“I love you gently and hard, slow and fast. Before time and after.” My hand moved to the back of her head and I traveled her to the bed, laying her down with me still inside. “I love you because I was born to do so.” Our hips moved in harmony, our bodies becoming one. Her love was breathing life into my entire being.

Before her, I never knew life. After her, I’d never know death.

Our bodies reached true bliss that night over and over again. We made love with our toes curling against the mattress, our hearts pounding against our chests.

Nothing else mattered in the world. All the problems were silenced within the bedroom that one, cold December night. We blocked out all loud noise, all hurts.

I continued loving Ms. Jennings until our eyes faded to rest.

And then I loved her in my dreams.

Chapter 29

I’ll write to you when you’re lonely,

If you’ll write to me when I’m scared.

And I’ll love you even after the world’s left with only its despair.

Our love lives.

Never dies.

Always flies, always flies.

~ Romeo’s Quest

I was depressed by the sun. The daylight stood for facing reality. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that. My naked body slightly moved in the covers and I shut my eyes one last time. I allowed my mind to remember the night before with Daniel. How safe he’d made me feel, how freeing it had been when he’d loved me.

The sound of my cell phone going off from a text message made my eyes reappear. Sitting up in the bed, I rubbed the palms of my hands against my face. My eyes shifted to the spot next to me. He’s still here. It felt good to know that he was still there sleeping peacefully. For a while I just watched his breaths, the way they rose and fell against the sheets.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

I sat up more in bed at the sound of my phone going off three more times in a row. Reaching to the dresser next to the bed, I gasped.

Ryan’s fake cigarette box.

It was sitting next to my phone. I picked it up carefully, as if something terrible would happen if it were to break in my fingers.

I opened it, and inside was a note. The world began to spin. I couldn’t bring myself to read it.

My phone dinged again. My throat tightened. “Daniel, wake up.” I whispered it too softly and he hardly moved. “Daniel,” I hissed louder, unable to move. “Wake up!”


Daniel turned over to find me shaking with the box in my hands. I knew I should’ve checked the phone for the incoming messages. But I couldn’t. I was afraid. His body shot up when he saw the worry in my eyes.

“What is it?”

“Something’s wrong,” I muttered. The shaking grew, and the fear deepened.

“Sweets…” He placed his hands on my shoulders. “Talk to me.”

“Check my phone,” I begged.

He reached across my body, his hand grazing across my stomach, and he grabbed my phone. When he flipped it opened, I saw his eyes studying the words. “They’re from Henry and Rebecca.”

“Read them to me please.”

“Ash, Rebecca wants you both to come home,” he said. “’Ash, where are you?’” He paused. “‘Ashlyn it’s Rebecca. Please, tell Ryan to come home…’” Paused. “‘Why are you two not answering? Please. Please. I’ve called fifteen times. Bring my baby boy home, please…’” Paused. “‘Ashlyn, are you two okay? We’re worried…’”

The messages went on and on. Rebecca wanted him to come home. She’d slept on it, realizing her mistakes.

But what if she realized them too late?

“He’s gone,” I cried, the box shaking in my fingers.

Daniel stared at me, lost by my reaction. “Ash…it’s okay. They want him to come back.” He ran his fingers through my hair and kissed my forehead, but I knew better than to be optimistic.

“No, it’s not.”

I continued sobbing, knowing something was wrong, feeling the same way I’d felt when Gabby…

I blinked hard. I couldn’t think about that.

“We need to get dressed,” Daniel ordered. He left the room and came back with my outfit from the day before. I couldn’t move from the bed. He started to dress me, adding on each article of clothing, one by one. Each time he added a piece, the heavier the situation felt.

We walked across the hall and of course Daniel’s bed was empty. “He’s gone, Daniel, I know he is.” He didn’t reply. When we looked out the front yard and saw that Hailey’s car was gone, I swore I heard him choke on air. He picked up a backpack that was lying open on the front porch.

“Did he have any money?” Daniel hissed.

My mind froze, confused. He repeated himself, this time harsher.

“Henry gave him three hundred dollars—”

“Jace…” he muttered before he ran off to the boat shed.

I hurried right behind him. The doors flew opened and Daniel marched onto the boat, never pausing to breathe. He picked up the money that was sitting on the deck. Three hundred bucks. His brother was laid out sleeping and Daniel began shaking him.

“Jace! I swear to God, if you did this…”

Jace opened his eyes, stirring. “What the hell are you doing?”

“You sold to a kid! My student, Jace!” He threw the empty backpack into his brother’s face. My face burned. My legs were numb. My stomach knotted. “Sarah’s accident wasn’t on you. Mom’s death wasn’t your fault. But I swear to God, if anything happens to that boy, it’s on you! It’s on you, Jace!”