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“I would love to see them again.” I don’t think I realized how true that statement was until just now. Even though I’ve only met Julie in person, I have talked to the other ladies in his life a few times when he was teaching his mother how to FaceTime.

“I would love that, too.” I lean back into him, and we both sit here for a few minutes in a comfortable silence. He takes a few deep pulls on his beer, and I spend the time figuring out how to start this chat.

“I’m really not sure that there is a real easy way to start with this one. I suppose it would be really easy to take the cheap way out and just give you my journals that Dr. Maxwell made me keep.” A nervous giggle bubbles up before I can squash it. “Okay. Let’s just start with my father.”

He sits there and gives me the silence I need, his thumb slowly rubbing against my bare shoulder.

“The first time my father ever hit me, I was five and had forgotten to make my bed. That was also the first time of many that he told me that he wished I had never been born. It wasn’t easy living with my parents. My mother was just as nasty as he was, except her words were her weapon of choice. I learned real early in life that I would be better off keeping my head down and making sure I did everything they wanted.” I steal a glance at him and can tell he’s pissed, but holding it in so I can finish.

“I won’t lie and pretend that there was much good about my childhood. I had one nanny that gave me as much love as she could, but when she was caught sneaking Barbies in for me to play with, my parents fired her. I’ll skip all the sordid details, but whatever you’re imagining is probably spot on.”

His hand flexes slightly on my shoulder, but when I look over, he nods tensely for me to continue.

“I know that my father is the seed that started my fear of men and growing relationships. There wasn’t a single relationship that I had that wasn’t a way for someone to get closer to my father and family money. That helped that belief that men do nothing but change after they get what they want. Dr. Maxwell says that since I hadn’t had any positive male relationships until my twenties and my friendship with Greg, that it makes sense that I have some asinine belief that all men will change.” I shift my body so I can look into his eyes. I need to see him and make sure he understands this next part. “Please know that I see this now. I really do. I know that I was projecting my fears onto you, but they were so deeply integrated that I don’t think I would have been able to just shut them off, and you have no idea how sorry I am for that.”

He smiles sadly and takes my hands in his. “I know that, Baby. I never doubted that you were fighting something beyond your control.”

“God, I don’t deserve your understanding.”

“Hey, stop that. Don’t doubt your self-worth, not with me.” His tone leaves no room for argument and I nod my head.

“I’m learning that. Sometimes I feel like I’m completely lost because I have no idea what I’m doing here, but I can tell you aren’t like them. It’s just taken me a while. I shouldn’t have ever lumped you in with them.”

“Dee, we can only ever go off what we know, and you hadn’t ever seen anything that would make you believe that I wasn’t like those assholes.”

I sit there for a few more beats, gathering my strength for the next part. “Did I ever tell you that I was the one that introduced Brandon and Izzy?”

His eyes widen before he shakes his head.

“Yeah, that was me. I set up my best friend with the man who almost took her from me. I always wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t ever set them up. Until recently, it was nothing but guilt that would eat at me, but Izzy helped me realize that it wasn’t anything I could have known. I understand that now, but it isn’t any easier.”

“I really thought that he was one of the good guys.” I laugh weakly. “What a fool I was.”

He takes my hands again and waits for me to continue. “It took about a year into their marriage for me to realize how wrong I had been. She started pulling away and I saw less and less of her. I didn’t give up though; I kept calling and trying to come around. I think it had been a good week of my constant calls before it happened. I know I was being a pain in the ass, but I just wanted to talk to Izzy.”

I don’t realize I have zoned out until his hand squeezes mine almost painfully. I look up from where I’ve been staring at our hands. I have to close my eyes when I see the pain in his eyes. He knows this is about to get really ugly.

“It’s okay, Dee. I’m listening.”

“Are you sure you want to know the rest?”

He nods sharply and I sigh.

“I didn’t realize until recently, with Dr. Maxwell’s help, why I had such a hard time after all that stuff with Brandon went down. I knew I was pushing you away out of fear, but I couldn’t even understand it myself. You have to understand that I’ve never known a positive relationship with a man, so when you started getting close, I freaked out. You are so perfect on the outside that it terrified me beyond imagination that you could change just as easily as all the others.” I stop when he grunts, but he motions for me to keep going. “Right. So with that, you might understand a little better why his attack was the trigger for me. About two years into their marriage, he cornered me. I’ll spare you the gory details, but how I looked a few weeks ago? That’s close to how he left me, only he took it a lot further.”

He shoots off the couch, knocking his beer to the floor. I keep my eyes trained to the foaming liquid pouring out of the overturned bottle. I knew he would look at me differently, but it’s still painful to be right. Why would he want someone so fucked up?

“He put his hands on you? Son of a bitch! If he wasn’t already dead, I would fucking kill him. Gut that sorry bastard.” He paces in front of the couch, growling each word out with disgust. “Fuck!” He keeps his pacing up for a few minutes before he stops in his tracks and looks over at me. Shaking his head, a look of stark terror comes over his features. I watch in slow motion as he figures it out before I can tell him. Somehow, he just knows, and when I watch all that anger turn into a pain so great that he drops to his knees in front of me, my world ends. “No, no, no…”

I can’t move from my spot on the couch. My chest is heaving with the force of my emotions. My tears burn as they fall down my face and land in my lap. I can’t even move to wipe my eyes. He quickly moves over to where I’m sitting, his head hits my lap, and his arms wrap around my waist. When his shoulders start to shake with the emotions warring through him, my tears come quicker, and a loud sob breaks free from my throat.

That sob seems to break him from his silent misery because his he pulls his head up, unwraps his arms, and pulls me down into his lap. His strong arms wrap around me again, and he pushes his face into my shoulder. I cling to him, soaking up his heat, trying to warm my body and chase away the pain.

He doesn’t break his hold on me when he pulls us back up to the couch, still making sure that I’m in his lap and safe in his arms.

“I’m sorry.” I offer weakly.

He looks shocked, but desperation bleeds off his face. “What? My God, Dee, what do you have to be sorry for?”

I shrug my shoulders and just shake my head.

“You’ve thought this was your fault this whole time? Oh, Baby.” He pulls me back to his chest and rocks us slightly. “What that bastard did to you isn’t your fault, Dee. Never your fault. He was a sick, disturbed man. It kills me to think about you going through that, and going through it alone. I wish you could have opened up and told me that before, but I understand why you didn’t. That’s why you kept running?”

“Yeah. I don’t think I can ever prove to you how sorry I am for everything that I’ve put us through. I just saw you and all your perfection, and it reminded me of how he was when I had first introduced him to Izzy. I think I always knew deep down that you would never turn on me, but that fear was so ingrained, that no matter what I did, I couldn’t separate you two. And then when all of that stuff happened, it was like a light switch went off. I knew he was gone, but my mind couldn’t turn the fear off. He was everywhere I looked, and every time I looked in the mirror, I could see what he did to me. I punished you because of what he did, and I did it over and over.” I pause to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. He keeps silent and lets me finish.

“It’s taken me all this time to push back those feelings, to clear all of the dark webs of my depression. I can’t thank you enough for forcing me to start seeing someone, because without that I don’t think I ever would have healed. For a while, it was a lot of trial and error, trying to figure out what worked best with my trauma. Dr. Maxwell tells me that there will still be setbacks. Some people don’t ever really beat PTSD, but they do learn how to live with it, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Living with it. I can’t sit here and tell you that I’ll ever be completely carefree and healed, but these last few weeks with you by my side have given me all the hope I’ve ever needed that I will get past this.”

When he still doesn’t speak, but just keeps holding me tightly and staring off into the distance, I start to worry that he hasn’t heard me. So I say the only thing I can think of to make him understand where I am now. How I’m finally ready for him and all the love he’s ever been offering.

“Your love saved me,” I whisper.

Chapter 18

Your love saved me.

Her words keep echoing around me, coiling around the pain that has filled my heart since she started talking.

Your love saved me.

I can feel her body shaking, and I tighten my hold so she knows that I’m still here, but I can’t speak past the lump that’s taken up residence in my throat. I always knew that she had a rough history, but never in my wildest imagination could I have pictured all of this pain she’s gone through.

It makes so much sense now. All the times she pushed me away with fear in her eyes. Every single time she would look at one of the guys and have this odd look about her as if she was waiting for one of them to go all Hulk or something.

There is so much swirling around inside of me. I want to kill that motherfucker all over again. I want to go find her father and teach him to pick on someone his own size. I want to lock her away in this house and never let anyone get close enough to so much as give her a paper cut.

Your love saved me.

All I’ve wanted since the day I felt her slipping away is to prove to her how much I love her and for her to know that I’m here for her. It kills me to know how greatly she’s suffered, but with that comes the clarity that she’s finally, fucking finally, on the same page with me.

I squeeze her tighter into my body when I feel her sobbing get harder. It finally hits me that I haven’t said a word since she finished talking. I have to work at swallowing my own sorrow. I wipe the tears from my face and clear my throat a few times until I feel confident that I can talk without breaking down.

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