- Secrets Vol. 4
Anger is coursing through me in waves. I can't control it. I feel betrayed and utterly decimated. The knot growing in my stomach forces its way up my throat and strangles me. My shirt is soaking wet, clinging to my body like a second skin. Drenched hair is plastered to both sides of my face. As I walk back to my bike, I grab the pony ring from my pocket and then wring my hair out while I walk. Water spatters on the pavement. The rain is slow and steady, barely more than mist. The sky is gray and the sea churns behind me with Cole standing, watching the waves crash into the shore.
Riding in the rain is stupid. I'm hyperaware of that, however, I have to get away from him. The words Cole said were like lashes to my soul. The way he looked at me, like I betrayed him for money, makes me sick. Quickly, I walk in long strides, slamming my boots onto the pavement, toward the front door. I grab my leather jacket from under the awning and pull it on. Cole doesn't turn. I know he won't move until he hears the motorcycle roar to life and fade into the distance.
I secure my helmet and swing my leg over my bike. I look back at Cole one last time, knowing I'll never see him again. He's too angry, too hurt to see through Sophia's web of lies. There are too many secrets between us and now there's no way to fix them. It feels like a hand reaches inside my chest, grabs onto my heart, and squeezes. It crushes me, making my chest feel like it's going to cave in. I can't stand it. I can't breathe.
Shaking my head, I ignore the water pouring down my face and start the bike. Grabbing hold of the handlebars, I flip up the kickstand with my foot, and slam the bike into gear. My life sucks. It doesn't seem to matter what I do, it's always wrong - with Sophia, with Cole, with Edward - oh, God! It never ends. Every mistake strips away a confident piece of me and replaces it with a version of Anna that is jaded and hard. She's not me. That's not who I want to be, but I can feel her calling to me through tainted scorn. I want to crush Sottero. I want to obliterate her for what she did. I blink the rain water from my eyes and lower my head. I don't want to be that person, but I no longer know what I want from life at all. Nothing is the way I thought it would be. My ideals are gone.
Pressing my lips together, I feel the lump in my throat tighten, as I turn away from Cole. I start down the driveway and turn onto the street. I don't get far. The engine revs harder than I intended and the back wheel starts to slide. I'm not going very fast, not yet, but the street is slick and the motorcycle is heavy. I try to correct and lean into the skid, but it's too late. Gravity has me in its grip and isn't going to let go. A scream rips out of my throat and blasts every other sound to oblivion. The bike comes down on top of me. My helmet strikes the pavement hard, but I don't stop. My bottom leg is caught under the bike, and my jeans are getting torn apart as I skid to a stop. I push on the bike, trying to get up, but I can't make it move. It's too heavy and I'm too small. There's no leverage.
Before I know it, the motorcycle is lifted off of my and Cole is yelling. I can't focus on him. I look at the street, at my leg. My fingers lift and touch my head. I blink. The helmet is still strapped in place. Cole's voice echoes inside my mind, like his words are a memory and not being shouted in my face. I shake my head and it clears. Panic makes my heart pound harder.
Cole is trying to lift me, but I won't let him.
Suddenly, I'm yelling back, "I don't need your help!"
Cole is irate. He's shaking. The muscles in his arms are bulging, ready to hit something. "Anna," he growls. "I can't believe you're doing this to me. You can't - " his jaw hangs open and he freezes, as I pull the bike up and get back on. "What the hell are you doing? You can't be serious." His tone changes, it shifts from angry to sensible.
I restart the bike and stare at him. "I'm not staying here. Maybe you didn't realize it before, but Sottero threw me under the bus, too. Some jackass has been stalking me, and you don't believe a damn thing I'm saying. You're not the only one who's hurting. I don't have to stay here and explain myself to you, and even if I did - from that look on your face - I don't think you'd believe me, anyway."
My leg throbs like it's on fire. I look down and see an angry red gash showing through torn jeans. Fuck. It looks bad. I start to move, pressing my boots to the ground to get the bike going again. I won't turn so sharp a second time. The street is slicker than it looks.
I have to get out of here. I can't do this. I feel my heart crumbling, turning to ash. Oh God, the way he's looking at me like I stabbed him in the back. I can't stand it. I intend to ride away without another word when Cole steps in front of the bike and puts his hands on the handlebars. "Don't be stupid Anna. It's raining! You already fell once."
"I'm nothing, but stupid, Mr. Stevens." My eyes blaze as I glare at him. The tension in my jaw is so tight that it feels like the bone will snap. I can barely part my lips to speak. "Believe what you want, believe that I did it - that I pretended to fall in love with you - and that I'd do it again. You know how much I love money, how much I want to ride the coattails of others to achieve my success. That sounds just like me, doesn't it, Mr. Stevens?
"Every inch of me was covered in lies. You don't know me at all. Everything from my whacked out parents, to my fall two seconds ago, was constructed to make you fall for me. I'm a liar and a snake." I stand on my tip toes and lean closer to his face as I speak. "I don't love you. I never have. Now, let go of my bike before I run you over."
Cole stands there shell-shocked. Since I arrived, nothing I said to him even came close to registering in his brain, but that did. What I just said makes him stare at me like he's no longer certain of anything. I twist the handlebars hard, and yank them out of his grip. Before Cole can speak, I throw the bike into gear and pull away. I feel his eyes on my back until the road twists and I'm out of sight.
Ma pulls the door open and her delighted smile quickly fades into horror. "Oh my God! Anna, what have you done?" Ma is frantic when she sees me. I look like a drown rat that's been smacked with a sword. The gash on my leg is bright red and looks horrible.
"It's nothing, Ma." I sit down hard at the kitchen table after walking up the stairs. There's a trail of muddy puddles in my wake. I look back and say, "I'm sorry. I can clean that up." I start to push myself up, but Ma slams me back down into the chair.
"Sit," she snaps. "Frankie! Get in here! Your daughter has a hole in her leg!" Ma yells with that forceful voice of hers. She's wearing a pair of grey sweats, and white slippers. "What'd you do? I told you not to go looking for him."
Daddy walks in and looks at the floor, then up at Ma, and finally his gaze lands on me. I'm soaking wet and the hole in my jeans is damning. I did something stupid and can't hide it. "What the hell happened?" He's angry now. Daddy hates it when I get hurt and when I tell him it was from the bike, he'll want to bash the bike in with a hammer.
"It's not as bad as it looks. My jeans ripped and it's raining. There isn't that much blood." I put up my hands, trying to get them to calm down. "I know that it looks really bad, but it's just a scrape. I promise."
"I told you, Anna! That damn thing is a death trap." Daddy is more livid than I've seen him in years. That's all he manages to say before biting his lip so hard that his jaw trembles.
Ma is gnashing her teeth at me from behind Wet 'n Wild pink lipstick. Her hands are on her hips, like she means to beat me with a spoon, but she doesn't. An instant later she deflates and grabs the scissors. "Let's have a look." She cuts away the leg of my jeans and grabs a first-aid kit. She's shaking her head and muttering things as she cleans out the abrasion. I let her, gritting my teeth as she pours peroxide on the cut. When it's patted dry, it doesn't look that bad. The cut is long and thin, nowhere near as bad as it looked when I walked in the door. "Go take a shower and we'll bandage that up. You were lucky this time, Anna. Most people aren't."
After steaming myself in the shower, I emerge in a pair of dry clothes. The rain has stopped and night has fallen. I sit at the table, not saying much, pushing my food around on my plate. I can't eat. I feel lost, like I'm sinking in quicksand, but I have no desire to break free. I push a meatball with my fork. It makes a red smear across my plate.
Ma has been watching me. Finally, she asks, "So, did you find him?" I nod. "What happened?" Worry shines in her eyes. I don't want to tell her, but I feel like I should.
"He didn't believe me," I say softly. "He thought I was after his money, like Sottero." My voice is barely audible. I push the meatball back into a pile of untouched spaghetti. Ma used to make this meal when I was little and had a bad day. They had seen the train wreck coming and warned me to leave Cole alone, but I didn't listen.
Ma understands. "I remember what that felt like, finding out that someone was only there because I was rich. I found out who my real friends were when Mother disowned me. There weren't many. It's a hard lesson to learn. Cole's never had everything taken from him before. I remember how much I wanted to - "
Normally, I wouldn't tell someone else's secrets, but I cut her off, "He's had this happen before. Cole's situation was similar to yours. His Dad tossed him and didn't give Cole a dime." I find myself telling Cole's story, about Cole as a young solider, the battered Tiffany's box, the rejection and heartache I found in Cole Stevens. When I finish, no one speaks.
I put down my silverware and push away from the table. As I stand, I say, "Now it looks like I'm just like the rest of them and only after his money."
I walk outside and sit at the table where Cole and I spoke not so long ago. I stare at his empty seat, trying to push past the waves of nausea that pound into me. After a few minutes, Daddy walks down the steps and takes the seat next to me. We sit together in silence, both of us staring at Ma's gardens that are overflowing with sweet summer blooms. The rain makes everything have a thick, fresh scent.
Daddy finally sighs and leans on the table. His forearms are thick and covered with gray hair. I used to think those arms could protect me from anything. "You remember what this garden looked like when you were little?" I nod. It was barren, mostly dead grass, sand, and rocks. The previous owner did nothing to cultivate the patch of land. "There was nothing here. It was ugly, Anna. But when your Ma saw this house, she knew it was home. There are people like that, ones who see the good in something even when there's nothing to see.
"You're like her, in that way - always seeing the best in people - even if there's nothing to see but a clump of dust there from what had once been. I never had that. I couldn't look at something that was all busted up and see what it could be. But you, you're like her with that. You could see what that man was before he ever told you, didn't you?"
I stare at Daddy, wondering what he's trying to tell me. I nod again, slowly. "What are you getting at, Dad?"
He looks at the garden again. His thick fingers tangle together and he cracks his knuckles. When he looks back at me, he says, "But that's only half the ticket. You got part of me in there, too." He pauses, trying to think of what to say next. "Me and you do without. We always have, always will - money's nothing but paper to us. Yeah, we need it to pay bills and feed the family, but it's not the stuff of life. Me and you, we love with our whole hearts, and it's dangerous. It can change you, Anna. It sure changed me." He glances up at the window. Ma is standing there, drying a pot. The silver gleams in the light as she twists the cylinder in her hands. "There's a time to accept defeat and admit that you lost, and there's a time to fight for what you want. No man won a woman's heart by running away."