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“I need to clean up.” My voice sounded strange to me. Too low. Too empty.

He eased his arms away from me, and I climbed off, snatching my panties off the floor. Our gazes met briefly, and I tried to ignore the question in them as I fixed my bra and top. Then I turned, hurrying into his bathroom. I didn’t take long, because I knew that if I delayed this, I wouldn’t leave. After cleaning myself up, I pulled on my undies.

I needed to leave, right? I couldn’t stay here and I couldn’t be with him, because I’d . . .

I already loved him.

I’d been in love with him for so long.

The burn rekindled in the center of my chest. I backed away from the door, struggling to clear my thoughts, but there was so much sparking back and forth. The backs of my legs hit the tub and I sat down. The undies were no protection against the cold ceramic.

What was I doing?

I was running. I was scared. Nothing he said was truly new to me. Fuck, I knew a lot of it already, but hearing it come from him shattered walls I didn’t even know I had erected around myself.

“Roxy?” Reece’s deep voice shook me.

My eyes glued to the door, I tried to take a deep breath, but it went nowhere. The pressure was back, and it was too much.

“Are you okay?” he demanded.

My lower lip trembled as I balled my hands into fists. Walking away from Reece wasn’t strength. This was me being weak, me doing what I always did when it came to fucking everything. But it wasn’t just born out of fear. Oh no, it ran deeper than that.

The bathroom door swung open and Reece’s body filled it. His shirt was askew and he hadn’t fastened the top button on his pants. He took one look at me, and everything I’d been thinking must’ve been written on my face. His expression softened as he stared at me.

Emotion crawled up my throat. “It’s my . . . it’s my fault.”

Reece stepped into the bathroom slowly, as if he was afraid of startling me. “What’s your fault, baby?”

“What happened to Charlie.” My voice cracked. I fissured straight down the middle.

His brows knitted as he knelt in front of me, keeping his hands on his thighs. “Honey, what happened to him is not your fault.”

“Yes it is,” I whispered, because saying it too loudly was too much. “You don’t understand. You weren’t there. I antagonized the situation.”

His eyes widened. “Roxy—”

“He was hitting on me. Henry was.”

“You did nothing wrong, Roxy.” Anger flooded Reece’s face, mixing with sadness. “You’re allowed to tell a guy no, you’re not interested, and not be worried about retaliation. It’s not your fault.”

I shook my head. “He always hit on me, and I could deal with that, but he insulted Charlie. He called him a homo.” I started trembling as I wrapped my arms around my waist. “I started yelling at Henry. Then he called Charlie worse names. Charlie kept asking me to just leave it alone, but I couldn’t, because I knew how much that bothered him. He hated that kind of stuff, and it hurt him. Henry then asked if I was a ‘dyke’ and if that was why I hung out with a ‘faggot’ all the time. I lost it. I pushed Henry. Like I pushed you.” I bent over, staring at my toes as the night replayed itself in vivid detail. “Charlie had grabbed me and we were walking away. So was Henry. Then I . . . I turned around and said . . . I told him to go fuck himself because that was the only way white trash like him would get any action.”

Reece closed his eyes.

“That’s when he picked up the rock and threw it.” I rocked slowly, shaking my head. “If I had just kept my mouth shut, we all would’ve walked away and everything would’ve been different. I am scared. You’re right about that. I’m so scared of losing you and feeling that kind of pain again, but it’s more than that. Why do I deserve to get to do whatever I want when Charlie never will? I ran my mouth. I took the situation to the next level. Haven’t they put people in jail for that kind of thing? Accessory to assault—to murder? Why do I deserve you? Why do I deserve to do what I love for the rest of my life?”

When Reece opened his eyes, they weren’t full of censure or judgment, just so much pain. “Words,” he said quietly. “You threw out some words. Just like Henry did. And you know that words can do a lot of damage. I’m not saying they don’t. Sometimes they can cut deeper than a knife, but you did not pick up that rock. You did not throw it. Henry made that decision. It’s one that he seems like he regrets more than anything and I doubt he ever truly thought he’d hurt Charlie the way he did, but he can’t change that. And you can’t change what you said, but Roxy . . .” He dropped down on his knees in front of me and slowly, carefully, cradled my face in his hands. “What happened to Charlie was not your fault. You did not hurt him. Henry did. And I know it’s going to take more than just my words for you to really accept that, but I’m going to be here for you every day to remind you that you so deserve every fucking thing this life has to offer.”

My voice hitched on a sob. The backs of my eyes burned. His face blurred and my cheeks were damp.

“Remember everything I said in the bedroom? I’m scared, too. And there are times I question what I deserve, but we’re in this together. So fall with me,” he said, smoothing his thumbs along my cheekbones. “Let yourself go and fall with me, and baby, I will catch you. I will get you through this. You just got to take that risk.”

I broke then, split wide open. I cried the deep, ugly kind of tears that no one looked good doing. Those tears came and they were for all that Charlie had lost. They were for Reece and everything he had to do. They were even for Henry, because a tiny part of me had woken up in that moment, had opened my eyes, and realized that Henry . . . he’d thrown his life away when he threw that rock and that sucked too, because maybe Reece was right. Maybe he never meant to do that. I cried because I was no longer numb. I hurt. I was afraid. I’d started the process of losing my best friend six years ago, and I hadn’t even begun to let go of any of that pain or hate and all the other toxic emotions.

I didn’t even remember sliding off the rim of the tub and into Reece’s arms, but like he had promised, he was there to catch me when I fell apart.

Chapter 24

“My head hurts.”

Reece’s fingers sifted through my hair, gently massaging my scalp. “The ibuprofen will kick in soon.”