tools from the drawersnext to the sink. Her bleach blonde hairbrushed across her white coat as shesearched for something, unknown to me.“Well, let’s do a pelvic exam and then wecan do an ultrasound to determine how faralong you are. After that, we will discussyour options. Sound good?”“Yes.”
  • 173. 174/414The pelvic exam went by painfully butquickly, and I was thankful for that. What Iwasn’t ready for was the ultrasound. I didn’tknow how I was going to react to seeing mybaby right in front of me, let alone hearingthe heart beat.“Okay so I’m just going to put some of thiswarm gel on your abdomen and look aroundfor a minute.”“Okay.” Was all I could manage.She adjusted the screen and angled it to-wards me, so I could see what she was look-ing at.“Okay, so see this little black dot?” She poin-ted to a place on the screen that had mesquinting, to see what she was talking about.“That’s your baby. So, you’re definitely
  • 174. 175/414pregnant. Just let me measure it a bit and Ican tell you how far along you are.”As she clicked away on her mouse, I couldn’thelp but stare at the screen in front of me.My heart was constricting and I was slowlylosing my breath. A stray tear worked its waydown my cheek and I slowly swiped it away,so she wouldn’t see. I was at the brink of fall-ing apart but this wasn’t the place or time.“It looks like this little miracle was conceivedabout seven weeks ago. So, you are verynewly pregnant. Do you want a picture toshow the new daddy to be?”I couldn’t force myself to share in her enthu-siasm, so I simply nodded my head. Twentyminutes later I was leaving her office pictureand prenatal vitamins in hand. As I walkedout of the sliding glass doors, I slipped thebottle into the tall metal trashcan outside. I
  • 175. 176/414tucked the ultrasound picture into my oversized purse, making my way to my car. Ipulled out of the parking lot faster than aspeeding bullet. I drove straight home,turned off my phone and snuggled up, undermy protective covers on my bed.I awoke to a loud banging on the front door,instantly knowing it was Hannah. I had prom-ised to call her after my doctor’s appointmentbut what was I going to say? I tucked thecomforter deeper around me, trying to ignorethe blatant sound of Hannah yelling. I didn’thave the strength to deal with anyone.The banging never ceased, so I slowlypulled myself from the darkened cocoon. Itook my sweet time as I walked to the frontdoor, hoping she would leave before Ireached it. No such luck. Her look was mur-derous as I stood in front of her, not saying aword.
  • 176. 177/414“Its about damn time you answered yourfucking door. You promised me that youwould call me when you got home.” She hadalready pushed her way passed me and washeading into the kitchen. I stood staring ather, door hanging wide open. “Are you goingto fucking tell me what the hell is going on?”She stood with her hands balled into fistsagainst her hips. I knew not to mess with herwhen she was like this, so I conceded.I walked past her to grab a glass of water.My mouth was parched from throwing up allday and it gave me a few minutes to figureout what to say to her. “I’m pregnant! Whatelse would you like to know Han?” I let myface fall into my hands before the floodgatesopened up.I felt her warm arm wrap around myshoulders, pulling me into a hug. It was
  • 177. 178/414exactly what I needed. I stood there in mykitchen balling on Hannah’s shoulder, all theevents from today running through my mind.“I’m so sorry Bennett. I’m so sorry.”Hannah walked me over to the kitchen table,pulling out two chairs for us. She continuedto rub my back as I told her everything thedoctor had told me. “I have a picture in mybag, over there.” I pointed in the general dir-ection of where I thought I had thrown mybag onto the floor.Hannah rummaged through my purse untilshe came across the black and white ultra-sound picture, beginning to wrinkle. “OhBennett, that’s amazing! Do you know whatyou want to do?” I could sense the fear inher voice.“I’m going to do what’s best for our future.”
  • 178. 179/414“And, that would be?” She asked impatiently.“Han, I can’t do this to Gray. I already madean appointment to have ‘it’ taken care of.”She started to protest but I cut her off just asquickly as she had started. “I know how youfeel about it Hannah, I don’t need to hear itanymore. This is what’s best for us. I needsomeone to drive me there tomorrow, willyou help me?” I knew she would, regardlessof how she was feeling, but she hesitatedand that scared me.“Yeah Bennett, I’ll take you. You sure this iswhat you want to do?” Sadness was writtenall over her face. A part of me wanted to beready to be a mother, but that part wasn’tgreater than the part, which was still an irre-sponsible teenager.
  • 179. 180/414I nodded at Hannah and she wrapped herarms around me, bringing me into a deeperhug this time. “I have to be there by 8:45 inthe morning.” Tears were now rolling uncon-trollably down my face and onto her silk shirt.I Knew deep down this was the right thing todo, but it still felt so wrong.“I’ll be here.” She kissed my forehead andheaded back out the front door. She turnedaround before closing the door behind her. Ithink she was wishing and hoping that Iwould change my mind. I just gave a smallwave and walked to lock the door behindher.I climbed right back into my comforting bed. Iturned my phone back on, right before bund-ling myself back up. There were only textmessages from Hannah. Not a single onefrom Gray. I looked back at my alarm clockon my dresser. It was already 10:45 at night
  • 180. 181/414and still no word. If I wasn’t for sure about itbefore, I sure as Hell was now. If Gray can’teven pick up a phone to call me, how was heever going to be able to take care of anotherhuman being?
  • 181. ThirteenI was still feeling a little woozy after we leftthe clinic. I was in more pain than I thoughtpossible. Hannah quickly stopped to fill myprescriptions and continued back to myhouse. My legs were still shaky, so she prac-tically had to carry me into the house.“Where do you want to lay?”I looked over at her, a single tear droppingonto her sweater. “The living room is fine.” Imumbled.She laid me down on the old brown, wornout couch and ran to grab everything I wouldneed for the next couple of days. Hannahdecided it was only right that she stay withme, until I got through this. She returned amoment later with some pillows, my comfort-er, and a tall glass of water, my pain pills and
  • 182. 183/414the bottle of small pink pills. I was instructedto take those at least twice a day to helpthings, ‘go back to normal.’I drifted in and out of consciousness most ofthe day. When I finally came to, it was darkoutside. Hannah was nowhere to be seenand I had to pee like never before.“Hannah?” My voice cracked from how dry itwas. I reached over and took a sip of waterand some of he pink pills, when I heard Han-nah’s faint voice in the background. I couldhear her starting to get really mad. I pulledmyself into a sitting position on the couch, in-stantly regretting it. Oh man, there was somuch pain and I had no idea where it was allcoming from. I finally sat myself up enoughto get off the couch.I shuffled my feet across the tile floor, hold-ing onto the wall for support. She was back
  • 183. 184/414in my bedroom and I could hear her gettingmore pissed off, the closer I got. I stopped afew feet away from the door to listen.“How do you think she feels? No you idiot,she is not okay. I don’t have a clue as towhat is going through her mind. Of course Itried to talk her out of it. Well Gray, maybeYOU should have been here then.”I gasped and Hannah quickly turned around,seeing me in the doorway. A look of purehorror slapped across her face. I could seethe color slowly start to leave her alreadypale face and I knew she knew she fuckedup.“You fucking told him? You lying, BITCH!You promised me. I can’t bel-” I doubled overin pain, falling to my knees. My ears wereringing and I could feel the sensation of
  • 184. 185/414needing to pass out, running through mylimbs.“Gray, hold on.” Hannah threw the phonedown on the bed and ran to my side. “Oh myGOD Bennett, are you okay? Holy shit thereis blood everywhere.”She tried to grab my arms to help me stand,but I was livid. “DON’T FUCKING TOUCHME!” Between my anger and the excruciatingpain I was in, I ended up screaming into herface.“Bennett please just let me help you. There’stoo much blood. I don’t think that’s normal.”She ran over to the bed picking up herphone. “Gray I have to call you back. No youasshole, there is blood everywhere. I’m call-ing 911.” Hang in there Hon; I’m going to getyou help. Don’t move.” I could feel the fearradiating off of her.
  • 185. 186/414The phone was back against her ear, listen-ing intently as the operator instructed her tolay me flat on my back, and prop up myknees until the ambulance could arrive. Icould feel myself falling unconscious, when Iheard a loud booming voice in my ear.“Miss do you know your name?” He was SOloud.I strained, trying to say anything intelligible.My eyes kept fluttering open and closed andall I wanted to do was sleep.“Okay, Miss, my name is Theo and I am aparamedic. We are going to get you onto thegurney and take you to the hospital. Shakeyour head for me, if you understand.”I must have shaken my head because I wassoon being wheeled out my front door.
  • 186. 187/414Everything passed by in a blur. One minute Iwas in my house, then in an ambulance andnow the hospital. Everything began to dim.The bright lights above me no longer shoneat their 80 watts or more. I could feel myselfgoing under, and the only thing I could thinkabout was my little peanut. I clutched at mybelly, praying that this was all a dream. Thelast image to flash through my mind before Isuccumbed to the darkness was Gray, andhe looked pissed.
  • 187. FourteenMy eyes were heavy and hazy as I tried toopen them. The sunlight shining through thewindow next to my bed, felt as though it wasburning my corneas. I snapped my eyes shutand turned my head in the other direction. Iblinked my eyes, trying to get them too fo-cus. I lifted my hand to wipe them clear. I no-ticed a small IV in the top part of my righthand. I followed the tubing, up towards theceiling to see a bag of IV fluid slowly drippinginto my line down into my veins.I could see the sunlight leaving the room, asI looked out the window and saw a largegray cloud passing right through the rays. Iscanned the room thoroughly to try to under-stand where exactly I was. What the hellhappened? My roaming eyes came to a halt,when I saw his figure standing in the door-way. He was not who I expected to see, but
  • 188. 189/414a familiar face was what I needed at thismoment.I tugged through my unruly hair to make my-self more presentable. It was a loss cause; Ihad more tangles than a young child. I felt asmile flash across my face and it was com-forting to not have to fake it. He was holdinga beautiful bunch of wildflowers in a crystalvase.Expensive!Oh, he looked even better than I had re-membered. His buzz cut had grown out afew inches since the last time I saw him, butstill sat fairly short on top of his head. Hisdeep brown eyes danced as he stared atme, without saying a word and I could feelmine doing the same. His uniform consistedof a tight fitting navy shirt, which huggedevery muscle that covered his torso. His
  • 189. 190/414navy cargo pants that sat nice and low onhis hips and hugged him in all the rightplaces. My eyes scanned back up over hischest and landed on the half sleeve of tat-toos on his right arm. How had I never no-ticed that before?My hands flew up to cover my face with ex-treme embarrassment. “Oh shit! Please tellme you weren’t one of the paramedics thatcame to my house?” I couldn’t tear my handsfrom my face. I couldn’t stand to be this mor-tified in front of someone I barely knew.His warm gentle hands were suddenlypulling mine from my face. “Hey, don’t hidefrom me.” A small chuckle escaped histhroat. At least he found this amusing. “Iwasn’t one of the paramedics at your house.Don’t worry.” My eyes slowly moved up tomeet his gaze. His beautiful smile was onlyinches away from me. His lips looked so
  • 190. 191/414tempting. I let my tongue swipe out and lickmy bottom lip in response.I finally tore myself away from his mesmeriz-ing gaze long enough, to ask him a question.“If you weren’t there, then how did you knowI was here? Wait…. you never told me thatyou were a paramedic.” My brow furrowed inconfusion.“I don’t believe I ever got the chance to tellyou what I did for a living. You left my partyrather quickly, if you don’t remember.” Hegave me a half-cocked grin and I couldn’thelp but smile back.Guilt finally swept over me as I started to re-member why, I was even here in the firstplace. I choked down the lump that in mythroat. There was no way I was going to letmyself break down in front of him.
  • 191. 192/414“Do you want me to go? I’m sorry I didn’tmean to intrude, honest. I was just gettingready to leave for the night, when theybrought you in. I just wanted to make sureyou were okay, that’s all.”He started to lift himself off of the corner ofmy bed when I grabbed his wrist. “Please,don’t go. It’s not you. Thank you for theflowers.” I blushed, feeling like an assholefor not saying thank you to begin with.“Oh these?” He held up the vase full offlowers. “Oh, these aren’t for you. There forthe little old lady next door.”For a second I thought he was completelyserious, until that cocky little grin of his de-cided to make another appearance.“Gotcha.” He let out a loud amused laughand I laughed right along with him. Once our
  • 192. 193/414laughter died down, I heard Hannah clearingher throat in the doorway.Raylon got up off the bed and set the flowerson the small nightstand, between my bedand bathroom. “I better go. I didn’t mean toimpose. Bye Bennett. Bye Hannah.” Heturned on his heel and headed towards thedoorway. I don’t know what came over me,but I couldn’t let him leave. Especially, notknowing when I would ever see him again.“Wait, Raylon?” He turned with one armpushing against the doorframe. Everymuscle was enlarged and I completely forgotwhat I was going to say.“Yes?” He looked intense and serious.I twisted my hands together, trying to find theright words to say. “Could you just give Han-nah and me a little bit, then could you….
  • 193. 194/414umm… could you come back?” I could feelme cheeks turning ruby red. I tried to hidemy face with my greasy-unwashed-hospital-bed hair, but to no avail.“Sure. I’ll be back, around nine o’clock, whenmy shift ends. Sound good?” His eyes werepeering straight into me. Something aboutthis guy made my heart beat elevate. Iyearned for him to touch me again.“Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll see you then.Oh and thanks again for my flowers, they’rebeautiful.” I smiled a wide smile as hewinked and turned to leave.“What the hell was that all about?” Hannahwas giggling as she playfully smacked myknee.“Honestly, I have no idea. I was waking up,trying to remember where I was and then he
  • 194. 195/414was just there in the doorway, looking allgood and shit.” I let out a small giggle.“Well honey, he has got it bad for you.” Shesmirked.I play punched her in her shoulder. “Hannah,knock it off. I’m with Gray. I shouldn’t evenbe talking to Raylon.” I lowered my eyes inshame.Her hand grabbed me by the chin and forcedme to look up at her. “And just so you know,I’m not too happy with your boyfriend at themoment.”“Speaking of which, why did you tell himHan? You promised me.” I had to bite backthe angry tears threatening to betray me.Her head fell, knowing how disappointed Iwas. “I’m really sorry Bennett but he had a
  • 195. 196/414right to know. Although now I wish I would’vejust listened to you. You were right Bennett,he is so not ready to be a dad.” I swear Iheard her whisper ‘asshole’ under herbreath, but I ignored it.“Is he flying out to see me at least?” Myheart filled with hope.“No,” she whispered.And just like that, my heart broke into a mil-lion pieces. This time I let the tears flowfreely, I wasn’t holding anything back any-more. Her arms wrapped around me, but Ipushed her off. I wiped the tears with thepalms of my hands and sat up a little bitstraighter.“What the hell is wrong with him? You knowwhat? I don’t care. There is no excuse in thisworld that would even come close to making
  • 196. 197/414me feel bad for him.” I grabbed a tissue fromthe box next to my bed and dabbed awaythe last falling tear. I refused to cry oversomeone who couldn’t be man enough to beby my side through this.“Bennett?”“Yeah Han?” She looked worried. I reachedout to comfort her but she sat up, pacingaround the small all white hospital room.“When I told him…. When I told Gray thatyou were pregnant he was ecstatic. Heasked me a million times if I was joking. Hewas telling everyone he ran into, on his wayto class. I don’t think I have ever heard himthat happy. When I started to cry, he got veryserious very fast. I didn’t want to tell himwhat you did. I couldn’t, but he forced me to.When I told him that you ‘took care of it’
  • 197. 198/414because you thought he wouldn’t want this,well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.”I couldn’t look at Hannah as she told meabout Gray’s reaction. My heart beganbreaking all over again. He did want thisbaby and I selfishly took that away from him.I stared out the window at the overcast sky.“Bennett?” Her voice cut through my revelrylike a knife.“When I told him you were bleeding and Ineeded to call 911, he told me to just let yoube. He said that you should have to pay fortaking his child’s life.”Hannah threw herself onto the corner of mybed, balling. “Oh Hannah, this isn’t yourfault. Gray is who he is. I knew what I wasdoing.” I ran my fingers through her hair try-ing to get her to calm down.
  • 198. 199/414“But...if I never would have told him, youguys would be fine.” She barely got thewords out between sobs.“Hannah, this is not your fault. I did this. Howcould I have been so stupid? I should haveknown that he would’ve wanted to keep it.He’s never going to speak to me again, ishe?” I already knew the answer, but Ineeded to hear her say it. Of course hewasn’t. Who would want to be with someonewho could do something like that?Hannah dried her tears and slid into the bednext to me. We held each other for a longtime. I knew that I had lost Gray forever. Icouldn’t lose her too. I held her closer, notwanting to let go. The doctor came in a littlewhile later. He explained to me that I had asevere hemorrhage caused by taking toomany of the pink pills at once. I hung my
  • 199. 200/414head in embarrassment. I just wanted to gohome, curl up in my bed, and die.“Now, you can’t go home just yet. You lostquite a bit of blood and we had to give you atransfusion. You’re pretty lucky, your friendhere just happens to have the same bloodtype.” He winked at Hannah and she smiled.“So looks like you will be with us for at leasta few more nights. Are you in any pain?”He kept checking my monitors and IV drip,and I wondered if he was even listening tome. “Actually, I am.” I sighed.“Okay well I will send the nurse back in withsome pain medicine. No need to worrythough, we have the bleeding under control.As long as you do okay through the nightyou should be good to go the day aftertomorrow.”
  • 200. 201/414I gave him a halfhearted grin and repliedwith a, ‘sounds good’ and a ‘thank you,’ andthen he was gone. I looked at the big blackclock on the wall, surprised that it wasalready 8:00 at night. Man, I must have beenout for quite awhile. I continued to watchHannah pace across the room, whilethoughts of Gray ran through my head. I hadbetrayed the one guy that swore he wouldalways be there for me. We could have had afamily. I broke what was left of us and I knewthe repercussions were going to becatastrophic.“Hey Han?” I waited for her to stop herabsent-minded pacing before I continued.When she came to a complete stop I fin-ished. “What would you say to moving into asmall house or apartment with me, nearcampus?”
  • 201. 202/414Her mouth fell open wide in shock. “Are youserious? But, you love your house.” I couldsee that she was thinking about my parents.“Truth be told, I have been thinking about it alot lately. I mean I can’t keep living in thepast. My parents are gone. Living in theirhouse isn’t going to bring them back and Iguess now, that Gray won’t want anything todo with me when he gets home, I just figuredI need to start living my life and stop avoid-ing it.”“Bennett I’m so glad you are finally realizingthat. You deserve to live your life and behappy. Your parents would be so proud ofyou.”I placed my hand on top of hers. “Will youhelp me put it up for sale and pack it up?”
  • 202. 203/414A squeeze of my hand was all I needed toknow; my best friend would always be therefor me. The nurse knocked quietly on mydoor about thirty minutes later. “I’m sorry ittook me so long sweetheart. We just had an-other ambulance come in. I’m just going topush this medicine into your IV drip. Youshould start feeling a little drowsy, but it’s go-ing to help with the pain. There we go, alldone. Now just lay back and try to relax. Youneed to rest. I’ll be back to check on you inabout an hour.”“Thank you.” My head already started feelingfuzzy and the pain slipped away. Hannahkissed the top of my head and said shewould be back in a bit. As the door clickedclosed, so did my eyes.I woke in a panic, thinking I had missedRaylon coming back to visit me. I clicked theoverhead light on and quickly scanned the
  • 203. 204/414room. Our eyes instantly met and I could feelthe intensity deep down.“Hi.” I whispered.“Hey there pretty girl. How are you feeling?”He walked over and perched himself on theside of my bed.“I’m feeling okay.” I glanced around the roomtrying to avoid any eye contact with him, be-fore I asked my next question. “Raylon? Doyou know why I’m here?” I didn’t want toknow the answer.He bowed his head. “Yeah, my buddy Theois one of the guys who brought you in.”I remembered a loud manly voice declaringto me that he was Theo before everythingwent black. “He’s never going to speak to meagain.”
  • 204. 205/414“Is that such a bad thing?” Raylon took myhand in his. His hands were like catcher’smitts compared to my small ‘child-like’hands.“I guess not. I just thought I meant so muchmore to him. I’m just letting you know. I don’twant you to think I am ready for somethingthat I’m not.” I felt stupid for even assuming arelationship was something he would want.His long fingers tucked my hair behind myear before he grabbed my face in betweenthem. “I’ll wait as long as I need to.” Hesmiled and then his lips were gently pressedagainst mine. I tried to fight the emotionsthat were starting to bubble to the surface,but I gave in instead.His lips were soft and gentle and I wanted somuch more. I pulled away trying not to of-fend him. My body was standing on edge
  • 205. 206/414just looking into his cavernous eyes. “Canwe just take this slow?”“Whatever you want to do Bennett. You leadand I will follow.” He smirked.
  • 206. FifteenI picked up my phone at least a dozen times,before settling myself back onto the couch. Ihad already been home for week now, andthere had been no word from Gray. Text orotherwise. I was forced to take the rest of theweek off of school. The doctor made Hannahswear she wouldn’t let me go back, until nextMonday. But, knowing that she was atschool all day, and I was stuck here, sucked.I was going stir crazy, with nothing to do.Everyday, I woke up wishing him through myfront door. I knew I didn’t deserve for him tocome see me, but I needed him. I knew itwas a long shot that he would answer, but Ihad to hear his voice. I let out a loud huffwhen Hannah cleared her throat, from herposition against the wall.
  • 207. 208/414“Just call him already, Bennett. You knowyou’re going to anyway.” She walked to mewith her arms crossed over her chest.“I can’t Han. He told you himself, to basicallylet me die. Who says that?”Her hand landed on my knee. “Bennett, hehad just found out that you got rid of a pieceof him, that was growing inside of you. I’mnot saying it’s okay by any means but hewas hurting.”I hung my head in defeat, “I know Han and Ihave regretted it every day since.”“Call him.” She was pushing my phone intomy hand.Hannah slipped out of the room as I sat star-ing blankly at the screen. “What the Hell.” Iclicked on his name and held my breath as it
  • 208. 209/414began to ring. Adrenaline was shootingthrough my body and I felt as though I wasgoing to pass out. After the third ring, I cameto the realization that he wasn’t going to an-swer. His voice mail clicked on and I relishedin the fact that I could hear his voice.“You’ve reached Gray Weston, please leaveme a message after the tone and I’ll getback to you.”I clicked the end call button before it beeped.I threw my phone on the couch and wrappedmyself into a ball. A faint ringing broke intomy sleep a little while later. I flung myself in-to a sitting position and started rummagingthrough the couch cushions. it was too late. Ipulled the phone from between two of thecushions and my breath hitched into mychest when I saw it flash a missed call fromhim. I wanted to cry.
  • 209. 210/414“Hannah?” There was no answer, so I yelledlouder with blatant disregard for the time.“HANNAH?”Her tired form was next to me seconds later.“Bennett, are you okay? What’s going on?”She was rubbing the sleep from her eyes an-ticipating my answer.“Look.” I thrust the phone into her openhand. “He called me back.”Confusion settled across her face, “Okay.So, call him back.”“I can’t”“Um, why not? He obviously wants to talk toyou or he wouldn’t have called you back.”I let out a sigh, “What if he didn’t mean to callme back?” I knew how stupid I sounded but
  • 210. 211/414she took it upon herself to inform me of itanyway.“Do you realize how fucking stupid yousound right now? I mean, I love you Bennettbut I seriously think you have brain damage.I’m going back to bed. Goodnight.”I watched her leave the living room in uttershock. “Fine, I’ll call him back.” I said it loudenough so she would know I wasn’t stupid.“Bitch,” I mumbled under my breath.“I heard that.” She shouted back before Iheard the slamming of my bedroom door.My finger slid across his name and I couldn’tstop my hands from trembling. I wasn’t ex-actly sure what I was going to say to him, butI didn’t have a second longer to think aboutit.
  • 211. 212/414“Hello?”He sounded groggy and I instantly hated my-self for not checking the time first. “Gray?”“Yeah.” His voice went from groggy to angryin less than a second.“I just saw that you called.” Really? That’sthe best I could come up with?“I was just returning your call Bennett. I didn’tknow if something was wrong.” Yup. Purehatred.I ran my hand back through my hair. Time toput on my big girl panties and just admit it, Ineeded to hear his voice. “I…Um, I justwanted to hear your voice.” I sucked in a bigbreath listening and waiting.
  • 212. 213/414There was a long pause and I checked thescreen twice to make sure he hadn’t hungup, when he finally spoke. “I...I’m…I’m sorryBennett, I can’t do this.”Just like that our conversation was over. Iblew out an angry breath, hating myself foreven thinking that he would want to talk tome. I should have known better than to thinkotherwise. It had only been a week for cryingout loud. Maybe he just needed more time. Iwas back to sleep in no time, with visions ofGray invading my dream. When I woke thenext morning, I had come to the decisionthat I needed to move on. If Gray and I wereever going to heal, I needed to let him go. Sothat’s exactly what I did.My family’s house sold three weeks later. Aloving young couple and their daughterbought it and paid full asking price. That wasunheard of in this economy. I was sad to see
  • 213. 214/414it go, but a bigger part of me was glad tomove on. I weaved through the hundreds ofboxes cluttered through out the house to findHannah.“Hannah? You in here?” My voiced bouncedoff of the walls.“I’m in the kitchen.”I made my way down the hall from the entry-way and into the expansive kitchen. I foundher packing the last of our dishes in bubblewrap. I ran my fingers along the marblecountertops, while making my way over toHannah. I was going to miss this place morethan I had anticipated. I closed my eyes andwatched as my mom stood making Thanks-giving dinner. I could smell the abundance ofspices floating through the air. I smiled at thememory. When I opened my eyes, I stoodstaring out into the back yard. My eyes
  • 214. 215/414began to mist up when I caught sight of theold wooden tree house. “Our” wooden treehouse. My heart ached and yearned for asimpler time.“Han I’ll be back in a minute.” I shouted overmy shoulder as I made my way to the slidingglass door. My heart dropped into my stom-ach once my foot hit the grass. The crisp fallair whipped around my body sending shiversdown my spine. I hurried over to the treehouse and ducked inside. I could feel winterjust around the corner. It was only noon andthe temperature had significantly droppedover the last hour. As quick as I had entered,I turned around. I was overcome by toomany emotions, ones that I wasn’t willing todeal with at the moment.I backed up to take in one last look when hismother caught my eye. She was standing onher back porch, looking down onto my side
  • 215. 216/414of the yard. I took in her expression out ofthe corner of my eye before turning on myheel and heading back into the house. Shenever said a word and I was thankful for that.“Burr, it is damn cold outside.” I rubbed mybiceps with my hands roughly to get theblood circulating through my body.“I know. When I ran out for coffee this morn-ing, I had to put on my winter jacket. Its bull-shit!” Her laugh filled the kitchen with warmthand a wide smile spread across my face.Yeah, I was going to be okay.
  • 216. SixteenThe last couple of years passed by in a blur.My days were filled with school, work, moreschool and oh yeah, work. Due to the houseselling so fast, I was able to move beforeGray returned home from the academy. Henever once tried to reach out to me but himand Hannah had kept in contact for sometime. She knew my displeasure regardingher and Gray, but in a way I was happy to atleast have that one tie left to him.A couple months after Hannah and I movedcloser to the University, a letter had shownup with none other than Gray’s name in thereturn address. Apparently he was living inBoston now. I didn’t have the courage toopen it then and it remained unopened tillthis very day. I used to wonder what the en-velope contained, but I forced my feeble
  • 217. 218/414heart to ignore the silent call from it. If Graydidn’t have the Gaul to say whatever it wasface to face, then I really had no words forhim.Hannah and I ended up finding a quainthouse on the edge of town, about six blocksfrom school. It was a small cottage stylehouse, with a vast expansive backyard.There was a large L-shaped deck that juttedout from the front porch, wrapping half wayaround the back. The backyard consisted ofnothing but grass and extremely tall oaktrees, lining the property. I sold most of thecontents of my parent’s home, all except forwhat sat in my childhood bedroom.About a year after we moved Raylon camearound, making his presence well known. Ican’t say I was surprised. The day they letme out of the hospital, he seemed to alwaysfind an excuse to come by and see me. I put
  • 218. 219/414off any sort of a relationship with him as longas I could. My heart couldn’t handle beingresponsible for someone else’s happiness,along with my own nonexistent happiness.“Hey Han have you seen my new silk haltertop?” I was too busy rummaging through mycloset to hear her answer. “WHAT?” Hannahdid you hear me?” When I still didn’t hear aresponse, I went searching for her skinnyass. As I turned the corner to head into thekitchen I heard her yelling at someone onthe phone. I quietly tried to approach her,without interrupting her conversation but Icouldn’t help but over hear the desperationin her voice.“Please just show up tonight. NO damn it,you have to.” I accidentally bumped into aknife hanging half way off the counter. Theminute it clattered on the Spanish tile floor Iknew I was made. “I’ll call you back.”
  • 219. 220/414“I’m sorry Han, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.Where you talking to Theo?” Hannah starteddating Raylon’s good buddy Theo, after mytrip to the hospital. He seemed like a reallydecent guy, so I rarely gave her shit abouthim.Her face screwed up in disdain. “Um, no Iwasn’t talking to Theo. What did you need?”She was being super snippy which wastotally out of character for her. Hannahrarely, if ever, got bitchy with me. “Ok, sorry Iwas just curious. Have you seen my new silkhalter that I bought last month? I can’t find itanywhere.”Her back was turned to me, as she startedbusying herself with dishes. There weren’tthat many sitting in the sink, so I knewsomething was bothering her. I touched her
  • 220. 221/414on the shoulder and she jumped like I hadjust slapped her. “Hannah, are you okay?”My voice was dripping with concern.“Yeah I’m fine. Sorry. Your halter top gotripped remember?” Her eyes were shootingdaggers into mine.“Oh yeah!” I barely remembered but I agreedto appease her. “Okay sorry I bothered you.You and Theo still coming out with us to-night?” We had had this night out plannedfor almost a month now. One of Hannah’s fa-vorite bands and mine was coming into con-cert, and there was a huge after party at thebar where I worked at.When I wasn’t burying myself in my school-work, I was busy tending bar at a local placeup the street. Hannah and I had gone in toJohnny’s on 8th, around 8 months afterschool started. We hung out there on a
  • 221. 222/414nightly basis. It was an old dive bar, justdown the street from school. It was cleanand the staff was friendly, so we adopted itas our own. One night the owner joked thatseems how I was there so much that Ishould work to pay my tab. I knew he wasn’tserious, but I filled out an application any-way. I started the next night. I still ached forGray every second of every day. The painnever ceased and I knew I deserved whatwas happening between us.Hannah and I started to drift when I startedworking. I tried to make myself scarce mostof the time, giving her and Theo their space.I made sure to take on a full load at schoolthis semester and picked up every shift Icould get at Johnny’s. I was making decentmoney and Hannah had found a new close-knit group of friends to hang out with, fromschool. I wasn’t all that happy with the factthat I was slowly losing everyone who meant
  • 222. 223/414anything to me, but what could I do? I all butpractically pushed them out the forever opendoor.“I think so, yeah. I’ll have to call Theo andmake sure. I’ll just go outside and call himreally quick.” She fled to the back porchfaster than an attack dog.I walked back into my bedroom and ploppedmyself down on my bed. I opened the topdrawer of my nightstand to find my new lip-gloss, when I stumbled across ‘the letter.’ Ithad been two years and eight months since Ireceived the ominous envelope. I pulled itfrom the drawer and took in its scent. I couldstill faintly smell his cologne lingering on thepaper. After being discharged from the hos-pital, Hannah and I went straight to work onpacking up my childhood home. Mrs. Westonnever came by after finding out what I haddone, and couldn’t blame her. Not only had I
  • 223. 224/414severed my relationship with my one truelove, but I had also severed my relationshipwith the only mother figure I had left.I spent a good six months mourning the lossof my child and even more time mourningthe loss of Gray. He never called after thefirst time we spoke, and I never did either.There were plenty of times my fingers wouldskim across his phone number but I couldnever bring myself to call. We never evengot to have the ‘last talk.’ I still, till this dayfelt like a piece of me was ripped from mysoul.I never tried to talk about Gray with Hannah,and she never brought him up. Every nowand then I would over hear her talking tohim. From what I could gather, they nevertalked about anything serious. At least none,which I had overheard. From the short con-versations I was able to hear, I gathered that
  • 224. 225/414he had started seeing someone. I wished allthe happiness in the world for him andwhomever he chose to be with. He at thevery least deserved to have that.After his letter showed up, I sunk back into adeep depression for what seemed like aneternity. In real time it was only about threemonths. I started giving away shifts at thebar and I quickly started getting behind in myclasses. Only when Hannah intervened, did Irealize that I needed to get some help tocope with all of my loss. I found an amaz-ingly supportive therapist, who helped melearn to deal with all the emotions that I re-fused to recognize before.Hannah and I became closer than we hadever been, once I started my therapy. Shewas excited to see me opening up more toher and finally letting her inside. I decided totake some time off from the bar for a bit,
  • 225. 226/414once my therapist helped me realize that Ineeded a better outlet for dealing withthings. I didn’t have to work. My parents hadleft me plenty of money to live off of and withthe sale of the house, I was all but set forquite some time. I liked working though; itgave me a sense of worth and kept my mindfrom straying to thoughts of Gray and what Ihad lost. It helped that I loved everyone Iworked with at the bar. We were a small littlefamily and it was helpful to have. Truthfully, itwas Johnny, my boss, who convinced methat a vacation would do me wonders.Three weeks later Hannah and I were on ourway to Italy. It had always been my dream totravel the Italian countryside. I wanted toshop in Milan, explore the museums inRome, take a gondola ride through Venice,eat my way through Florence and visit everyvineyard possible along the way. We weregone for almost a month when we decided to
  • 226. 227/414take a detour to Greece, before headingback home to our responsibilities.Our first couple of days we spent loungingon the beautiful white sand beaches inCrete. We spent hours looking out acrossthe bluest ocean we had ever seen. The wa-ter was unbelievably translucent and amaz-ingly warm. We joked everyday that weshould just pick up and move there. We de-cided we would live on the beach, in a smallhut and sell pooka shells to the locals andtourists on the weekends. We laughed morethan either of us had laughed in what felt likeforever. My mind would always find its wayto Gray though. When we would be shop-ping in the small ornate towns that surroun-ded us, I could almost picture he and I handin hand. I knew I was getting better, but myheart still felt broken and I knew that I wouldnever again have the one thing that couldstitch those pieces back together.
  • 227. 228/414We eventually found ourselves in Athens, ata tiny hotel built into the side of a cliff. It wasbreathtakingly beautiful. The architectureand texture to the building was stunning. Ihad never experienced this type of beauty inmy life. Being on our own was enthralling. Asour vacation/hiatus came to an end, wejumped at the opportunity to head out andenjoy what little nightlife Greece had to offer.We had overheard some other tourists talk-ing about a midnight beach party, so natur-ally we decided to check it out. It was ourlast night and we decided to go all out.The moon danced across the glassy waterwhile small ripples danced in synch alongwith the music, echoing from the speakers.The water was still the brightest blue under-neath the glow of the moon. It was fascinat-ing. Hannah had run off to the bar to grab us
  • 228. 229/414a couple of drinks when I walked straight intohim, again.We joked about how it felt all too familiar to“bump” into each other after all this time.Raylon had been a little too pushy for mytaste, right after my surgery. I all but cut himoff completely, shortly after we moved. Wewere both surprised that it had taken both ofus going around the world to find one anoth-er. Hannah returned with our drinks and weall had a good laugh at irony of the situation.Raylon and Theo, his now roommate haddecided to take a guy-cation. They had beenin Greece for a month and this was their lastnight as well. Hannah and Theo instantlytook a liking to each other, as did Raylonand I. Needless to say, we all flew back onthe same flight and spent the whole timeswapping stories from our time over seas.
  • 229. 230/414When we got back to the states Raylon and Ihad made plans to go out on an actual date.I hadn’t been on a real date since Gray. Iwelcomed the feeling of having someonewho wanted to take me out. As much as Iwanted to fight against it and hang on toGray, I needed to feel wanted again. Theoand Hannah were automatically inseparable.I’m almost positive he was at our house now,more than I was.Raylon and I started hanging out more oftentoo. He had awakened something deep in-side, something that had been asleep for fartoo long. He was a gentleman through andthrough. He always opened doors for meand never let me pay for anything. I didn’tlike feeling like I was being codependent, butI brushed it off to not being used to havingsomeone take care of me.
  • 230. 231/414A couple of months later I was caught up inall of my classes and I was holding steadywith a B average. I decided it was time tostart back at work and get back into the realworld. I went in and talked to Johnny aboutgetting my job back. He was all too thrilled tohave me there. It took me a couple of nightsto get back into the swing of things, but I wassettling back into my routine with ease.My third week back at the bar was a bit hec-tic. I had finals and was picking up some ex-tra shifts to start saving for a new car. I hadthe money to buy one, but I wanted to feelthe sense of accomplishment when I couldpurchase it on my own. I was getting readyfor work while Hannah, Theo and Raylonwere all hanging out watching some TV anddrinking some beers. I heard Raylon callingmy name at least three times. I yelled backat him to give me a second, needing to finishgetting dressed. That was the first, but not
  • 231. 232/414the last time Raylon laid an aggressive handon me.I had turned to switch off the bedside lamp.His hand was the first thing I saw as I turnedto leave my room. He grumbled a few inco-herent thoughts and then went on to tell meto never, raise my voice to him again. I wasbeside myself. I had never seen this side ofhim before. I wasn’t quite sure how to handlethe whole situation. Hell, I was even convin-cing myself that I had made it up. I remem-ber my jaw aching for the next week, butbeyond that I could have sworn the incidentnever happened. We went about a monthwithout any other incidents. That was, until Istarted picking up weekend shifts atJohnny’s.The abuse started out small, a slap here,some hair pulling there. I brushed it off tohim drinking. When he wasn’t drinking he
  • 232. 233/414was amazing to me. He treated me like aQueen. I knew how it sounded, but I had tobelieve that he loved me. There was no way,in my still fragile state, that I could’ve startedover even if I wanted to.I kept the abusive side of Raylon hiddenfrom Hannah as long as I could, until shewalked in on him practically pulling everyhair out of my already bruised head. Tearswere streaming down my purple cheek thathe had punched the day before. I had toldRaylon that I was going to have to stay lateat the bar that night due to a concert afterparty. He wrapped my hair around his fistand pulled as hard as he could. He spatwords of how I was a whore and probablysleeping with my boss. When I tried to tellhim that that was the furthest thing from thetruth, it only fueled his rage, making thingsmuch worse. He was just about to raise hishand to me, when Hannah walked in.
  • 233. 234/414She screamed for Theo at the top of herlungs. Raylon dropped the unyielding holdhe had on my hair and straightened his shirt,pushing his way past Hannah. I had heardhim cut Theo off in the hallway, saying Han-nah was over reacting and being a dramaqueen. That’s when Hannah’s relationship,and mine yet again, found itself strained.She kept trying to persuade me to leaveRaylon. She couldn’t understand why I wasHell bent on staying, when he treated me theway that he did. I didn’t have a good excusefor staying. All I knew was that I was brokenenough to believe that in some weird way, Ideserved to be treated that way. Witheverything that I had put Gray through, thiswas the least I deserved for doing what I did.Even though Hannah and I weren’t speakingmuch, she still made sure that Theo kept a
  • 234. 235/414close eye on Raylon, especially when hehad been drinking. I felt safer knowing thatTheo could control Raylon, to an extent.Theo had officially moved in with us a monthago. I felt guilty, feeling like he needed tomove in to protect me. We no longer allowedbooze of any kind in the house. That hadn’tgone over real well with Raylon when we firstmentioned it, but Theo backed me up all theway. Raylon eventually accepted it but soonhe started coming into the bar while I wasworking to drink instead.Raylon always remained calm and collectedwhile at the bar but the minute I got home, itwas a whole other story. The tension aroundthe house was palpable. Raylon essentiallymoved himself into my room, shortly afterTheo had moved in. Raylon was a consider-ably big guy, but Theo had a leg up on him.Theo was at least two inches taller thanRaylon and twice his size. Theo had joined
  • 235. 236/414the Army when he turned eighteen and youcould tell he spent most of his days in thegym. He was quite a sight to look at. Hedidn’t have any tattoos that I knew of, butdamn he could wear the shit out of a pair ofjeans.Hannah always joked that Theo and I shouldhave ended up together, being he was theone who took me to the hospital that day. Ican’t say I never wondered how differentthings would have been, if I had fallen forTheo. I always told Hannah it never wouldhave worked out anyway. If anything Theoand I looked like we could be brother andsister. We shared everything from hair color,eye color and even a small dimple in ourcheek. Regardless, I was starting to look atTheo as a brother type over the last sixmonths. I had never had any siblings, and itwas comforting having someone around toprotect me as a brother would.
  • 236. 237/414I ran my fingers through my hair one lasttime before finishing up my makeup. We onlyhad an hour before the concert and I wantedto make sure that I was looking good forRaylon. He had been better over the lastcouple of weeks and I wasn’t willing to pushthe envelope tonight. We hadn’t had any ma-jor run-ins and I was thankful. When hecame home from school today, he genuinelyseemed excited to be going out. I’m not sureif he was excited to be going out with me ex-actly, but he was excited nonetheless. Han-nah came into my room a minute later askingto use my curling iron.“Han, why don’t you just get ready in herewith me?” She had been avoiding me likethe plague all day and I needed to get to thebottom of our current predicament.
  • 237. 238/414“It’s okay, I can just get ready in my room.”She turned on her heel to head out the door;I stopped her by gently grabbing her arm.“Hannah, what is the deal? You have beenignoring me all day. Did I do something topiss you off?” Concern constricted my words.She let out a loud sigh as she turned aroundto talk to me. “Its not you Bennett and youknow that.”I knew exactly what she was talking aboutbut I didn’t know how to respond. “Thingshave been better lately Han. I know I’ve saidthat before but this time it really feels differ-ent.” I knew it was a lie just as much as shedid. There was far more going on than Icould ever tell Hannah about.“When are you going to stop punishing your-self for what happened? For fuck’s sake
  • 238. 239/414Bennett it’s been years. You have to stopblaming yourself.” Hannah knew she wastreading a thin line, so she continued withcaution as she said her next few words. “Heasks about you.”My mouth fell ajar. “Why would you tell methat?” I returned to my seat on the floor infront of my full-length mirror to finish mymakeup. Hannah made her way over to thedesk chair beside me, barely able to look mein the eye. I could only assume she was try-ing to gauge my reaction to the bit of inform-ation she had just shared, but I wasn’t goingto give her the satisfaction of knowing it wasliterally killing me.“Bennett?” She breathed.I put my hand up to stop her, “Don’t Hannah,just don’t! It doesn’t matter what he says toyou. He chose to never speak to me again
  • 239. 240/414and my heart isn’t whole enough, to bebroken all over again. I don’t have thestrength, so please, just don’t.”I swiped some eye shadow across my lidsand was all set to go. “I’m ready. You readyto go?” I prayed she would drop the subjectespecially before Raylon could over hear it.Raylon wasn’t Gray’s biggest fan and Icouldn’t blame him, but if Gray knew the dy-namics of our relationship, I’m pretty sure hewouldn’t be Raylon’s fan either. Hannah hadfilled Raylon in on the happenings of thatday long ago. Raylon couldn’t fathom how aman who claimed to be madly in love withme, could just walk out of my life. Unfortu-nately, Raylon was worse than Gray in everyway.We all convened in the living room to take afew shots before we headed out. It wasTheo’s idea to break the rules just this one
  • 240. 241/414time. I think it was due to good behavior onRaylon’s behalf.Raylon’s arm wound around my waist as hepulled me into his chest. “You look amazingBaby.” His lips gently touched mine beforehe pulled back to look at me. “I’m sorry forhow I have been treating you Bennett.” Icould see the sincerity in his eyes and Iwanted so badly to believe him.I pulled away from his embrace andsnatched up my purse. “The cab is here, let’sget going.” I smiled.The concert was amazing. We jumped anddanced along with the rest of the concertgo-ers. By the time the last song came on I wasmore than ready to get away from the hun-dreds of sweaty bodies. Johnny’s was be-coming more appealing by the minute. Han-nah and I ran off to the bathroom before we
  • 241. 242/414left. I splashed myself with some cold waterand emptied the contents of my bladder,ready for more drinking. Everyone was in anamazing mood. I didn’t want to test Raylon’slimits but I was also sick of prohibiting myselffrom having a good time, just to keep his an-ger at bay.Hannah and I left the bathroom arm in arm,laughing and joking around. It felt good tohave Hannah back and I felt like the old me.We turned the corner to meet the guys at thegate, stumbling across a couple practicallyhaving sex against one of the outsidefences. We both covered our mouths, tryingto keep the couple from hearing us laughinghysterically. As we turned to walk the otherway I recognized the tattoo covering theoversized bicep that had the woman pinnedagainst the chain fence, I lost it.
  • 242. 243/414“YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKINGKIDDING ME! You lying, cheating sack ofshit.” Hannah grabbed my arm as hard asshe could, trying to drag me away from thesituation. We were both fully aware of howbad this situation could turn for me, not forRaylon.“It’s not what it looks like Baby.” He pushedthe bleach blonde tramp off of his chest.“Yeah I’m sure its not Raylon. I’m sure sheforced your tongue down her fucking throat,right?” I could feel the alcohol coursingthrough my veins and I was beginning to getballsy, which wasn’t going to bode well forme.The two-bit floozy tried to reach out forRaylon’s arm in the midst of our screamingmatch. He pushed the woman away fromhim and reached out for me. Hannah cut him
  • 243. 244/414off with her arm, pulling me in the oppositedirection. That only fueled his anger and Iknew I was going to pay for it later. Nextthing I knew, his firm hand was pulling Han-nah’s 110-pound body to the other side ofhim.“Don’t you dare fucking get involved Han-nah. This isn’t got shit to do with you.” Hiseyes were glossed over and filled with an-ger. His look was fiery and I held my ground,despite knowing I wasn’t going to win thisone.“Don’t talk to her like that Raylon.” I halfshouted.“I don’t think you should be raising yourvoice at me Baby, what do you think?” Iwatched intently as he cocked his handback. I braced myself for the impact againstmy face. It never came.
  • 244. SeventeenI slid open one eye, when I didn’t feel hishand connect with my cheek. Hannah wasstanding across from me, staring in disbeliefas Raylon walked away towards the exit. Iwas just as shocked as she was, maybemore so. He had never just walked away.Hannah shrugged her shoulders as I ex-haled the breath; I hadn’t realized I washolding when I saw his hand. She latchedher arm through mine as we walked in si-lence trying to find Theo.It was near impossible to find Theo amongstthe sea of bodies trying to leave the show.“Hannah do you see him anywhere?” Wewere both standing on our tiptoes, trying topick him out of the crowd. “Wait, Han I think Isee him over there, next to the securityguards.” I pointed towards the small chain
  • 245. 246/414link fence on the opposite side of where wewere.We took off at an accelerated pace to catchup with him. Everybody was pushing andpulling on one another trying to stay withtheir individual groups. We finally made itover to Theo and I could see the tension inhis face subside as we came into his line ofsight.“Where the Hell have you two been? I wasabout to start kicking some ass if I couldn’tfind you.” He pulled Hannah into a tight em-brace, only letting go, when he realized Iwas still clinging to her arm. “Is everythingokay?” I could see the worry in his eyes.“Yeah, everything is fine. We just got held upat the restrooms. Did Raylon find his way toyou?” I didn’t really care either way but Ifigured I would ask.
  • 246. 247/414He slid his fingers through his sweaty hair.“Uh, no. I saw him leave with, some otherpeople. I think it’s safe to assume, we are onour own for the rest of the night.”I dug deep down inside to pull myself togeth-er without showing weakness. “That’s okaywith me.” I feigned a smile. “You guys still upto go to Johnny’s or would you rather justhead home?” I hoped and prayed that itwasn’t the latter. I didn’t want to be homewhen Raylon decided to grace us with hispresence.“I’m good to go to Johnny’s. I think we needto have a good time, don’t you?” Hannahwas giving Theo the ‘we are not going homeyet’ look. He happily obliged and we were offto the bar minutes later.
  • 247. 248/414Johnny’s was beyond packed with left overconcert enthusiasts and random drunkenpeople. We gradually made our way throughthe packed bar to a small table in the back. Ioffered to get the first round, feeling asthough I owed it to them for all that they hadendured tonight. I slid unnoticed, past thecouple of ladies trying their hardest to getJohnny’s attention.Johnny was only a few years older thanTheo. He had dropped out of college to takeover the business when his mom and daddecided that Florida was a better fit for them,not Connecticut. He wasn’t bad looking byany means. I could understand the appeal ofa guy his age, owning a bar and being 100%single. He was tall and skinny. His blondehair sat chin length and his piercing emeraldgreen eyes added to the surfer appeal, healready had going on. He never paid any at-tention to the girls who came into the bar. He
  • 248. 249/414told me when I started working, that he nev-er dated the customers and I would be wiseto follow his lead. I never worried about it; Icouldn’t fathom the thought of being attrac-ted to anyone who hung out at Johnny’s. Iknew exactly what I wanted and none ofthem could measure up.I slid into an empty space that opened up,right in front of him. I smiled a genuine smilefor the first time that day. “Hey Johnny, can Iget three shots of Absolute, two Blue Moonsand a vodka cranberry?”“That’s a mighty tall order for such a shortlittle thing,” he laughed as he finished wipingdown the bar with a rag. “You betcha doll,”he turned with a wink to fetch our drinks. Helooked back over his shoulder while pouringthe beers; “you bring that dip shit boyfriendof yours tonight?”
  • 249. 250/414I couldn’t help but laugh. “No. We just camefrom the concert. He took off earlier withsome friends that he ran into.” In all actuality,I knew who he had really taken off with andI’m pretty sure Johnny sensed it as well.“Ah, I see. Who you here with?”“Hannah and Theo came with me. They’reover at the back table. I offered to get thefirst round. I’m sure you’ll see them in a fewminutes when we need refills.” I grabbed oneof the drink trays we rarely used, knowing Iwasn’t going to be able to heft the plethoraof drinks back to the table on my own.He wiped the spot on the bar he had spilledsome of our shots. “Sounds good doll, butyou know your money is no good here. Nowget going, before I change my mind.”“Thanks Johnny.”
  • 250. 251/414I turned to walk back over towards myfriends. I didn’t think it was possible but thebar was beginning to get even morecrowded than it had been just ten minutesago. I raised the tray above my head andslid in between and around nearly everybody around me. I sat the tray down and div-vied up the shot glasses in front of me.“Here’s to the one’s we love, the one’s welost and all the assholes in between.” Thethree of us laughed before taking our shots. Icould feel the warmth of the alcohol reachingmy toes. Tonight, I didn’t want to feel asingle emotion but inebriation.Six shots, four beers and one Irish car bomblater, I was well beyond three sheets to thewind. Hannah and I had made our way ontothe desolate dance floor, only to make itmore so, with our inebriated dance moves.
  • 251. 252/414My mind had finally stopped over-thinkingand overanalyzing every detail in my life forthe time since we had been out. My mindwas too fuzzy to comprehend how to walk,let alone think about anything requiring mydirect attention.Hannah tapped me on the shoulder, lettingme know she was going to the bathroom. Inodded and continued swaying with the mu-sic. Half way through one of my twirls Icaught sight of Theo heading towards me.He looked quite serious but I didn’t care. Hisstrong hands softly grabbed my arms oncehe made his way over to me. I was caughtoff guard and instantly my body stiffened un-der his touch.“Sorry Bennett, you know I wouldn’t hurtyou.” His hands let go of my arms and flewinto the air. “I think maybe we should get go-ing soon.” I saw the look in his eye and I
  • 252. 253/414knew he wasn’t to be argued with, so I nod-ded my head in agreement.Theo grabbed a couple bottles of water frombehind the bar before returning to the table.Hannah was still in the bathroom and I washoping she was feeling okay. Theo instruc-ted me to drink my water and I did as heasked, without question. I was in no mood toargue with anybody, whether the argumentwas heavy or not. I sat looking at Theo, won-dering if he planned on being with Hannahforever. I knew it was none of my businessbut I figured someone deserved forever.Hannah was an amazing girl. She was abso-lutely beautiful, had a one of a kind personal-ity and she really seemed to love Theo.I thought to hell with it, I was going to askhim. I opened my mouth to speak, when Icaught a glimpse of Raylon’s tattoo coveredarm pushing through the onslaught of
  • 253. 254/414bodies. My eyes opened the size of saucersand it didn’t get passed Theo. He turned hishead just in time to catch Raylon, before helunged at me.“Not so fast there killer. Just leave her be forthe night.” Theo was tucking Raylon’s armup behind his back effortlessly.“Fuck you, Theo. This doesn’t concern you.Let me the fuck go!”His words were slurred and I could only ima-gine how much alcohol he had consumed.My mouth was extremely dry. I was willingmyself to say something, anything to defusethe situation but I was at a loss for words. Al-cohol clouded my thoughts and judgment,preventing me from looking him in the eye.Theo tucked Raylon’s arm up with a bit moreforce this time. “Dude we have all had too
  • 254. 255/414much to drink. There is no reason for you tocome in here, demanding she listen to you.Let’s walk home and cool off a bit, huh?” Myeyes were pleading for him to not let Raylontake me home.Hannah emerged from the bathroom lookingrather pale. I guessed she had been throw-ing up because she looked like she was go-ing to fall over. I reached out and guided herto the chair next to mine. I slid one of the wa-ters to her, nodding for her to drink. We onlylived a few blocks from the bar, so I was alltoo willing to huff it home. Hannah gave mea questioning look and I shrugged myshoulders.“What the hell is he doing here?” As shepointed her bottle in Raylon’s direction shesent water sloshing all over the tabletop.Theo immediately interjected before Rayloncould get snippy with her.
  • 255. 256/414 “I was just getting ready to take him homeBabe. You ladies going to be okay walking afew minutes behind us?” His genuine con-cern sent waves of jealousy rolling throughme.I nodded and tucked Hannah under my armbefore gathering our belongings. I waved mygood-bye to Johnny while passing the bar toleave. I saw the look of concern on his facebut I didn’t stop to try to put his mind at ease.If he only knew what would be waiting for meat home, anticipating my arrival. The coolnight air smacked me in the face like a coldglass of ice water. I wasn’t expecting it to bethis cold already, although I had no ideawhat time it was.Hannah mumbled a few words under myarm, before she started slipping down theside of my body. I quickly adjusted my arm
  • 256. 257/414underneath her to support her dead weightbetter, but I was struggling to make it a fewfeet. I squinted through my drunkenness tosee how far ahead Theo and Raylon were. Icouldn’t see them anywhere and panic shotthrough me. I spun my head side to side,glancing in every direction trying to findthem. Hannah was all but passed out nowand I was getting worried that we wouldn’tmake it home.I reached into my purse, trying to find my cellphone. We didn’t live in a bad neighborhoodbut I had been working at this bar longenough to know what lurked around at allhours. I felt the smooth metal between myfingers, breathing a sigh of relief. I dialedTheo’s number faster than I thought pos-sible. After three rings, he finally picked up.He sounded completely out of breath andagitated.
  • 257. 258/414“Bennett…. Ben…Bennett. Where.Are.You?”I heard panic in his voice and Theo rarely, ifever panicked.“Theo calm down. We’re okay, but Hannahhas all but passed out on me and I can’tcarry her. I need you to come back and helpme.” He didn’t say anything and when Ithought maybe our call had been disconnec-ted, he let out a loud sigh.“I lost him Bennett. I have no idea where hewent. We wrestled around for a minute be-fore he clocked me in the jaw and took off. INEED to know where you are, now!”The worry in his voice made me start toworry. “I don’t know Theo. I think we’re inbetween 6th and Oak.” I found myself scan-ning my surroundings keeping an eye out forRaylon.
  • 258. 259/414“Don’t move. I’ll be there in thirty-seconds.”The phone went quiet and I adjusted Han-nah’s slouching position against me. I sud-denly felt extremely unsafe and wanted torun to the safety of my house, even if myhouse had Raylon waiting for me.
  • 259. EighteenI didn’t hear him come up behind me until Iwas face down on the asphalt. I could tastethe metallic tinged blood under my cheek.The tiny fragments of gravel were alreadyimbedding themselves into my skin. I slid myhands up to the sides of my face to push my-self up but I was met with resistance. So-mething hard was digging into my back, ren-dering me immobile. The ringing in my earstarted to cease as Hannah’s shrill voicebroke into my thoughts. I couldn’t make outwhat she was saying, but I could hear thepanic in her voice. The only thing I couldmake out was Theo, pleading with bystand-ers to call 911.I squeezed my eyes shut tight before re-opening them, trying to focus. I was able tolift my head enough to brush some of thepieces of gravel from my cheek. My hand felt
  • 260. 261/414the warm thick liquid on the tips of my fin-gers, making my stomach convulsed. My at-tempt to push myself up again resulted in thehard object in my back propelling me furtherinto the ground. I felt a forceful tug on theback of my head and then my face wasslamming into the hard asphalt below me.Tears rolled down my dirt-ridden face, mesh-ing with the dripping blood. My head collidedwith the ground one more time before myworld went black.When I came to, I was disoriented. Red andblue bounced off of the buildings and mulch-ing trees, making my head spin. I didn’t at-tempt to move this time. I simply stayed inthe position I had landed in, flat on my belly.Minutes later, a pair of rubber-coveredhands reached for my limp body, rolling meonto my back. I gasped at the intense painshooting through my spine. My eyes tried fo-cus on Theo and Hannah, who were looking
  • 261. 262/414down at me. I didn’t have to ask whathappened, I already knew who did this tome.I felt Hannah’s dry lips press against myforehead. Her hot tears were dripping ontomy face and I couldn’t stop my tears thatwere brimming behind my eyelids from spill-ing over. “I love you Bennett. You’re going tobe okay, I promise.” The confounded look onher face, told another story.“Where is he?” I croaked.“They have him in the cop car across thestreet. I didn’t think he was going to stop.”I shook my head, willing her to stop crying. Iwas going to be fine. Somehow or another, Ialways survived. “I’m fine Han.” I tried tosmile but my lip was too swollen to move.
  • 262. 263/414“Theo tried to stop him. He showed up just aminute too late. Don’t hate him Bennett,please.” I couldn’t understand why shewould assume that I would be mad at Theo.“Hannah I’m not mad at Theo. Where is he?”I tried to turn my head to the side, but theparamedic was making my head immobile.“You can’t move your head Miss. There wastrauma to your spine and we need to makesure your okay before you go movingaround.”I was growing impatient still being on thehard uncomfortable ground. I just wanted togo home to my bed. I wanted to put thisnightmare behind me. “Do I need stitches?” Ihonestly didn’t care if I did or not, but Iwanted away from here.
  • 263. 264/414The voice above my head answered in ahushed tone, “No Miss, but I highly suggestyou go to the hospital to get checked out.”“Can you please just let me sit up? I’m fine.”I tried to push myself up onto my forearmsbut I was met with resistance.“You really shouldn’t Miss. We need to makesure there is no permanent damage.” Histone was pleading but I didn’t want to gothrough the embarrassing trip to the hospital.“Look, I can move my hands.” I wiggled myfingers to demonstrate. “I can feel my legs,so there is no spine damage. My headbarely hurts, I’m fine.” The last part was a lie.My head felt like someone took a baseballbat to it, repeatedly.His hands moved from the side of my face tomy shoulders. He put his weight behind his
  • 264. 265/414biceps, helping me into a sitting position. Myspine felt stiff but I suffered through it.“Thank you.”His hands slid under my armpits to help mestand when I heard Theo interject, “I’ll take itfrom here.” I was relieved to not have tokeep up the charade; Theo knew I wasn’tgoing to go to the hospital.The police questioned me for a few minutes,asking if I wanted to press charges againstRaylon. I refused to do it, knowing that itwould be much worse after a night in jail.One squad car escorted us home, while theother took Raylon to his buddy’s house inthe next town over. Hannah never left myside. She wrapped her arm so tightly aroundmy waist that I was finding hard to breathe. Ilet her walk me into my bathroom and thenput my hand up to tell her to let me be. She
  • 265. 266/414protested a bit but retreated back into myroom to let me shower by myself.I let the scalding hot water run over my rigidbody. The burning sensation helped numbevery facet of me. Every time I closed myeyes, all I could see was a disappointedGray. I knew exactly what he would think ofme, if he could see what I was putting upwith. Regardless of how Gray and I endedup, knowing how disappointed he would beshook me to my core.I must have stayed in the shower tenminutes too long because Hannah was rap-ping at the door minutes later. “Han, chill out.I will be done in five minutes.” I huffed as Iturned off the faucet and wrapped my towelaround my body.I glanced up in mirror and instantly regrettedit. My lip and jaw were covered in black and
  • 266. 267/414purple. My right eye had a decent sizedgash, running the length of my eyebrow. Iskimmed my finger across my cheekbone,where a new bruise was now starting toform. Why couldn’t he stay away from mydamn face? At least people wouldn’t look atme with their judgmental stares, when it wason my body. I dropped my hands onto thecool porcelain and gripped the sides as hardas I could.I was done! There was nothing left for him tobreak down. He had demolished any semb-lance of what should be my soul. I wantedme back. When I cracked open the door, Ispotted Hannah sitting on the edge of mybed. Her face was shattered. She lookeddismal and I knew this was my entire fault. Iwas praying that she would forgive me, forputting her and Theo in this position. I tuckedthe towel under my arm and limped my wayover to where she sat. I scooted next to her
  • 267. 268/414without saying a word. I wasn’t exactly surewhat to say. I didn’t want her to hate me,though she couldn’t possibly hate me morethan I already hated myself.I lightly pressed a comforting hand to herback, “Hannah?”“Yeah?” I caught her swiping the back of herhand across her face, catching a free fallingtear. My heart was breaking.“Hannah, I am so sorry for what happened. Ihope you’ll be able to forgive me. I com-pletely understand if you don’t want to talk tome. I-” She cut me off before I could finishmy apology.“Bennett, are you stupid? This wasn’t yourfault. I don’t blame you for any of this. If thatasshole Raylon would have just stayedaway, everything would have been fine.” She
  • 268. 269/414was now pacing back and forth in front ofme. It was her way of dealing with stress. “Ican’t believe you would think that I hatedyou. I’m warning you though Bennett, Iswear to God, if I ever see him again, I willkill him.”I didn’t doubt anything, Hannah was saying.“I know Han, I believe you.” I reached for herhand to pull her into me. “How could I havefucked up my whole life, with one hasty de-cision?” I whispered into her shoulder.We sat there holding each other for quite awhile. Theo eventually came in to see if wewere doing okay. He took in our embraceand left closing the door behind him. Hannahhelped me stand up and get dressed. I wasin far more pain than I lead on but Hannahwasn’t stupid, she knew me better than that.She brought me some Ibuprofen and tuckedme into bed. Her lips brushed against my
  • 269. 270/414forehead and I thanked my lucky stars that Ihad someone like her. I met her gaze with ashaky smile as she turned out the light andclosed my door. All I wanted to do wassleep, forever.
  • 270. NineteenI sauntered into the coffee shop down thestreet with a renewed sense of self worth.The bruises on my face hadn’t completelyvanished yet, but they were easily coveredwith makeup, making them almost unnotice-able. It had been five weeks since I hadseen Raylon that night. He never came backto the house and no contact was made.Though he had physically vanished, I couldstill feel his presence in everything that I did.I knew what he was capable of, and Icouldn’t let my guard down, not for a second.I ordered my usual and headed out to themetal tables outside. The weather wascolder now that we were halfway intoNovember but it was still warm enough to beoutside, well on most days. I sipped my latteand smiled. Hannah and I were hanging outalmost everyday and Theo and I were
  • 271. 272/414getting closer every day. He had turned intomy safety blanket in a sense over the lastmonth. I started having nightmares afterRaylon’s altercation, and mine but they wereslowly subsiding.I pushed my sunglasses up the bridge of mynose, when I caught sight of an all too famili-ar face walking in my direction. My breathhitched in my throat and I was finding it diffi-cult to breathe. My heart was beating out ofmy chest. I nervously ran my fingers throughmy dark auburn tendrils. My palms started tosweat as he creped closer. I took another sipfrom my cup trying not to let him notice me,noticing him.“Bennett?” God his voice was as smooth asbutter. I could have died happy the momentmy name rolled off of his tongue.
  • 272. 273/414I turned and caught the sun gleaming off ofhis perfectly straight white smile. “Gray?”What the Hell was he doing here? The sundanced across his copper hair that was nowcut extremely short on the sides but stilllonger on top. He looked so different. Helooked older, more refined. Damn, he wasstill just as gorgeous if not more so now. Hisvoice broke through my revelry not a minutetoo soon.“I honestly didn’t think I would find you.” Hewas shielding his eyes from the sun and theycaptured me immediately. They were like atractor beam pulling me in.I cleared my throat. “Were you looking forme?” I knew it was a stupid question theminute I asked. Why would he ever be look-ing for me? My eyes raked down his taughtmuscular frame. He had definitely gotten big-ger and filled out nicely with more muscle
  • 273. 274/414tone. My eyes stopped on his chest, I no-ticed he was wearing my favorite shirt. It wasa dark gray, long sleeved, cotton tee thatread ‘awesome’ across the chest. My heartmelted into my insides.He sat himself down in the metal chairacross from me. “I was, actually. You look,well, you look amazing, Bennett.” His smilebroadened and I couldn’t help but smile inreturn.I glanced down at my navy cowl neck sweat-er and dark wash skinny jeans. I was sud-denly thankful that I had actually put myselftogether today. “Thanks Gray. I don’t meanto be rude but why are you here?” I regrettedit the minute the words came out of mymouth. “I’m sorry. That was rude.” I blushedand reached for my drink, trying to distractmyself.
  • 274. 275/414His hand touched mine and the electricitysurged between us. I pulled back; shockedat the way my body still reacted to him.“It’s okay Bennett. I get it. I’ve wanted tocome see you for a while now. It was actu-ally Hannah, who convinced me to finally fol-low through with it. I got into town about amonth ago but I-”I looked up at him under the blanket oflashes. Why did he have to stop talking? Ididn’t know what to say and my mouth wasfrozen in place. It had been years since see-ing Gray and I was feeling so many emo-tions, all at once. Anger was standing outamongst the rest of them at the moment, so Ibit my tongue to keep from saying somethingI would regret later.“I couldn’t bring myself to see you. I knowhow that must sound to you but … I don’t
  • 275. 276/414know. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have come.” Hestood up to leave. It took everything inside ofme not to lunge for him; I needed to hearhim talk.My hand instinctively reached for his and Igave it a little tug, “Please stay and talk tome.” I pulled my hand back as I saw his eyesland on it. I didn’t know if I had offended himbut he sat back down in the chair. Heseemed to visibly relax a bit before I openedmy mouth asking, what I knew would sendhim running for the hills. “Gray, can you everforgive me?” I closed my eyes tight, prayinghe would still be sitting there when I openedthem.I felt his hand brush across my cheek, “Ialready have.”My eyes fluttered, trying to comprehend whatI had just heard. The words came out of his
  • 276. 277/414mouth, hitting me full force. If I had standing,the overwhelming emotions floating throughme would have knocked me over. My enthu-siasm wavered when I saw the forlorn lookon his face. So much for a happy moment.Was I really expecting him to swoop me upinto his arms, promising we could live hap-pily ever after? I was suddenly dying inside,again. This feeling of being inadequate wasall too familiar. I needed to walk away whilemy dignity was still in tact. I shook my headsilently, acknowledging his forgiveness. Ipressed my palms onto the metal tablepushing myself up.“I hope you know how sorry I am Gray.There was no malicious intent when I didwhat I did. I was devastated, knowing that Ihad pushed away the only man to ever ac-cept me for me. Now that you have forgivenme, maybe I can start to forgive myself.” Igathered my belongings, pushing my purse
  • 277. 278/414strap onto my shoulder. I took one last lookat his radiant face, committing it to memory.“It was good to see you Gray.” I turned onmy heel to walk away, but his hand caught ahold of my arm. I flinched at the tenderness Iwas still experiencing but pushed through it.“Wait, maybe I’m a little dense but why areyou walking away from me?” He gentlytugged at my forearm turning me towardshim. “I have to say this is not what I expec-ted.” He dropped his grip on me and pushedhis hand back through his hair.“What exactly were you expecting Gray?” Icouldn’t help the annoyance laced aroundmy words.“Damn it Bennett, I don’t know, but not his. Iguess I figured you would actually, want tosee me. Fuck! I mean it’s been almost fourfucking years since we have even seen each
  • 278. 279/414other. Do you really have nothing at all tosay to me?”“I-” Words were failing me. I couldn’t think asingle coherent thought. I wanted him to runto me, hold me, tell me how much he lovedand missed me. God, I wanted anything hewas willing to give me. I pushed mysunglasses up onto my head, wanting him tosee the longing in my eyes. I was graspingfor something tangible, as he still had theability to send my world, crumbling aroundme. Our eyes met with burning passion.“I’m sorry Bennett. I mean truly sorry, foreverything. I did so many things wrong. Ishould have been there for you. I shouldhave bulldozed my way back into your life,long before now. I can’t breathe without you.You were my whole life for so long. I know Iwas wrong but fuck; you all but ripped myheart out. I just wanted to be a factor in your
  • 279. 280/414decision. I wanted the chance to have achoice.” His eyes were locked on mine,barely blinking.“I’m sorry Gray. I should have given you theoption to say yes or no. I know what I tookfrom you and I will never forgive myself forthat. You can’t make me feel any worse,than I already do.” The wind had sincepicked up and I was hugging my arms tochest, trying to stay warm. “All I ever wantedwas for you to be happy, Gray. I honestlyhope that you are. I have to go.” I turned anddarted off in the direction of the house. Icouldn’t bring myself to expel any moretears, for Gray Weston. I was all cried out.I didn’t look back at where I left him stand-ing. I couldn’t bear to watch his heart break-ing as mine was, at this very moment. Iturned the corner onto our street, sighingwith relief when our house came into view.
  • 280. 281/414My sanctuary awaited me and I all but ranthe last fifty feet. I flung the door open, send-ing it flying against the wall. Hannah andTheo were nowhere in site and I breathed asigh of relief. I didn’t have the strength todeal with their barrage of questions while stilldealing with my own.I closed the front door locking it in place be-hind me. I made my way into my bedroom,looking for solace. I flopped onto my backlanding on my pillows. Why, why did he haveto seek me out? I was finally starting to leada somewhat normal existence before today.I had accepted the fact that we would neverspeak again, let alone see each other. Ileaned over the side of my bed grasping thehandle to my nightstand drawer firmly. Iknew exactly what needed to be done and Ifinally had the courage to do it.
  • 281. 282/414I pulled the now yellowed envelope from itshiding place, underneath my parent’s pic-ture. The tips of my fingers traced the script,spelling out my name across the front. Ipressed the thick paper against my nose. Hissmell had almost faded, completely. I let outa loud sigh before slipping my finger underthe back flap, releasing the hold of the oldglue. I pushed myself back against my head-board before pulling out the contents. I unfol-ded the lined page covered in his handwrit-ing. My eyes slid closed, taking in a deepneeded breath before reading his thoughts.Dear Ben-nett, September 28, 2008Today our baby would be four months olds,at least from what I had calculated. Not asecond of any day goes past, without methinking of ‘it’ and you. It has been a yearsince the last time we had spoke. There are
  • 282. 283/414so many things I wish I could take back. Youdeserved a better man than me. I know that Iwould have done right by you and our baby ifI had been given the chance. I was thrilledwhen Hannah called and told me. I couldn’tbelieve that life would be that good to me.You were, are, still my reason for breathingand existing.I know our baby would have been beautiful. Iknow this because you are beautiful. I alwaysenvied your strength and courage; I just wishI could find a piece of that now. I’m lost andshattered. My world has turned into a darkand lonely abyss. I don’t live anymore I justexist. I’m living in Boston now. It’s okay. Ilike my job but I have lost the passion. I’vebeen trying to keep tabs on you in a discreteway. I try not to ask Hannah for too much in-formation but sometimes she volunteers it. Ilive for those days.
  • 283. 284/414I got married about a month ago and di-vorced two weeks later. I’m not exactly surewhy. She wasn’t you! I guess I just needed tofeel, something. She’s a nice girl but sheknew my heart would never belong to her.God, I don’t know what I am without you,Bennett. I’m just a soulless man living outmy days the best I can. I miss you. I knowthat probably doesn’t help, but I do. I missyou so much and I love you even more. I justwant you back in my life. I need you to comeback to me. I need you to make me whole.I’m dying here without you.Come home to me Bennett. Come back tome, please.I love you with all that I am and all that I willever be,G
  • 284. 285/414The letter slipped through my trembling fin-gers and onto the floor. I couldn’t help butwonder what would have happened, if I hadopened the damn thing all those years ago.Thoughts of what our life could have beenlike flashed before my eyes. All this time, Ihad the answer to mending the brokenpieces of my heart. Why couldn’t he havejust picked up the damn phone?I plucked the thin piece of paper from thefloor and shoved it back into its envelopeand back into the drawer. I could feel thewalls closing in on me. All the hurt and painwas fighting its way up to the surface. I fledto the backyard as fast as my feet couldcarry me. I slid out the back door and ontothe extensive deck over looking the vaststretch of grass. My mind kept drifting to vis-ions of our child, playing in ‘our’ tree house,back at our parents’ house.
  • 285. 286/414I made my way to the center of the yard. Thecrunchy, dew-covered blades of grass tickledmy bare feet. The sun was just beginning toset behind the line of trees. I started outspinning in circles slowly, but quickly pro-pelled myself faster. I let my arms float upbeside me, hands splayed as the wind blewthrough every strand of my hair. My heart feltlighter and I felt, alive.I was becoming dizzy so I slowed my pace,my hand landing hard against a strong, un-yielding surface. I instantly clutched my nowthrobbing hand against my chest. When Iturned around to see what I could have pos-sibly hit, my eyes caught his smolderingglare.“Gray, what the Hell are you doing here?” Irubbed my hand forcing the pain away.
  • 286. 287/414“You didn’t really leave me with any otherchoice now, did you?” He smirked whilereaching out for my hurt hand. His touchsent my stomach into spasms.I gently pulled my hand from his, “How didyou even know where I lived?”He let out a loud boisterous laugh, “I am acop Bennett, or did you forget that?”“No, I didn’t forget.” I smirked. My feet werebeginning to go numb. The sun had dippedfurther behind the horizon and the cold wasseeping through to my bones.“You know you’re supposed to wear shoesduring winter time, right?”I wasn’t finding his teasing amusing. I rolledmy eyes heading towards the stairs to thedeck. His hands clasped around my wrists
  • 287. 288/414spinning me into his chest. I gasped at thecloseness of our bodies. My gaze fell to hislips, which were nearly inches away fromtouching mine. I caught my bottom lipbetween my teeth, biting down, trying topush the desire to touch my lips to his away.“Please stop doing that,” he whispered. Hissweet breath caressed my sensitive skin allthe way down to my core.Damn!
  • 288. TwentyHis voice dropped into a hushed tone, “Ben-nett, why didn’t you just tell me? We couldhave figured it out together.”I pulled my hands out of his grip, hearing hiscondescending tone. “Let’s not do this Gray.What’s done is done we can’t go back. Asmuch as I wish I could, I can’t undue what Idid.” My defenses were falling back intoplace and I wanted to shut him out.He shoved his hands into the front pocketsof his jeans. “You think I don’t know that? Iknow we can’t go back but we can startover.” His eyes remained focused on hisfeet.I sat back against the vinyl railing leading upto the sliding glass door. “You don’t under-stand, Gray. Things have changed I’ve
  • 289. 290/414changed. I’m not the girl you used to knowanymore.” I stole a peek at his fallen face. Ihated to be the one to shatter his dreams butI was beyond repair. He couldn’t fix me justbecause, now he was ready. “I just read yourletter tonight,” I whispered through clenchedteeth.His stilled his fidgeting body and I knew Ihad caught him off guard. “I wondered whyyou never came. I guess I just assumed thatyour hatred for me outweighed your love.”He shrugged his shoulders before coming tosit next to me. “I thought maybe the informa-tion it contained turned your love for me….honestly, I just figured you would never for-give me. I’m not the same guy either, Ben-nett. A lot has happened in the last couple ofyears, but my love for you, has neverwavered. I know better than anybody that Idon’t deserve your forgiveness but I’m
  • 290. 291/414begging you. Please Bennett, please forgiveme.”My hand settled on his knee, pulling his leginto the side of my body. “How can you feelas though you don’t deserve my forgive-ness? If anything, I am unworthy of your for-giveness. For crying out loud, I’m the onewho got rid of the only binding piece of thetwo of us. I’m broken Gray don’t you seethat? I have deserved every, single thing thathas happened to me. You deserve so muchmore than I am. Leaving me, was probablyone of the smartest decisions you couldhave ever made.”My hand fell from his leg and I turned to hidemy face in shame. His warm gentle handwent to my back, comforting me. I wanted toturn into his accepting arms but I couldn’tbring myself to do it. It was only a matter oftime before I hurt him again.
  • 291. 292/414I shrugged off his touch, breaking the con-nection we had found again in one another.“Gray just go. You shouldn’t be here.” I re-fused to turn around. One look into his crys-tal blue eyes and I would drag him into myroom, without a second thought.“DAMN IT, BENNETT!” He was right in frontof my face, shaking me into a standing posi-tion. “I tried to move on. You don’t think Ipushed myself to forget about you, to forgetabout us? For fuck’s sake Bennett, I gotmarried!”Hearing the words come out of his mouth,even though I already knew it, made mewant to throw myself off a building. Thethought of Gray with another womansickened me. My hands instinctively flew upin front of me to warn him off. If he tried totouch me, I was going to lose it.
  • 292. 293/414“Shit! Bennett wait, I didn’t mean, Imean...FUCK! What did you want me to do?You made a life altering decision that con-cerned both of us, without me.” Hisweathered body slammed down onto thedeck. I watched as he fought against the in-ternal battle to come to me, or let me be.I don’t know what I expected. He was right.He deserved to be happy. I had made mydecision without him. Could I have really ex-pected him to come back to me, with openarms? I all but pushed him into that otherwoman’s arm. I had no one to blame but my-self. I settled in next to him, shivering in theprocess. The sun had set and the wind waspicking up. I tucked my feet up under my buttjust as he was wrapping his soft, black leath-er jacket around my shuddering shoulders. Ismiled at the notion, but it wavered as I tookin his desolate expression.
  • 293. 294/414“I don’t know how I can ever make this up toyou.” My voice came across shaky and allmy confidence failed to make an appear-ance. “The last couple of years have beenHell for me Gray. Not that I didn’t deserve it,but Hell all the same, more than you couldeven imagine. I guess, I just can’t fathomhow someone as wonderful as you, wouldeven want to be with someone like me.” Iwas disgusted with myself. I pressed myhead against his shoulder seeking comfort. Ihad thought about nothing but being with thisman, for the rest of my life.His finger slid under my chin, tilting it up so Icould see into his gleaming blue eyes. “Ihave never wanted anyone else. You were itfor me the day I met you. You have to under-stand that nothing would have taken preced-ence over you or our unborn child. Bennett, Iwould have given it all up for ‘us.’
  • 294. 295/414“That’s exactly, what I didn’t want Gray. Iknow, better than anybody else, how much itmeant for you to become a cop. I couldn’t bethe one to take that away from you. I loveyou too much to have you resent me for therest of our lives.” My voice was barely awhisper.He looked away from me momentarily. Whenhis eyes came back to rest on mine, hishand dropped from my chin. I could see thelust and want inside of him. My body reactedin a way that had been foreign to me for solong.“Bennett, I was half way through. We couldhave made it work.” A loud sigh escaped histhroat and I chastised myself for doing this tohim.
  • 295. 296/414“Don’t you see how much I hurt you?” The si-lence was palpable. We were at an impasse,one I wasn’t sure we could maneuver ourway through. I had done something irrevers-ible and unforgivable but yet he was willingto do just that. I was shrugging out of hisjacket when his hands stilled my move-ments. I willed myself to look into his hypnot-ic eyes to say good-bye, and let him go.“Look, we have a lot to work on. I’m not delu-sional to that fact, but my heart literally can’tbeat without you. I have tried my damnedestto get over you, but its fucking impossiblewoman. All I’m asking for Bennett is achance. We don’t have to jump right back in-to things. We can take our time, talk thingsthrough, and get to know each other again.I’m just asking for you to accept myforgiveness.”
  • 296. 297/414His lips were only inches form mine and Icould taste his minty breath, as it repeatedlyblew across my lips. I tucked my bottom lipunder my teeth, mainly to prevent myselffrom doing exactly what I knew I shouldn’t.My lips yearned to feel his against them. Mymouth was watering with the need to feelhim against me; in any way I could have him.I let out a strained breath, trying to hold my-self back from closing the small distancebetween us.“I can’t Gray.” I closed my eyes as I spokethe words, I instantly regretted. I slipped hisjacket off and backed myself up against thesliding glass door. I held his jacket in my out-stretched arm, trying to avoid any physicalcontact. If any part of his mind melting bodywould have touched me, I would have ran athim full force. I knew what I was doing wasundeniably hurting him but it wouldn’t be fair
  • 297. 298/414to him to get him involved. He deserved bet-ter. “I’m so sorry Gray, I really am.”My eyes fell to the ground as I felt him get-ting closer. The invigorating mix of soap andcologne assaulted my senses as I squeezedmy eyes tightly shut. I could picture him,leaning in to press his soft supple lipsagainst mine, sending pleasure surgingthrough my body. Please don’t do it! I had tokeep repeating it to stop myself from reach-ing out for him. His hand came up, brushingback the tendrils of hair behind my frost bit-ten ear. A sucked in a tight breath throughmy teeth. I could feel the heat pooling in mybelly.I needed him more than I needed to breathe.I braced myself for his touch, but I never feltit. My eyes shot open and found his blazingblue eyes, scorching through my hazy grayeyes. That was all it took. Need, lust, want
  • 298. 299/414and desire took over and instantly his lipswere crushed against mine. My hands flewinto his hair, tugging and pulling with pas-sion. We kissed furiously and deeply, neverbeing able to get close enough. Places onmy body that had been dormant, began tofeel alive. I could feel his reaction to mepressed against my belly, the intensity grow-ing by the minute.A noise coming from inside the house brokethrough our eagerness, pulling me back fromhis all-consuming mouth. With my eyes stillsealed shut, I whispered something inaud-ible to the both of us. I pressed the palm ofmy hand against his hard chest, holding himback to collect my thoughts. The sound vi-brated through the glass and my eyes shotopen.“Gray, you have to go, now!”
  • 299. 300/414“I’m not leaving until you agree to come outwith me. A real date Bennett, one where I getto pick you up and everything.” His eyeswere hooded with passion and I couldn’tbring myself to say no, knowing that Ishould.“Okay, a “real” date, but only if you leave,now!” I emphasized the now seems how hewasn’t quite understanding the gravity of thesituation. He backed away and bouncedaround like a young child on Christmasmorning.“Tomorrow then?” A smile stretched from earto ear, making me smile in return.“Tomorrow.” I blushed.He took a step towards me; “I’ll come getyou around six.” His lips skimmed acrossmine briefly and then he was gone.
  • 300. 301/414I ran my fingertips across where his lips hadjust touched mine and I smiled.“Bennett, what the Hell are you doing outhere?”Her booming voice had my jumping in myown skin. I prayed that she hadn’t seen Grayin our backyard.“You’re going to freeze your little ass off,”she chastised me as she pulled my into thehouse by my arm. We both stood rubbingour arms, as the cool breeze made its waypast us inside and across our skin.“I was just coming in.” I slid past her halfdressed frame into the kitchen.
  • 301. 302/414“What is wrong with you? You seem, differ-ent.” Her questioning gaze was reaching forsomething I wasn’t ready to share.I shook my head and shrugged myshoulders. She tried to stop me as I startedmaking my way to my room.“You’re not getting out of this that easily. I’llget it out of you later. That’s a promise,Bennett.”I waved at her over my shoulder as I turnedinto my room. I slid under my sheets fullyclothed and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
  • 302. Twenty-OneI bounced excitedly around my room, as Iprepared myself for the most important nightof my life. I curled the ends of my hair, lettingthem cascade down my back. I amped upthe mascara and went with a smoky eye todeepen the gray in them. I nodded in ap-proval in my full-length mirror, before turningon my heel to head into my closet. I grappledwith the decision to wear something more, orless revealing. I wanted something thatwouldn’t take long to get out of, butsomething that didn’t scream ‘easy.’ I in-stantly chastised myself for assuming, thatthis is where the night would lead us. I pulledon my favorite pair of dark wash skinny jeanswith a small rip across the knee, and went insearch of the perfect top.Winter was upon us, so I opted for a palepink sweater with an asymmetrical neckline.
  • 303. 304/414It dipped low enough under my collarbone,showing off a little bit of my well-endowedchest. I shoved my feet into my brownsuede, knee high buckle wedge boots andgrabbed my matching hobo bag that Grayhad bought me for my eighteenth birthday.Knowing he would appreciate the sentiment.Hannah’s emerald green eyes shot wide, asI stepped across the threshold of the livingroom. I blushed slightly while running my fin-gers through my hair, pulling it over my leftshoulder.“Bennett. You. Look. Amazing.” Her mouthwas practically on the floor, I took that as agood sign.I opened my mouth to tell her it was a sur-prise when the doorbell rang. Theo emergedfrom their room, beating Hannah to answerit. I watched as Gray’s beaming smile faded
  • 304. 305/414into a deep scowl when he saw Theo on theother side. I took a small amount of pleasurein seeing him feel insecure, for once.“Can I help you?” Theo growled while itchinghis bare, toned abs.“I’m here for-”“Oh. My. God, Gray?” Hannah squealedwhile running into his now open arms. “GrayElliot Weston, what the Hell are you doinghere? Confusion settled into her expressionas Gray placed her back onto the ground.Theo wrapped his arm around Hannah’swaist, glaring into Gray’s eyes. He gentlytucked her behind him before introducinghimself. “I’m Theo, Hannah’s boyfriend?” Hestretched his hand out and Gray appreciat-ively took it in his.
  • 305. 306/414“Nice to meet you man.” I could see the reliefin his eyes.“He’s here for me,” I chimed.Hannah’s jaw dropped further to the floor, asI slid into Gray’s waiting embrace. Theorolled his eyes at his girlfriend’s dramaticscene and invited Gray inside. Theo slidback into their room, emerging fully clothed aminute later. I wrapped my arms aroundGray’s waist, pulling him into me. Hesqueezed me tight to his side then releasedme, but never left my side.I felt a slap against my shoulder, “Bennett,why didn’t you tell me?” A wide smile wasplastered to Hannah’s face as she took inthe sight of Gray and I together.
  • 306. 307/414“We just ran into each other yesterday. Ididn’t even know if I would see him again,until he showed up last night.”“I knew you were hiding something when Ifound you outside. You bitch,” she joked.I blushed fiercely, “I’m sorry Han, and Iwanted it to be a surprise. “Surprise.”Hannah couldn’t tear her eyes away from thetwo of us, and I was starting to feel like asideshow. I grabbed Gray’s hand, “You wanta tour?” I didn’t wait for him to answer beforeI was pulling him from the entryway. I did amini tour, stopping at my bedroom last. Iwatched as his electric blue eyes went widewith hunger, as he took in my figure standingin front of my bed.“Oh no you don’t mister, let’s go before youget any bright ideas.” I winked as I tugged a
  • 307. 308/414pouting Gray back out into the living room.“We’re going to go now. We’ll see you guyslater.”Theo stood to shake Gray’s hand, “It wasnice to finally meet you man. Heard morethan was necessary about you, that’s forsure. Nice to put a face with the name.”Gray returned his handshake. “I wish I couldsay the same but hopefully we’ll get to hangout sometime.”I nodded in reassurance of their burgeoningfriendship. “Bye Han, I’m sure I will see youlater.” I winked.Gray guided me through the doorway withhis hand across my lower back. My skin in-stantly warmed to his touch and I silentlywished we could stay in my room, for therest of the night. We made our way down the
  • 308. 309/414driveway to an unfamiliar car. Upon closingthe distance, I realized that in my drivewaysat an Aston Martin Vanquish V12.“Please tell me this is not your car.” I wassalivating at the very sight of the beautifulpiece of machinery in my driveway.“It’s not mine Bennett, keep your panties on.I rented it for the night.”He stood waiting for my reaction, a mischiev-ous smile playing at his lips. I knew he wasthinking, just as I was, all the dirty things wecould do in this beautiful car. Gray chival-rously led me to the passenger side, openingthe door for me. I gave him a sly wink as Islid into the black leather bucket seat.The back of his fingers slid down my blush-ing cheek before he retreated to the driver’sside. I took in his appearance as he sat in
  • 309. 310/414the seat next to mine. He looked amazing. Apair of dark denim jeans were slung low onhis muscular hips, hugging his thighs. Hisblack cable knit, zip front sweater clung toevery bulging muscle, outlining his form per-fectly. I licked my bottom lip as I watchedhim turn over the ignition, bringing the car tolife with a gentle purr.Damn, he was hot!I snuck in a few glances out of the corner ofmy eye, as we made our way to the restaur-ant. I took it upon myself to be Gray’s per-sonal tour guide, seems how he had neverbeen to the small town I now reside in. Ipointed out Johnny’s as we passed by andthe small bookstore that sat across from it. Itold him how quite and intimate it was, andhow the owner loved me and always gaveme a discount. We exchanged laughs andlight conversation on our quick trip. I had
  • 310. 311/414forgotten how easy it was to talk and laughwith this man.I found myself hanging on every word hespoke, without fail. I wanted to knoweverything about him, after he left. His voicewas soft and melodic most of the time, andstrong and boisterous when needed for em-phasis. This man was my undoing, and boydid I want to be undone. I smirked at myprivate joke as he slid the car into park infront of a small bistro.I could feel the heat rising up my cheeks as Iwatched him pull his taught frame across thefront of the car. He stopped and I blushedcrimson when he caught me watching him. Asecond later, he was opening my door. Withhis face only millimeters away from my earhe whispered, “See anything you like?”
  • 311. 312/414I just smiled, reaching for his hand to helpmyself out of the car. As we entered thesmall Italian bistro, I noticed a proud smileacross Gray’s face. I didn’t want to ruin hismoment, so I kept it to myself that this hadturned into my favorite place to eat over thelast couple of years.We were lead to a small booth in the backcorner. Gray helped me into the vinyl benchseat before slipping in right next to me. Hisdenim clad thigh, made contact with mineand I could feel the electricity humming overmy sensitive skin. I opened my menu know-ing exactly what I wanted but I didn’t want tobe rude, so I made sure to peruse for aminute. Our waiter brought over two glassesof Riesling. Before I even had a chance toask, I knew Gray had arranged for this. Afterall these years, he still knew me better thananyone else.
  • 312. 313/414His eyes caught mine, “So Button, whathave you been up to for the last couple ofyears?”My throat tensed as I thought about Raylon.I knew it was inevitable, me telling him aboutRaylon and our relationship, but I couldn’tbring myself to crush him so soon. I swal-lowed past the tightness in my throat beforetelling Gray about my life.“Not a whole lot. You know, school, work,friends.” I smiled wanting to avoid talkingabout myself, but Gray wouldn’t let thathappen.“Bennett, it’s been almost four years. I’msure more has happened than that.” I wantto know about all of it, everything I missed.”His smile was infectious. I took in a deepbreath and started at the beginning. I told
  • 313. 314/414him how I ended up needing to stay in thehospital for a few days after Hannah hadcalled the ambulance. I even found myselfadmitting to him, how I prayed for him toshow up at the hospital. He flinched at know-ing he should have been there. I skippedover the part about Raylon showing up in hisplace. I wasn’t ready to go there quite yet. Iwent into detail about how hard it was forme, to come to the decision to sell my child-hood home because of the proximity to himand his mother.His eyes glanced over my features, waitingfor some sort of reaction but I gave nothingaway. I vaguely brushed over my bout withdepression, not wanting his pity or apolo-gies. I lead into school and eventually intowork. I told him all about Johnny and myfellow co-workers. I told him how much I ab-solutely loved my job and how I felt at homewhen I was there. His expression grew
  • 314. 315/414lighter and I heard him exhale, what I couldonly assume was a sigh of relief.He asked if I had made any friends at schooland I simply nodded while sipping my wine.We ordered our meals and then he contin-ued with the barrage of questions.“So, have you dated anyone?” His eyesstayed focused on the napkin in his lap.My breath caught in my throat as I preparedmy answer. “I did for a little bit, yes.” I in-wardly cringed at the thought of having to tellhim it was Raylon.“Do you not want to tell me?” Disappoint-ment flashed across his softened features.“Not really,” I admitted. “But, I will if youreally want to know.”
  • 315. 316/414His hand gripped the tall water glass in frontof him. I knew he didn’t really want to hearthat I had been with anyone else, but heneeded to know.“I do.”“Well, I actually ran into him when Hannahand I went on vacation. We went to Italy fora month and Greece for a week the summerafter...well, you know.” He nodded.“So, you finally went on your dream vacation,huh?” I could hear the jealousy dripping fromhis words. His oppressed look broke myheart. He was wishing he had been with meand not Hannah.“Yeah, I did. Needless to say, we had a goodtime. Greece was a last minute decision to-wards the end and we only stayed for aweek. Our last night there, Hannah ran into
  • 316. 317/414Theo. He was actually the paramedic thatfound me that day.” I glanced up at him,making sure he was okay with me continu-ing. I could see the pained expression on hisface but I pushed through. “Raylon was withhim.” I paused as I saw his jaw tightened atthe mention of Raylon’s name. “We all flewback together the following day, and then weall started hanging out. We started datingshortly after.” My face fell along with myheart.“That’s it?” His voice was deep and gruff inmy ear. “Are you two still together?” I couldhear the anger in his tone.I tucked my hair behind my ear, trying toavoid the question. Honestly, I didn’t knowwhere Raylon and I stood. I hadn’t seen himin weeks and could only assume that wewere done.
  • 317. 318/414“Bennett, answer me,” he growled.“No Gray! Raylon and I are not together any-more.” I tried to hide my irritation but it wasn’tthat easy. Our food showed up a minutelater. I unrolled my silverware and placed themaroon cloth napkin on my lap. “Can we nottalk about it anymore, please?” I was prayinghe would just let it go, before the conversa-tion took a turn for the worse.“I guess so.” He mumbled into his forkful offood.“How’s your mom doing?” I needed tochange the subject fast. I pushed my spa-ghetti aimlessly around my plate waiting forhis answer.“She’s doing good. She moved shortly afteryou did. She said she wasn’t strong enoughto stay next to strangers in a house that was
  • 318. 319/414too familiar to her.” He let out a sigh. “Wedon’t talk much.” I could feel the tensionrising from the table as he spoke about hismother.“Bennett, I know about you and Raylon!”My jaw went slack and I choked on a noodle.My fork clattered on the plate and I reachedfor my glass to clear my throat. His handcaught mine just before I pulled the glass tomy lips. His eyes caught mine and pulledthem up to his face.“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it like that.Were you going to tell me?” There was notrace of pity or disgust in his look, only pain.“No,” I stated matter-of-factly. It’s nothing toconcern yourself with.”
  • 319. 320/414“Why wouldn’t you tell me something likethat?” I could hear the hurt laced around hiswords.“It’s none of your concern, Gray.”“I think it is Bennett. I deserve to know thetruth.” His hand instinctively reached formine but I pulled mine back quickly, bringingit to my lap. “Is this how things are going tobe between us?” Sorrow wrapped aroundme. How had he found out? “I didn’t knowyou had sold your house until I came homefrom the academy. My mom never calledand told me. I’m thankful for it now, but I waslivid when I found out. My mom and Istopped talking shortly after. The reasonsaren’t important. She moved to New York tobe closer to my aunt and we haven’t seeneach other in about two years. After we soldthe house, I took the job in Boston. I couldn’t
  • 320. 321/414let things go between us. I made sure tokeep an eye on you.”I forced myself to eat my dinner as I listenedto Gray prattle on about meaningless actionsthat he thought were protecting me. Little didhe know, that if he had been keeping a closeeye, things wouldn’t have gotten as bad asthey had.“I couldn’t find much on you the first year Iwas gone. You laid low and nothing strangepopped up. I reached a point where I wasborderline obsessing over every little thing Iwould hear about you. I had to stop myselfand try to move on. I’m sorry I ever tried. Ifound out about the first incident with Raylonshortly after I transferred back here a yearago.” He paused and I looked up at him.He ran a finger across my full bottom lip,sending every nerve pulsing. I needed him
  • 321. 322/414more than anything in that moment. He knewmy darkest secret and wasn’t judging. Hedidn’t care what both of us had gone throughto get to this point and neither did I. All thatmattered was that we found our way to eachother again.Wait! Did he just say he moved back a yearago?
  • 322. Twenty-Two“I thought you said you just got back a monthago? I’m confused.”The look on his face held more meaningthan I could have known. “I’m sorry. I didn’tmean to lie, but I also didn’t want you think-ing I was some creepy stalker. Although,now that I think about it, that’s exactly whatthis looks like.” He loud laugh rumbledthrough his chest.I left dinner feeling lighter. I told Gray aboutall, okay most of the physical abuse I hadendured. At first he blamed himself, but Iquickly squashed that. There was no reasonthat both of us should blame ourselves. Inever went too deep into details, knowingthat he already knew. There were certainthings Gray never brought up and Iwondered if it was because he didn’t know.
  • 323. 324/414Raylon’s abuse went far beyond just slap-ping me around, but I couldn’t bring myselfto tell Gray. He would never want me againknowing the things Raylon had done to me. Iwould keep those tiny fragments of informa-tion to myself. I knew that they weren’t publicrecord, but Gray wasn’t just part of the gen-eral public.The snow had begun to fall as we walkedout to the car. Gray was helping me downthe sidewalk to the passenger door when Istopped mid stride. I stood staring blankly in-to the dark overgrown trees across thestreet. He stood there, just staring at me,arms flexed with his hands in his front pock-ets. Gray caught me just as I was about toslip.“Hey, you okay?” He slipped his sturdy armaround my waist, pulling me into him. Idropped my gaze to the street and back up.
  • 324. 325/414He was gone. “Bennett? Is everythingokay?”I swallowed past the fear that was inching itsway up my throat. “Yeah, I’m fine just lost myfooting. Let’s go, I’m freezing.” I slid into thecar holding my breath. I watched Gray roundthe front of the car and I sank deeper into myseat with regret. I knew what I was going tohave to do.Minutes later, we were headed back to thehouse. I held Gray’s hand in my lap thewhole way back, not wanting to let go of him.When we pulled into my driveway I feignedbeing sick. I promised Gray I would call himin the morning. I thanked him for one of themost amazing nights of my life and pulledmyself to the front door. I turned with a slightwave and pushed open the thick piece ofoak. I quietly shut the door behind me,pressing my body against the solid comfort.
  • 325. 326/414My eyes fluttered open just as Hannah waspassing through the kitchen. “Hey, how did itgo? You’re home early, so I’m going to as-sume, bad?” Her questioning gaze made thedam break. Big fat tears rolled endlesslydown my cheeks. Hannah ran to my sideand led me over to the couch. All I could dowas shake my head back and forth. Nowords left my mouth and Hannah neverpushed for any.Theo came into the living room awhile later,Hannah just waved him off and we wereonce again alone. “Do you want to talk aboutit?”“He knows about Raylon.” My tears hadsince dried and I was in full on preservationmode.“Everything?” she whispered.
  • 326. 327/414I shook my head, “just the hitting.” I swal-lowed hard.“Are you going to tell him?”“I don’t want to, but being without him hasbeen excruciating. What am I supposed todo Hannah? He’ll never look at me thesame.” Tears began pooling in my eyesagain.“Oh Hon, you know Gray would never dothat. It’s not in his character to judge you.After all this time and everything you twohave been through, I think he deserves all ofthe truth.” Her arm that was draped aroundmy shoulders pulled me in close to her side.“He will love you, regardless.”
  • 327. 328/414“How can you love someone knowing theystayed with someone who repeatedly rapedand abused them?” I whispered.I heard the gasp before I lifted my face tosee him standing in the doorway. I wasthrown into a fit of hysterics as he ran to myside. I buried my face into the crook of hisneck as I felt Hannah’s weight lift from thecouch. He never asked any questions. Hejust sat holding me as tight as humanly pos-sible. I let the tears pour out of my face, ashe rubbed small comforting circles acrossmy back.I didn’t know what time it was when he car-ried me into my room, and I didn’t care. Helaid me on the bed and tried to back away,but my grip was unrelenting. “Please don’tleave me.” I silently begged.
  • 328. 329/414“Oh Bennett, I will never leave you. Ipromise.”“You say that now, but you don’t know whathe is capable of.”“I know what I am capable of, that’s all thatmatters. I’m never going to let him hurt youagain,” he whispered into my hair beforeplanting a chaste kiss against my forehead.“You don’t understand Gray, there havebeen times when even Theo couldn’t stophim. He will stop at nothing to keep youaway from me.” I pulled him into me on thebed, “I saw him tonight.”Gray sat up straight, pulling me with him,“What? When? Why didn’t you tell me?”
  • 329. 330/414“When I stopped on the sidewalk outside ofthe restaurant, he was standing across thestreet.”“Damn it Bennett, why the fuck didn’t yousay something?”He began pacing back and forth in front ofmy bed. What was with everyone and theirdamn pacing? I had wanted to tell him, butRaylon was relentless. He wouldn’t care thatGray was a cop now. There was a smallknock on my door a few minutes into Gray’sdizzying pacing. Hannah’s face appearedbetween the open slats asking for permis-sion to enter. I nodded my head and reachedfor her hand.“Hannah, why didn’t you tell me?” He spat.“GRAY!” I shouted.
  • 330. 331/414“It’s okay Bennett. Honestly Gray, it wasnone of your business at the time. You hadmade it perfectly clear that you wanted noth-ing to do with Bennett for so long. You gaveup the right to know anything, when you nev-er came home to her.” I knew Hannah hadbeen holding this inside for far too long, so Ilet her continue. “You pushed her as faraway as possible. I kept you in the loop forher benefit, not yours. Let’s just get thatstraight right now. Trust me, I wanted to tellsomeone, anyone but I promised her on ourfriendship, that I would never betray her likethat again. I didn’t know about the rape, untilhe was gone.” Hannah hung her head inshame. I rubbed her back comforting mybest friend who had kept secrets that nofriend should ever have to keep.“It’s not her fault Gray, its mine. I didn’t tellanyone. How could I? I knew that anyonewho knew would look at me the way you’re
  • 331. 332/414looking at me now. I was ashamed, I stillam.” Hannah sat rubbing my back before Istood up and walked towards the bathroom.His hand wrapped gently around my wristpulling me to his chest. “Please tell me whathappened?”“I can’t!” I slipped through the door andpressed it closed behind me. I heard Hannahand Gray exchange whispers and I didn’temerge until I heard my bedroom door snapclosed. He stood shirtless, looking into mywet gray eyes. I raked my eyes down historso and back up to his face. Every muscleon his body was clenched and stretched. Hisbicep flexed as he reached for the hem ofmy sweater. I tried to pull myself away fromhis grasp, but he wasn’t having it.
  • 332. 333/414“Let me love you.” He whispered right belowmy ear before planting a kiss, right where hisbreath had touched.“I can’t,” I repeated. I hadn’t been touched ina loving manner since the last time him and Iwere together.“I won’t hurt you, I promise.” His voice waspained. He slowly pulled the sweater overmy head and discarded it onto the floor, ontop of his own. His hands glided around myback to unlatch my bra. As he pulled it awayfrom my skin, I shuttered at how exposed Iwas. I instantly covered myself with myhands not wanting him to see my imperfec-tions that I had been hiding. “Don’t hideyourself from me Button, let me see you.” Iclung onto my skin for dear life.I heard the intake of his breath through histeeth as he eyed the scars. There were three
  • 333. 334/414of them that covered my left breast. Theywere about three inches long and one inchwide. I pulled my hand from his grasp cover-ing them up before he could reject me.“Don’t.” He lowered himself onto his kneesand pulled my hand away from my chest. Hisfingers traced the thick memories. A straytear fell onto his hand before I could catch it.Flashes of that night struck me like lighten-ing. “Tell me how it happened.” His voicewas soft and etched with concern.“It was the first time he ever raped me.” Myvoice was barely a whisper. “Hannah and Ihad just gotten back from a long shoppingtrip. I knew he was mad when we came inbut I didn’t know, how mad. We had said wewould only be gone for a couple of hours.When we came in the door he wrapped myhair in his fist and drug me back into myroom.” I stopped to catch my breath. I didn’t
  • 334. 335/414know if I could go on, but with an under-standing touch from Gray to my face, Icontinued.“There were scissors on my pinned me down on the bedwith his legs. I just remember thrashing mybody around trying to buck him off of me.Unfortunately, It only made things worse.Afterwards, he grabbed the scissors andpulled them across my skin, more thanonce.” I turned my face into my shoulder andwinced at the mutilating memory, not want-ing him to see me. It was all too much.I felt his fingers glide across the scars onelast time before bringing his face up to mine.“Never again, I promise you, never again.”His lips were on mine moving slow andgentle. His tongue slid across my bottom lipwaiting for permission to enter. I reluctantlyparted them, granting him access to my
  • 335. 336/414mouth. Our tongues intertwined with one an-other fervently.Without breaking contact with our mouths,his hands reached for the button my pants.His firm hands slid them down over my hips,discarding them on the floor. I ached andyearned for him to be inside me. Hehardened the grip on my hips, pulling mylegs around his waist as I wrapped my armsaround his neck.We fell onto the bed and he sat hoveringabove me. I blushed as his eyes raked downme, admiring every inch of my body. Whenthey returned to my face, a small smiletugged at the corner of his lips before seal-ing them to mine again. I tugged at his hair,pulling him deeper into me. I couldn’t getclose enough. I needed his touch. I wantedhim to want me, all of me. We made slow
  • 336. 337/414and passionate love. Gray’s touch made mefeel cherished.His body was captivating, as I ran my fingersacross his hardened abs and flexed chest. Igripped his biceps, digging my fingernails in-to the soft supple exposed skin. We foundour release together. Our bodies stiffenedand then melted into one another. Grayrolled onto his side brushing back thestrands of hair that had adhered themselvesto the sheen of sweat on my face. He lookedcontent and fulfilled. I smiled knowing it wasme, who could make him feel that way.We lay entangled in each other’s bodies forwhat felt like an eternity. His adoring blueeyes never strayed from mine, and I couldn’thelp the blush that was creeping up my en-tire body. This man truly loved all of my flawsand me. I brought my hand up to cup hischeek, pressing my swollen satisfied lips tohis. I pushed my body up onto my unsteady
  • 337. 338/414legs. With my back to his unyielding gaze, Ifelt his long lean fingers wrap around mywrist. When I turned to face him, humiliationripped through me as I saw the pained ex-pression on his face. I had forgotten aboutthe marks on my back, and I’m guessing hejust saw them in the moonlit room.“What are those?” His voice was barelyabove a whisper.“They’re nothing,” I replied as I ran my fin-gers back through his hair. “They’re in thepast.” I kissed his forehead and strode overto the bathroom. I closed the door tight andstood half turned, looking at my back in themirror. The striations of the marks were con-sistent with that of Raylon’s brown leatherbelt. I shuttered remembering that horrificnight.
  • 338. 339/414“When did he do that?” His voice was tightand vengeful.I hadn’t heard the door open and I jumped atthe sound of him speaking. He stood barechested, leaning against the doorframe. Hismuscles expanding as he crossed them overhis chest. God, why did he always have tolook so good? I knew what he wanted tohear, but I didn’t want to ruin what could beconsidered one of the best nights of my life.“Don’t worry about him or these. I don’t.” Ishrugged them off like they were no big deal,but deep down the scars on my back hadscared my heart. I turned to brush my teeth,the whole reason I had gone into the bath-room in the first place.His tall overshadowing frame slid behind me,his eyes outlining each scar on my back. Iflinched when he brought his fingers up to
  • 339. 340/414trace the thinning lines. ‘I’m not going to hurtyou, Button.”I nodded my head, knowing that he spokethe truth. His fingers continued their originalpath, tracing all twenty-four gashes. I shookmy head in disbelief. I couldn’t believe howstupid and naive I had been to fall forRaylon’s line of bullshit. The nurse at thehospital had told me that each gash was nodeeper than the tip of my pinkie finger, butthey felt as though they had reached thebone. Each varied in length, anywhere froma couple inches to twelve inches.“Baby, how could this have happened?” Hiswords cut into me, deeper than any of myscars.“Please don’t call me that, and it’s not like Ijust, let it happen. I’m not a masochist.” Ihuffed.
  • 340. 341/414“Aren’t you?”My head shot up in shock. I was astonishedthat he could go from loving to hateful in lessthan five minutes. “How dare you judge me!I-”“I’m sorry, that’s not how I meant that tocome across. I just mean…. seemslike you felt you deserved all of this.” Hishand waved in the general direction of all myscars. “You don’t and didn’t deserve any ofthis, you know that right?” His warm sensualhands ran down the length of my arms,pulling my hands into his and up to his lips.“I’m sorry Bennett, I never meant to implythat you enjoyed any of it. I just wish I wouldhave been here to protect you.”His face fell and I caught it in between mydamp hands. I tilted it up so we were eye to
  • 341. 342/414eye, “Gray, these are not your fault. I am re-sponsible for letting it go on as long as I did.I knew that I needed to walk away, but yeah,in some way, I felt as though I did deservethis, for what I did to you. I got to a pointwhere I was dying inside and it tookeverything in me to even get out of bed inthe mornings. I know what I did, and trustme, I have paid for it.” I dropped his face andpushed my naked figure past him. I pulled ona pair of sweats and a hoodie and made myway out to the kitchen. I stopped abruptlywhen I almost ran straight into thestatuesque body, barricading the doorwayinto the kitchen.“Hello Baby.” His voice shot through me likea million daggers.My hand flew up to my face, as I slowlyinched my way backwards. “What the Hellare you doing here?” My voice was shaky,
  • 342. 343/414matching the tremors running through therest of my body.He took a step forward, “I’m here to see you.Why else would I be here?” He was slowlyclosing the distance between us when Iheard a loud crashing sound coming frombehind me. Gray was rushing towardsRaylon like a line backer. I barely had time toreact, before Gray had Raylon pinned to theground, his forearm pressing againstRaylon’s windpipe.Theo came running in from the backyard,eyes wide as he took in the sight in front ofhim. “What the fuck, are you doing here,Raylon?” Theo was trying to pull Gray off ofRaylon when Hannah came rushing in be-hind him.“Holy shit!” She ran to my side and huggedme tight, “Oh My God, Bennett are you
  • 343. 344/414okay? Why is he here?” I pulled back lookingbemused.“I don’t know,” I whispered.Hannah started leading me down the hall tomy bedroom, when his voice halted mysteps. “This isn’t over Baby. You know thatjust as much as I do. And now, I got exactlywhat I came for.”I shrugged out of Hannah’s grasp and ranover to him, getting right in his face, “Listenup you piece of shit, don’t you ever threatenme, my friends, or Gray, EVER again. Doyou fucking hear me? You are NOTHING tome, you never were. Gray is ten times theman you could ever be. Get the fuck out ofmy house and out of my life.” I turned to grabGray’s hand, but turned with one last state-ment, “And, if you EVEN try to presscharges, I will have your balls!” I turned on
  • 344. 345/414my heel, Gray in tow, and made my wayback to my room.Once the door closed behind us, I fell intohis arms and began sobbing uncontrollably.The tears were never-ending and even Graycouldn’t keep the nightmarish night from in-vading my dreams. Eventually, I drifted off tosleep wrapped in the arms of the one manwho would love me forever, unconditionally.
  • 345. Twenty-Three“Gray? Answer your phone.” I mumbled as Irolled away from his warm embrace and thenonstop ringing.“It’s not mine,” he growled.I reached across him and into the pocket ofhis jeans on the floor. I placed the cold metalagainst his exposed skin, “Yes it is.”“Holy shit, that is cold. Hello?”The bed slowly rose as he jumped out of thebed pulling on his jeans. I watched himfrantically search for his shirt, amongst thepile of clothes. “Aunt Tina, slow down. Is shealright?”His voice was strained and I could hear thepanic rising with every word he spoke. “Gray,
  • 346. 347/414what’s wrong?” I was up seconds later,dressing myself.“It’s. Its. My. Mom.”The words were barely audible. A tear brokefree from the corner of his eye, and was run-ning down his paled cheek. I ran to his sidein only my bra and pants. “Gray, you’re scar-ing me. What about your mom?”“She. She...she died.” His phone fell to thebeige carpet before his body followed. Hewas slumped down on his knees, head in hishands. “She’s gone Bennett.” His tears wereunmistakable. He looked exactly as he hadwhen he found out about his father.“What do you mean, she’s dead?” I couldbarely get the words out of my mouth beforeI was crouched down next to him. I wrapped
  • 347. 348/414my shaky arms around his neck and heldtight. “What happened?”“My aunt said she found her in her bed thismorning, with no pulse. They rushed her tothe hospital but she had been dead for acouple of hours.” His sobs raked through hisbody.Tears began to pool in my eyes. I chokedback the sob that was bubbling up inside ofme. It was my turn to be strong for him, and Iwasn’t going to let him down this time. “Ohmy God Gray, I am so sorry.” I didn’t knowwhat to say, not that there were any amountof words that could comfort him. “What dowe need to do? Do we need to go out toNew York?”His hands gripped tighter around my arm inresponse. “They are flying the body back
  • 348. 349/414here. She needs to be buried with my dad.”He could barely get the words out before an-other wave of tears began.I reached out for his phone to call Hannah. Iknew she was most likely in her room, but Icouldn’t leave Gray alone. She answeredtired and confused. I explained to her whathappened and asked if she could run outand grab us some essentials from Star-bucks. I knew Gray wouldn’t eat or drink any-thing, but I had to try.Hannah tapped on the door about a halfhour later. I had gotten Gray off of the floorwith some help from Theo, and tried to makehim as comfortable as possible on the bed.Her head popped through the crack in thedoorway with a sympathetic smile. I wavedher in and took the hot cup of coffee fromher hand. I mouthed a ‘thank you’ and sheretreated out of the confines of my bedroom.
  • 349. 350/414Gray’s head lay lifeless on top of my chest,and his hands in a strangling hold around mywaist. His tears had since dissipated. Istroked his hair back with my hand in a softsoothing motion. It was the only thing com-forting enough to slow his radical breathing. Isat motionless underneath him for threehours before I tried to talk to him.“Gray?” I whispered his name, not wanting tojolt him into another crying spell. “Gray?Honey? You need to eat something.” I ranmy hand across the top of his head beforeplanting a soft kiss to the top of his head.“I can’t,” was all he managed to croak out.“I know Babe, but you can’t stay like this allday.” When he slid his heavy frame off of thetop of me, I knew they were the wrong words
  • 350. 351/414to say. He rolled away from me, curling upinto a fetal position.I let out a loud sigh, knowing I was doing allthe wrong things was killing me. “I’m sorryGray, that was insensitive of me. I meant youjust need to keep your strength up, so youcan handle the next couple of days.” Irubbed circles into his back, letting him knowthat I was still there.“I think I need to go to my house.” His voicewas raspy with the lack of sustenance hewas getting.The look of shock plastered itself on myface. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.He would rather be alone, than have me behere for him. “Gray, are you sure you want tobe alone right now?” I could feel the tearswelling up and it took all of my strength notto let them spill over.
  • 351. 352/414He scooted himself to the end of the mat-tress and finished pulling on the rest of theclothing he had forgotten, in the midst of hisdisconcerting news. “I’ll be fine.” With thosethree little words he was fully clothed andrushing out of my house. I stood in the door-way, praying he would change his mind andrun back into my arms. I knew he wasn’t,when his truck roared to life, his tires squeal-ing their way down my street as he drove outof sight. What had I done? My stomach waschurning and I felt as though I would be ill. Islowly backed away from the empty street,closing the front door. I felt Hannah’s handon my lower back and I turned into her, let-ting the tears flow freely.Hannah and I stayed home all day. I didn’twant to chance leaving, not knowing if Graywould return. I tried to busy myself with smallinane chores, but my thoughts kept drifting
  • 352. 353/414back to him. I had finally gotten Gray back inmy life and then pushed him back out in oneswift move. My stupid mouth was alwaysgetting me into trouble. I silently cursed my-self as I finished up the dishes in the sink.“He’ll be okay. It’s not your fault.”I know she meant for her words to be ofcomfort, but they only made me feel worse. Inodded my head and finished up the dishes.I was drying my hands off when I heard myphone ringing from my room. I ran full speedalmost smashing into the door, trying to getto it before it stopped. I glanced at thescreen not recognizing the number and myheart dropped.“Hello?” I was preparing myself for the worst.“Is this Bennett Reynolds?” The small femin-ine voice asked.
  • 353. 354/414“Yes. Who is this?” Please God do not letthis be a hospital or police officer, was allthat ran through my head.“Hi dear, this is Gray’s aunt Tina. I’m sorry tocall you like this, but I can’t get a hold ofGray. Do you know where he might besweetie?”Her voice was angelic and soothing. I sat onthe edge of my bed breathing a sigh of relief.“He’s not dealing with the “situation” verywell. He actually went home hours ago. Ihaven’t heard from him since.” I braced my-self in anticipation of her reprimanding. Shejust let out a small sigh.“I figured as much. I just got into town with,with my sister, I’m not sure what to do next.”A sob escaped her throat and I tried to com-fort her the best I could through the phone.
  • 354. 355/414“Tine, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m not surehow I can help exactly, but I will help withwhatever I can. Do you need someone tocome pick you up?”“Yes, please. I need to get her to the funeralhome and make the arrangements.”Before she could protest, I was telling her tostay put while I came to pick her up. I hungup the phone and explained the situation toHannah. She kindly came with me for moralsupport, and I was thankful to have her.Reagan had been a second mother to meand it was killing me, to know I would neverget to right the situation with her that I hadwronged. Hannah called for a hearse tomeet us outside of the gates at the airport.Once Reagan’s body was securely inside,we followed her to the funeral home. Gray’saunt sat in the backseat, as quiet as a
  • 355. 356/414mouse. Not that I expected her to engage usin conversation, but she was quiet nonethe-less. When we had first pulled up to the air-port, I had to do a double take. Gray had toldme about his only aunt, once before. Thesimilarities between her and her sister wereuncanny. They could have been twins.Tine kept her hair a few inches longer thanReagan, but every other attribute was thesame. From the shape and color of theireyes, right down the shape and contour oftheir bodies. She was just as beautiful andput together.Panic creped up through my body as wepulled into the parking lot of the funeralhome. I was having déjà vu, and not in agood way. My heart felt empty and cravedthe comfort of my mom and dad. This placeheld so many heart-breaking memories;ones that made me want to fall back to the
  • 356. 357/414car. I kept my strides slow and deliberate. Isucked in a deep breath as we enteredthrough the ornate front doors.The pungent odor clung to the dingy whitewalls, trapping in the scent. I gripped Han-nah’s hand as tight as my muscles would al-low. We weaved through the caskets, mak-ing our way towards the back. The office wasdecorated in all black, fitting for a funeralhome I suppose. A short pudgy, baldingolder gentleman stood from behind his blacklacquer desk to greet us. Gray’s Aunt sor-rowfully returned the greeting. I on the otherhand, couldn’t find the strength in me to prymy hands from Hannah’s to do so. He intro-duced himself to all of us, but I was caught inmy own horrid nightmare to even notice whathe said his name was.His short plump fingers pointed for us to sitin the chairs in front of him, as he lowered
  • 357. 358/414himself into his own seat. My eyes surveyedour surroundings as he began to speak toTina. I anxiously tried to make the whitewicker chair more comfortable, but to noavail. Hannah looked between our twohands that were still intertwined, giving mean empathetic grin. The corner of my mouthtried to pull up into a smile, but I was morethan uncomfortable. I squeezed Hannah’shand tighter and she rubbed the back of mypalm, trying to alleviate the tension. I was sothankful to have such an amazing friend.I glanced over in the direction of the manspeaking, but found myself not being able tolisten. I took in his appearance with relief.His voice was comforting and supportive,matching the look in his caramel coloredeyes. He wore an old gray twill suit, whichhad to be at least two sizes too big. His skinwas pale, and aged beyond his years.
  • 358. 359/414I wasn’t exactly sure of his age, but if hislooks were any indication, I would say in hislate sixties at least. My eyes continued towander before stopping on a small picturenext to his file cabinet. It was of a beautifulyoung couple holding a newborn baby. Thedistinct features of the young man in the pic-ture, lead me to believe it was his son. Asmile tugged at my lips, as I envisioned asimilar picture of Gray and myself with ourchildren one day.An hour later we had picked out the coffin,flowers and planned who would give the eu-logy. My heart was breaking thinking of Graynot being involved. I knew what his being in-volved would entail, and I sighed knowingthat he just needed some time. I helpedTina’s crying body back out to the car, andwe headed to my house. Tina had men-tioned she had nowhere to stay, so I offeredup our spare bedroom. I made sure to okayit with Hannah before mentioning it to Gray’s
  • 359. 360/414Aunt. I knew she would be okay with it, but Ididn’t want to push it on her.I checked my phone repeatedly as weinched closer to the house. There was stillno word from Gray, and I was starting getextremely worried. Hannah and I helpedTina into the house and got her settled, be-fore I tried calling Gray again. As soon as hisvoicemail picked up, I decided it was best togo looking for him. The only problem was, Ihad no idea where he lived.I made my way into the kitchen, finding Tinaand Hannah making some tea. “Um, Tina?Do you happen to know where Gray lives?”She gave me a confused look beforeanswering.“Sweetie, he bought his parent’s old house.You didn’t know that?”
  • 360. 361/414My words caught in my throat, “No…no Ididn’t know.” I hung my head in sadness.How had we gotten to this point? “I will beback in about an hour. Will you guys be okayfor a bit?”Hannah and Gray’s Aunt nodded their headsin unison as I headed towards the front door.It took me longer than expected to get toGray’s house. The traffic was ridiculouslyslow with people headed home from work.When I pulled onto my old street, I could feelthe tears welling up behind my eyes. I hadn’tbeen back to the old neighborhood since Ihad moved. My adrenaline spiked, when Icaught sight of Gray’s truck parked in hisdriveway. So many emotions were flowingthrough my mind, it was hard to concentrateon the reason I came here in the first place.I pulled on my jacket and huffed my waythrough the snow to the front porch. The
  • 361. 362/414wood was dilapidated and the paint waschipping off the siding. I knocked lightly onthe front door, waiting for someone to an-swer. When no one came after a fewminutes, I knocked again. Finally the doorcreaked open enough for me to see his dis-tressed face. His brows pulled together inanger, as he looked me up and down.“Did you come alone?” He growled.“Yeah I did. Can I come in?”He opened the door enough for me to enter,quickly shutting it behind me. “What do youwant?”I could hear the irritation in his voice. Icouldn’t help but think it was me who wascausing him to be this way. “Babe, are youokay?” I reached to touch him, but heshrugged away from me and headed into theliving room.
  • 362. 363/414“Just go, Bennett.”“Not until you talk to me.” I was beginning toget mad at him for treating me like this. Iknow he was hurting, but it wasn’t my fault,or his.“You want me to talk to you?” He was onlyinches from my face now. “Okay I’m talking.What would you like me to say?” He turnedthrowing his hands up in exasperation. “It’smy fault. This whole situation is my fault. Ihad every opportunity to fix things with mymom, but I just had to be a stubborn as-shole. I chose not to call her back, everytime she called reaching out for me. I blamedher for everything, and I made sure sheknew that. The last time we actually talked, Itold her I wanted nothing to do with her, un-less she could support my decisions.”
  • 363. 364/414I followed him over to the couch and perchedmyself on the corner of the cushion. “Hon-estly, I blame you for making me resent her.You pushed me away, and took away theonly grandchild she would ever meet.”My mouth dropped open. I was flabbergas-ted. How dare he blame their falling out onme. He took one look at my frozen expres-sion and continued on with his ranting andraving. “We were fine until that happened.We used to talk everyday, she had even ac-cepted me becoming a cop, and how couldyou have done this? Look, you need to go.NOW!” He turned his back to me, waiting forme to make the move.I stood and started walking towards the frontdoor, but I had to get a few things off of mychest before I left. “How dare you blame me,Gray? You and your mother had your ownissues before, ‘that’ whole thing happened. I
  • 364. 365/414have put up with enough in my short yearsaway from you. I REFUSE to let you blameme and treat me this way.” My bootssqueaked on the tile as I headed out thedoor. “Oh, and your Aunt is at my house, incase you were wondering. I know you’ve losta tremendous amount in your life Gray, butat some point you’re going to have to growup and take some responsibility.”I was out of the door before he could say an-other hurtful word.
  • 365. Twenty-FourWhen I woke the next morning, I could feelthe puffiness around my eyes before I evenopened them. After my “talk” with Gray, Idrove home as fast as traffic would allow andcried myself to sleep. He had said so manyspiteful things to me. I understood the hurtall too well, but not once after my parentsdied, did I ever once lash out at him. I was fi-nally realizing that I deserved better.I glanced at the time on my alarm clock,knowing that I needed to get showered. Itwas already 9:05 and the funeral was set tostart at 11:00. I took a quick shower, notbothering to even shave my legs. I turned offthe water and wrapped the oversized white,terry cloth towel around my small frame. Iquickly ran a comb through my hair andbrushed my teeth. I dried off and slid theblack Chanel dress that Gray’s mother had
  • 366. 367/414bought me, over my head. I zipped the sideand slid on my black pantyhose. I made sureto apply waterproof mascara and go light onthe eye shadow. I dried my hair straight andran some Vaseline over the fly a ways, be-fore heading to the kitchen.Hannah and Tina were already dressed andready to go. It was now 10:00 and I didn’twant to be late, so I grabbed a cup of coffeeto go. My gaze drifted over to Gray’s Aunt,noticing she seemed in a pleasant mood,given the circumstances.“Good morning Tina, Hannah.” I let a smilespread across my face before indulging inmy mouth watering coffee.“Good morning, Dear. Did you go see Graylast night?” I could hear concern etched inher words.
  • 367. 368/414I nodded my head, wanting to forget aboutlast night all together. “You ladies ready togo?” With a nod from both of them, we madeour way to the car, grabbing our jackets onthe way out. The actual funeral was to beheld at the funeral home and then a burial inthe cemetery following. The drive seemed totake a lifetime, even though the funeralhome was only twenty minutes from myhouse. I drove mechanically, running on re-serve adrenaline from the night before.There weren’t very many people at the fu-neral home when we arrived. It was only10:30, but I guess I assumed people wouldarrive early to pay their respects. We hungour coats in the foyer of the home and madeour way into the small room where they heldfunerals. The cherry oak coffin sat at theback of the room, near the end of the walk-way. Oak pews lined both sides of the aisle,as we made our way to our seats. Yellow
  • 368. 369/414roses and white calla lilies decorated thecoffin and floors next to it. I wondered if Mrs.Weston would approve. As if hearing mythoughts, Tina nodded in approval. I smiledand we made our way to the front row.People slowly trickled in, paying their re-spects to Mrs. Weston, and offering Tinatheir condolences. Gray still had not shownup and I was starting to worry that hewouldn’t show at all. I turned back towardsthe door at least a million times, willing himto walk in. I checked the time on my phoneand hung my head, when I saw that it was11:05. Tina gave me a questioning look andI just shrugged my shoulders. I had tried call-ing Gray, but there was no answer. When Iturned around one last time, I saw him stum-bling in. I quickly jumped up wanting to runto him, but his Aunt caught me by the wrist.
  • 369. 370/414“Just give him time, dear.” I nodded in agree-ment and sat back down on the uncomfort-able wood bench.I watched as all, six feet four inches of himlost his balance. I took in his appearanceand silently cursed at myself for not goingover this morning to help him get dressed.He cautiously approached his Aunt, giving achaste kiss on her cheek. She patted hishand and walked with him up to the coffin.His hair was all disheveled, sticking out inevery direction. He had deep purple circlesbelow his eyes and his tie hung undonearound his neck. He sat on the opposite sideof his aunt from me. It was killing me, not be-ing able to comfort him. I could feel him slip-ping through my fingers, and it hurt morethan ever.The small ceremony went by rather quickly,and before I knew it we were headed to the
  • 370. 371/414cemetery. Tina rode with Hannah and my-self, while Gray caught a ride with one of hiscousins on his dad’s side.We had gotten lucky. The snow from thenight before had melted some and the sunwas warmer than usual. I walked hand inhand with Hannah as we made our way upthe small grassy hill. Everybody was handeda yellow rose, as they gathered around thedeep hole in the ground. Gray’s mother layin her coffin two feet to the right of the holeon a steel stand. I held back the tears thatthreatened to break free, as thoughts of myparents circled my mind. I glanced in the dir-ection of their headstone, silently saying myhellos.The priest said a few words and read Gray’smother’s favorite poem as they lowered herinto the ground. When he finished, he mo-tioned for Gray to toss the first handful of
  • 371. 372/414dirt. Gray wobbled his way over to the hole.He tossed a handful of dirt and his yellowrose, before turning to leave.I quickly stepped in front of him, needing himto acknowledge me. I had to show him that Iwas here to support him, regardless of hismean words. I could smell the alcohol thesecond he was in front of me. I wanted toyell and scream at him for being so damn ir-responsible, but I didn’t have it in me. Hewas already hurting so much as it was. Ipressed the palm of my hand to his cheek.He leaned in to it briefly before smacking itaway. It felt as though he had just smackedme across the face. My heart shattered and Iwondered if we would ever get back towhere we were, just a few short days ago.He stumbled down the hill a few steps whenI noticed a tall lean figure, leaning against atree nearby. My stomach plummeted and I
  • 372. 373/414couldn’t catch my breath. Why was he here?I looked over my shoulder to find Hannah.When I couldn’t see her, I all but ran over toRaylon. “Why the Hell are you here?” Iwhispered.His arms reached for mine as he spoke, “Iwanted to make sure you were okay.”Liar!“Raylon, you need to leave and stay the Hellaway from me. I swear next time I will presscharges. You have no right to be here, GO!”I saw the reaction on Raylon’s face, before Iever saw Gray. He lunged at Raylon andthey fell to the ground. Snow clung to everyinch of their clothing as they rolled aroundthe massive cemetery. Gray pinned Raylondown and got right into his face, “get the fuckout of here and stay the fuck away from her.
  • 373. 374/414I will kill you if I ever see you again. Do youunderstand me?” Raylon bucked Gray off ofhis chest and sauntered off towards his car.I didn’t try to reach for Gray this time I let himgo. After I regained my composure, Tina,Hannah and myself drove back to my house.Hannah and I had decided it would be bestto have everyone over to our house and notGray’s. I wasn’t sure he would show, but Iwas pleasantly surprised when he did. It wasa small gesture, but a gesture nonetheless.He made his way straight to the fridge,grabbed the six-pack of beer he had lefthere, and headed out to the backyard.I gave him a few minutes before I decided tohead out to meet him. He didn’t turn whenhe heard the sliding glass door slide back in-to place, he knew it was me. I kept a safedistance, not wanting him to walk away fromme again. I sat next to him on the steps and
  • 374. 375/414grabbed a beer from the cardboard holder. Itook a long pull from the bottle and set it inbetween the two of us.I opened my mouth to speak, but he beat meto it. “Why the fuck was he at my mother’sburial?“I don’t know,” I whispered.“The fuck you don’t! You going back formore?” he spat.My eyes went wide and my jaw went slack.“Fuck you, Gray Elliot Weston. You don’t de-serve me. I don’t care if this is your mother’swake, get the FUCK out of my house!” Iheard the sliding glass door squeak open,when my voice got louder.
  • 375. 376/414“With pleasure.” He grabbed the rest of thebeer and walked around the side of thehouse.My head fell into my hands, but I refused tocry. Hannah’s warm gently hands werewrapping around my shoulders, leading meback inside. He had lost everything; not giv-ing a shit that he was losing me too.Theo and Tina kept everybody busy, keep-ing the attention off of what had justhappened. Hannah helped me to my room alittle while later and I sunk into the depths ofmy mattress. I just wanted this all to be overwith.Gray’s Aunt headed back to New York aweek later. We had spent the rest of her timehere comforting one another, and spendingquality time together. It was wonderful to getto know part of Gray’s family. She tried to re-assure me that Gray would get through this
  • 376. 377/414and come looking for me. She had heardstories about our friendship over the years,and was elated that we had finally taken thenext step. I wish I could have shared in thatjoy, but our future was looking rather bleakas of late.Hannah drove her to the airport for me onher way to work, the day she left. I took thetime alone to reconsider what exactly I wasdoing with my life. I had quit my job at thebar when Gray came back into the picture. Istill kept in contact with Johnny, but I hadn’tbeen in to see him in quite sometime. Hehad tried calling over the past week, afterfinding out about Gray’s mom, but I ignoredhis calls. I could feel myself falling back intomy depression, and it scared me.Gray’s Aunt had been calling me everyday,over the next month. We would talk for anhour or so every night. I still hadn’t heard
  • 377. 378/414from Gray and it was comforting to know Ihad someone in his family, who didn’t hateme. Christmas and New Years had comeand gone and the next semester for schoolwould be starting back up soon. Hannah andTheo had left for vacation on New Year’sDay and wouldn’t be back until the twentieth,so I was all alone.I entered the dark and lonely house around10:00pm. I had stopped to rent a movie andbuy a bucket of popcorn. I was halfway intothe horror flick when my phone chimed witha new text message. I knew it wouldn’t beGray, so I ignored it. Whoever it was, couldwait until everyone in the movie had beenkilled off. It went off two more times before Ifinally reached over the table to retrieve it.His name lit up across the screen and Ibegan choking on a popcorn kernel. I wasabout to read his text, when I decided
  • 378. 379/414against it. I deleted them without readingthem, and went back to my movie. He hadwaited this long, what was a few more hours.Just as the killer knocked on the door in themovie, someone knocked on mine. I jumpedten feet in the air before clutching my accel-erated heart. I paused the movie and mademy way to the knocking.I peaked through the peephole and almostchoked when I saw Gray’s electric blue eyesstaring back at me. I wiped my hands on myjeans and ran my fingers through my hair.The knob began turning, just as I reached forit. I pulled the door back quickly before hecould let himself in. WOW! A month haddone him good. He looked like his old selfagain, all handsome and shit. I licked mybottom lip in appreciation before he clearedhis throat.
  • 379. 380/414“What are you doing here Gray?” I leanedagainst the door, making it so he couldn’tenter.“I need to talk to you.” He whispered.“I’m not sure there is a whole lot you couldsay, that I would want to hear.” I knew I wasbeing a bitch, but he had been treating melike shit. I was done letting him or anybodyelse walk all over me.“I guess I deserve that, but please Bennett,just hear me out.” My body was alreadyhumming with the proximity of our bodies.I shook my head, “I’m not sure there is anypoint Gray. I said all I needed to say and sodid you, with not calling me for the lastmonth.” Whatever sexual tension wasbetween us, it disappeared and was re-placed with anger. “I mean, really Gray what
  • 380. 381/414could you possibly have to say? I get it, I do.Your mom died and I know how rough thatcan be, but you all but pushed me out thedoor. You just threw me to the waste side.When you left me, like that, I was vulnerableand exposed. I felt small and insignificant inyour world. All I wanted to do was be therefor you, as you were for me. I know it’s not apleasure to deal with all of my baggage, butyou made me believe that you accepted it. Ineeded you to show me you loved me, evena fraction of how I show you. Hell, just show-ing any emotion towards me would havebeen better than you ignoring me all thistime.”I let my hands drop to my sides as the doorpushed open. He just stood there staring atme. A blank look sat on his face and theemotion was once again gone. I was left witha shell of a man. I shook my head, reaching
  • 381. 382/414to push the door closed, when his handcaught mine.He pulled my hand to his mouth, softly kiss-ing the back of it. His lips made their way upmy arm to my neck. His breath was warmand all consuming. I wrapped my armsaround his thick neck and pulled him into mychest. His lips found their way to mine andhe paused briefly, whispering into my mouth.“I will never love anyone more than you. Ineed you Bennett.”With those words our fate was sealed. Ifirmly pressed my lips to his, moving them insync with one another. His tongue slidacross my bottom lip, and I welcomed it intomy mouth. Our tongues intertwined witheach other and our kisses grew impatient. Ithad been too long since I had felt him onme, in me. He grabbed me by the hips wrap-ping my legs around his waist. My hands ran
  • 382. 383/414over his flexing muscles as he carried me in-to my bedroom.Our lips only parted long enough to discardour shirts onto the floor. I hastily unbuttonedhis pants and slid them, along with his box-ers, down to his ankles with my feet. Hedropped them from his feet onto the floornext to his shirt. He sat back on his feetpulling my pants down just as fast. I took inthe amazing sight before me. I could see theoutline of his six pack and pecks. When myeyes made their way down to his erection, Ilet out a small gasp. Oh how I had missedhim. I wrapped my hands behind his neck,pulling his lips back to mine. Our kissingturned intense as his hand slid up betweenmy thighs. I could feel the warmth pooling in-side of me. Hunger and desire pulled at mycore. His fingers moved in and out of me afew times before I felt him at my entrance. I
  • 383. 384/414sucked in a heated breath as he plunged in-side of me, fast and hard.I had forgotten how good he felt inside ofme. I wrapped my legs around his waist,locking my ankles behind him. As he movedin and out, I pulled him into me harder withmy legs. We found our release together andhe sunk onto the bed next to me. Ourbreathing was erratic and sweat had begunto gather on my chest. I let out a sigh beforehis lips were back on mine. This time hiskisses were soft and loving. He lingered for afew seconds before pulling back, looking medead in the eye.“I’m s-”“Don’t. Please don’t ruin this moment. Let’sjust move past it.” I rolled to my side takinghis face in my hands. “I love you Gray
  • 384. 385/414Weston.” I kissed his dry lips wetting themwith mine.His muscled arm pulled me onto his chestand he slowly started playing with my hair. “Ilove you, Bennett Reynolds.”My eyes became heavy a few minutes later.I felt Gray pull the blanket up around our ex-posed bodies, just as I started drifting off tosleep.
  • 385. Twenty-FiveMy hand slid across the soft sheets trying tofind him. I rubbed my eyes open, searchingmy room for him but he was nowhere to befound. I began to wonder if I had dreamt itall, when I caught a whiff of bacon comingfrom the kitchen. I slid out of bed pulling onhis T-shirt and heading in the direction of thedelicious smell. His bare back was to mewhen I entered. I licked my lips in appreci-ation of his sculpted body, knowing it wasmine. He must not have heard me come inbecause when I ran my finger across hisshoulder blades, he jumped.“Good morning beautiful.” He turned his faceinto mine and planted a kiss on my lips.“Morning.”
  • 386. 387/414I got myself a cup of coffee while Gray fin-ished cooking breakfast. I sat at the table inamazement. It was hard to believe that afterall we had been through, that we somehowfound our way back to one another. I hadmissed him terribly during our time apart,both times. I stared at Gray over my cup ofcoffee with visions of last night’s encounterrunning through my mind. I could feel theheat between my legs with every passing im-age. When he turned around to smile at me,a blush swept across my cheeks.“What are you thinking about over there?”He winked before turning to finish makingour plates.“Nothing to concern yourself with right now.”I smiled.He brought over our plates of food and I dugright in. I was famished; I had barely eaten
  • 387. 388/414anything since I kicked him out of my housea month ago. We shared silent stares whilewe ate, I was finding hard to remove myeyes from his face. I was afraid if I lookedaway, even for a minute, he would disap-pear. After I cleared our plates, we snuggledup on the couch and didn’t move all day.I was happy to have my Gray back, andeven happier that he wanted to be back. Idozed off just as the sun began to setthrough the living room windows. I woke toGray shaking me. I didn’t know what was go-ing on. I jumped up off the couch andsearched his face for an explanation.“Button, are you okay?” His face was pulledtight with concern.“I’m fine, why?”
  • 388. 389/414“You were screaming. Scared the ever living’shit out of me.” He pushed his handsthrough his hair before pulling me back ontohis lap.“Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t even know why.”I rest my head back against the couch won-dering what I could have been dreamingabout. I was having a hard time keeping myeyes open and Gray tucked me under hischin as I dozed off again.I woke up in bed just as the sun was comingup over the trees outside. I looked over at asleeping Gray by my side, smiling. I neverwanted him to leave. I traced the frown linesbetween his eyebrows until he started to stir.When he opened his eyes, I softly pressedmy lips to his.“Morning sunshine.”
  • 389. 390/414“How long have you been awake?” Heasked.“Not long.” I answered. “Gray?”“Yes, button?” He replied with a yawn.“Why didn’t you tell me you bought your par-ent’s house?” I didn’t want to ask, but Icouldn’t help myself.“I don’t know it didn’t seem important.”“Oh.” Was all I could manage to say.“Button, I need to run home for a bit. I havesome things that need to be tied up at homeand I need to grab some clean clothes. Areyou going to be okay if I leave?” The fear inhis voice was inconceivable.
  • 390. 391/414I wanted to say no, but I couldn’t bring my-self to do it. I didn’t want to suffocate him.“Yeah, I have some things to do as well. Willyou come back over tonight?” I was worriedhe already needed some time apart.His fingers pushed back the stray hairs in myface, “Of course I will. You’re not getting ridof me that easily.” He smirked.He kissed me deeply, leaving me breathlessbefore he got up and got dressed. I watchedas he pulled his T-shirt on over his head. Hisstretched muscles had my mouth watering.He kissed me good-bye, promising to beback later tonight. I sighed as I watched himleave the confines of my room.I finally dragged my sorry ass out of bed acouple hours later. I really had nothing to do,but I didn’t want to seem needy when hewas leaving. I busied myself with mindless
  • 391. 392/414chores, even cleaning out my closet. A featfor me, considering it was a rare occurrence.I took a quick shower and threw on somejeans and a hoodie. I pulled my hair back ina ponytail and went to watch some televi-sion. After clicking through every availablechannel, I came up empty. I was officiallybored.I checked my phone, not expecting him tocall, but just in case he had decided to. Islumped back on the couch cushions, just asthe doorbell rang. I clambered off the couch,wondering who could possibly be coming by.When I checked the peephole it was black.At the time I thought nothing of it, but Ishould have listened to my gut telling me tonot open it.When I pulled open the door, he stood therewith a smirk on his face. It took everything inme not to smack him, right where he stood.
  • 392. 393/414“Raylon, why are you here?” I was afraid toknow the answer. No, I was just afraid ofhim, period.“I thought I would come by and see how youwere.”“Because you are all of sudden concernedfor my well being?” The words came out be-fore I could stop them. I didn’t want to pisshim off; nothing good would come of it.“Despite what you believe, yes.” His facelooked pained and part of me, not the ration-al part, wanted to know why.“You need to leave, Gray will be back any-time now.” I lied.“I don’t think he will, Baby. He got a call fromwork.” A dangerous smile played at his lips.
  • 393. 394/414“What did you do, Raylon?” I tried to keepthe fear out of my voice.“I didn’t do anything, Baby. I told you he gota call.”I needed to get away from him, without piss-ing him off! I slowly started closing the door,“Good-bye Raylon.” Just as the door wasready to close, his foot shot between theopening.“I don’t think so.” I knew the look on his faceall too well, and I dreaded what would hap-pen next.Even though everything in me was scream-ing to run, I sat with the door ajar, patientlyawaiting his next move. “What do you wantRaylon?”Me!
  • 394. 395/414“I think you know what I want Bennett.” Heforced the door slightly and it propelled meback. I turned and ran full speed into the kit-chen, looking for some sort of protection. Islid into the counter, wincing at the pain thatshot through my hip, after it collided with thecorner of it. Remembering my phone wasstill in the living room, I frantically dugthrough the drawer for a knife. As I turnedmy head I felt his cold clammy hands shoveme hard. My head smacked into the cup-board above the sink with blunt force.My feeble body sunk to the floor, just as myvision became hazy. As I tried to pull myselfin a standing position, I caught my hand on aglass of water on the counter. The glasswent crashing to the ground, sending shardsof glass across the tile floor. I felt another hitto my head and everything started to fadeblack. I could hear the water from the brokenglass dripping on the floor. Everything was
  • 395. 396/414instantly in slow motion. My feet slid out fromunder me when it came in contact with thetrickling water.I felt a tug as his large hand wrapped myponytail around it. He tugged hard, and it feltas though my hair was being pulled from myscalp. I reached back to try to pull my hairfree, but it was no use. I flipped my bodyaround as he began dragging me by the hairdown the hall. I scratched and pulled untilthe pain became unbearable.I finally gave in.When he pulled my body over the thresholdof my room, he slammed the door shut withhis foot. His strong arms threw me like a ragdoll onto my bed. I scrambled up leaning intothe headboard wondering how I could es-cape. I looked at the window and he justshook his head. Warm tears started
  • 396. 397/414streaming down my face, as the reality of thesituation sank in. I wasn’t getting out of here,at least not alive.He was rummaging through my drawers insearch of something, but my eyes never lefthis form to find out what.“If there’s one thing you should havelearned, it should have been that youcouldn’t leave me that easily. I don’t give upwhat’s mine.” My stomach churned with hiswords. I couldn’t swallow back the bile risingin my throat. “If I can’t have you, neither canhe. It’s as simple as that really.”I flinched, when I saw the shiny metal bladesof the scissors in his hands. Trying to catchmy breath, images of my scars on my breastflashed through my mind. I had nothing todefend myself with and no one was home.Panic and adrenaline surged through me as
  • 397. 398/414my survival instincts took over. I lunged athis large body, scratching his face andpunching at his chest. He caught my handswith ease, tossing me back onto my bed. Hestraddled my chest, pinning my arms downwith his legs.My eyes went as wide as saucers, as I sawthe scissors near my sweatshirt. With oneswift motion my hoodie laid wide-open, barebreasts exposed. My pants were next and Iwas thankful that I had remembered to putunderwear on this morning. He shred mypants up both pant legs and yanked themout from underneath me. I clutched at the cuthoodie, but it didn’t stop him. He yanked thatoff as well, throwing it to the side of my bed.I closed my eyes not wanting to see the lustin his eyes. I refused to give him the satisfac-tion of a fight. I felt the smooth metal againstthe inside of my thigh as he slid them up my
  • 398. 399/414panties, shredding them as well. I squeezedmy eyes tight and tried to go to a differentplace.Gray’s face appeared before me, lookingsad. His fingers ran across my lips and thenpressed his into mine. My creased brow re-laxed and I felt at ease. He was here andRaylon couldn’t hurt me. My eyes shot openin pain seconds later, and I realized it was alla dream. Gray wasn’t here and Raylon was.The metal sliced through my skin on mythighs like butter. I could feel the warmth ofmy blood, pooling below me. I sucked in abreath, as is hand came up and sliced theother. I wanted to cry out in pain, but I knewit would only fuel his raging fire. So, I laythere, lifeless, waiting for it all to end.
  • 399. Twenty-SixAs the blade slid across my belly, I cried outin pain. I let out a loud sob as his fist cockedback, aiming for my face. I instinctively threwmy hands up for protection, praying for thisnightmare to end. One long excruciatingminute later, I felt the cracking of my jaw ashis fist collided with the bone. The force ofthe blow knocked my head to the side, send-ing everything into a blur.His fists connected with my body a few moretimes, before going back to the scissors onthe bed. My body went numb and my mindpushed itself to a far off place. I could feelthe pressure of the scissors cutting into mynow blood stained skin, but I was paralyzed.When he stopped and threw the scissors tothe ground, I thought maybe he would leave.
  • 400. 401/414I made sure to lie still, although I’m not toosure I could have moved anyway. I felt themattress give as the weight of his body liftedoff of me. I heard the door crack open and Iprayed that he was gone. I tried to turn myhead but the force of his punches rendered itimpossible. I slid my fingers against thesheets, before pulling them back alarmed. Ilifted my hand and saw the amount of bloodthat had latched on to my skin.I ran my fingers across the top of my belly,trying to assess the damage. When my fin-ger dipped into the gash, a new round oftears began to flow. This is how I was goingto die! Before the thought could sink in, hewas back! His body trapped mine against thebed as his fingers laced around my neck.I could smell the booze emanating throughevery one of his pores. The faint smell of ci-garettes lingered on his clothing, and I
  • 401. 402/414wondered when he had picked up that habit.I lay limp underneath his weight and prayedfor it to be over. I didn’t have the strength inme to fight back anymore. This was it for me.I whispered my silent good-byes to Gray, asthe darkness creped into my vision. No onewas coming to save me. There was no whiteknight riding in on a horse, and I had accep-ted that.My eyes closed for the last time, as reliefwashed over me. I could breathe. I no longerneeded to punish myself for all the wrong Ihad done. All I could hope is that Gray wouldknow how much I loved him. I would havegiven him anything, even my life.That’s the funny thing about life, it neverturns out the way you think it will. We spendour existence believing in love and happi-ness, but reality is much more grim. Wemake decisions that hurt others then blame
  • 402. 403/414them when we can’t fix them. I had lovedGray with all of me, not just a part of me.There are never enough hours in the day ormonths in the year to express how muchlove can affect you. Gray had been myworld, my lifeline when all was dark andlonely. In the end it was his love that mademy life worth living.
  • 403. EpilogueMy only regret in this life was never beingable to give Gray the family, and life that hedeserved. But, I knew Gray, and he was resi-lient. Eventually, he would find it in him tomove on, while keeping the memories thatwe shared in tack. Our once disastrous rela-tionship had made it through so much loss,that this would soon find its rightful place, inthe shadows. My only wish is that he knowsthe love I feel for him, and the baby I hadtaken away.I could hear his voice. As I lay here dying,his voice is all I could hear, calling and com-forting me. I wanted to reach for him. Ineeded to let him know that he was going tobe okay.
  • 404. 405/414I heard his angelic voice whisper, “Button,you are my world, my only reason for being.Please just hold on and don’t leave me.”I smiled knowing I felt the same way. I triedto stay in that moment for as long as myrestless, un-beating heart would allow. Iwhispered back, “I love you Gray,” knowinghe couldn’t hear me anymore. But, the wordsstill rang true.“THEO, GO GET THE DOCTOR! I swear Iheard her say something. Bennett, Baby,say it again.”I could hear him as clear as day now. No!No, please don’t take him. He deserves tolive. Tears were falling endlessly down myface, with no feeling.“I love you Gray, please fight to stay alive.Fight Gray!”
  • 405. 406/414“Bennett, open your eyes. Bennett I can hearyou, please Baby, open your eyes.”I tried to do as he said, but it wasn’t feasible.I tried with everything I had in my dyingbody. I needed to see him, if only for asecond.“That’s it Baby. Just relax and open them.Please Baby, I need you to look at me.” Icould hear him choking on his tears. Ipleaded with my body to reach out to com-fort him. There was no reason for both of usto suffer.I was astounded when I heard my own voicebreak through the still air.“Gray, don’t cry.” My eyes fluttered open andI watched his blood shot eyes taking me in.My vision was hazy but I swear I saw a smile
  • 406. 407/414creep across his lips. He was a sight for soreeyes, literally and figuratively speaking. Myheart skipped a beat looking at his gorgeousface coming towards me.“I thought I had lost you forever.” His handsclutched my tender face, as his lips claimedmine. “I promise to never leave you again.I’m so sorry.” His lips were kissing every inchof my face. He pressed his forehead againstmine, his callused hands still gripping myswollen face.“I promise you the same, Gray.”He kissed me swiftly, and then pulled awayas the doctor entered the room.“Well, good morning, Miss Reynolds. I’m Dr.Raind, thanks for finally joining us.” A smilestretched across his worried face. “How areyou feeling? Any pain yet?” He continued to
  • 407. 408/414check the monitors above me as I clearedmy throat to answer him.“My cheeks and my stomach hurt pretty bad,and my throat.” I grabbed at my neck andflinched as my hands made contact with mysensitive skin.Gray’s hands clasped around mine, “Baby,don’t touch.”“Miss Reynolds, you have quite a few thingsgoing on. Let’s start with the most obvious.Your trachea was bruised inside, along withthe outside. You have bruises and contu-sions covering your face, and deep lacera-tions across your belly and inner thighs.Your jaw was dislocated and we had to put itback in place, so you have some swellingaround your mouth and jaw. Don’t worry, theswelling should subside in the next couple ofweeks.”
  • 408. 409/414He paused glancing at a smaller monitor tomy right. “You’re very lucky that your friendover here,” he pointed to Hannah, “has thesame blood type as you. You lost a lot ofblood and we had to give you a blood trans-fusion. I hear it’s not your first? You’re heal-ing beautifully though, so I wouldn’t worrytoo much. You were very lucky someoneshowed up when they did, young lady.”My eyes flashed to Hannah and Theo over inthe corner of the room. We smiled at eachother, mouthing I love you from across therather large room. “Seems your guy, overhere, made it just in time.” I glanced over atGray as a new round of tears began to fall.My attention instantly flew to a loud sound. Icould hear a heartbeat echoing through theroom, but it was too fast to be my own. I
  • 409. 410/414looked at the doctor with confusion written allover my face.“What is that sound?” I was looking betweenGray and the doctor for someone to answerme. Gray had a huge smile plastered acrosshis face about a mile wide.“Can I tell her?” Gray glanced over at thedoctor, and my heart began to race.“Someone please tell me what’s going on.”His carefree attitude was scaring the shit outof me.With a nod from the doctor, Gray looked rightinto my sunken eyes, “Baby, you’re preg-nant.” His smile wavered when I didn’t react.A rush of panic washed over me.“Did...di…did he rape me?” I didn’t want toknow the answer. I buried my shameful face
  • 410. 411/414into the flimsy hospital pillow underneath myhead.“Oh Baby, no. No, he didn’t rape you. It’sours.” His hands were already snakingaround my waist, pulling me into his lap ashe took my place on the bed. “She’s ours,Baby. She is ours.”My eyes shot to his, “It’s a girl?” We’re hav-ing a girl?” I wrapped my arms tightly aroundhis neck, tears falling faster than before.“Wait, is she okay?” My hands flew to myaching belly.“Yes Baby, she’s perfect.” Our hands lay in-terwoven over my swollen abdomen. Thedoctor finished checking the baby, and methen left Gray and I alone. Gray wentthrough the explanation of how he found me.When he had shown up I was unconsciousand Raylon was nowhere to be found. The
  • 411. 412/414cops had been called, along with the para-medics. They searched for Raylonthroughout the night, but couldn’t find asingle trace as to where he could have gone.I know I should have been worried, but myonly thoughts were of Gray and our unbornchild.I was a firm believer in the whole ‘everythinghappens for a reason’ saying, and I knewRaylon would get what he deserved, eventu-ally. Until then, I had what I needed and noth-ing was going to take that away from me.This is how my life should be! Stay tuned for the next book in the Broken Series Breaking Beautiful due out Spring 2013
  • 412. 413/414 Other books by this author: Time To Let Go Please go to and to leave a review:)You can follow Author Amanda Bennett 6550967.Amanda_Bennett
  • 413. @Created by PDF to ePub