“So he threw everything away?”
“Jesus, Ophelia. Open your eyes. You see everything in black and white, but it’s not that simple. You’ve never snowboarded. You don’t know how easy it is to lose focus for one second and screw everything up.”
My hands are shaking, so I shove them into the front pocket of my hoodie. “You think it was just an accident? You think he just fell?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But he didn’t plan to go down like that. That I am sure of.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little naive? You said yourself how messed up he is.”
“He is messed up and believe me, I know that better than anyone. I sure as hell know better than you. I’ve spent the last ten years watching him self-destruct, and trying—with Luc and Ash—to hold him together. I was there when they found April. I was there when he found his mom. And I’ve been there every day since, picking him up when the world gets too f**king hard for him.
“Except today, when he was counting on you to be there. You to pick him up. And what the hell did that get him? Absolutely nothing. You’re no better than his father.” She dumps the glass on the counter, heads for the door. But she stops a couple of feet from it, turns to face me. “You stay away from him, you hear me? You’ve hurt him enough. So you stay far, far away from him.”
“Or what?” I don’t know why I’m challenging her on this, why I even care when she’s telling me to do exactly what I’ve been planning on—staying as far away from Z as I possibly can.
“Or that black eye you’re sporting will be the least of your problems. Ash and Luc won’t touch you because you’re a girl. But I will f**king rip you to shreds.”
She slams out without another word, and I’m left standing there in the middle of a suite that feels empty and lifeless without Z in it. And wondering if I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life, bigger even than getting into that car with Remi.
When I can’t stand it anymore, when my head—and my heart—feel like they’re going to explode from the pressure of not knowing, I go to my backpack. Pull out the tablet Z bought me when he realized I didn’t have one. And start researching.
Everyone else knows what’s up with Z. I’m beginning to think that it’s past damn time that I did, too.
I must have fallen asleep, because it’s pitch dark in my room when I jolt awake, my heart pounding and a nightmare running through my head.
“It’s okay. You’re okay.” A soft hand strokes my hair, cups my cheek, and I figure I must still be dreaming. Except the fingers playing with my hair feel pretty damn real. They’re too cold to be anything else.
I force my eyes open, and there she is, sitting next to the bed. Ophelia. “You came.”
She nods, bites her lip. “I’m sorry it took me so long.”
“You don’t have to be sorry.”
“Yeah,” she tells me. “I do.”
“No.” I reach out to her with my uninjured hand. “You don’t. I understood.”
“Did you? Because, I’ve got to tell you, I barely understand myself.”
“This isn’t about Remi,” she tells me forcefully. “This is about me and you. He has no business being in here with us.”
“That’s not true,” I tell her, squeezing her hand. “I get it. He’s your past—”
“And you’re my future.”
I freeze, drop my eyes from hers. It feels like I’ve waited my whole life to hear those four words, yet I’ve only known Ophelia a few weeks.
“You don’t believe me,” she says.
“It’s not that.”
“Sure it is. That’s the second thing this is all about. The injuries. The daredevil stuff. You don’t think you have a future, and even if you do, you don’t think you deserve to have anyone of your own in that future.”
“That’s not true.”
“Really?” She holds my eyes with her own, and tonight I’m staring into a color I’ve never seen before. A cool, clear jade that is as resolute as it is beautiful. “Prove it.”
“I said, prove it.”
“How am I even supposed to do that?” I gesture to the hospital bed and my injured shoulder even as my heart starts to pound hard against my ribs.
“You know very well how.”
Panic wells up inside me as I finally get what she’s asking. No, what she’s demanding. “You don’t understand—”
“You’re right. I don’t. So make me understand.”
I shake my head. “It’s not that easy.” I can’t tell her. I can’t say the words.
“Will it help if I tell you I already know?”
Fuck. “Do you?”
She nods. “Yes.”
Double fuck. “Cam?”
“No. Your friends would never betray your confidence like that.”
She sighs, rests her head on the railing on the side of my bed. I take advantage of her position to run my fingers through her curls. Part of me thinks she’s going to move her head away, that she won’t want me to touch her now that she knows just what a fuck-up I am, but she doesn’t. She just sits there and lets me pet her for as long as I want. I can’t believe how good it feels just to touch her even as what little is left of my world falls down around me.
“I came to the hospital this afternoon, got here right after you did.”
“I didn’t know that. They said—”
“Shh.” She rests gentle fingers against my lips. “I didn’t stay. I was … I was pretty messed up. And I’m sorry about that. Sorry you had to go through all that without me.”
“It’s fine. I don’t expect—”
“See, that’s the thing. You don’t even get how awful that is. How terrible it is that you don’t expect anyone to be there for you, ever. That you don’t think you deserve it. And I just reinforced that belief this afternoon. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for being such a selfish bitch.”
“I don’t need your apology, Ophelia. And I don’t need your pity.” Pity is the last thing I want from her.
“Is that what you think this is? Really? Pity?”
“What the hell else would it be?” Suddenly I’m angry. Really angry, and I don’t even know why. “You walked out because of what I did, and now, suddenly, you find out about my past and you’re back. What is that if it isn’t pity?”
“Understanding. Empathy. Love. I get that you don’t recognize them, since it seems no one has ever really given them to you before.”
I shake my head. “That’s not true. You said you loved me before, and you still …”
“I still walked away. I know. But trust me when I say I had to get some things straight in my head. If I’d come in earlier, when I was so messed up, it wouldn’t have gone well for either one of us. I would have hurt you more—”
“You think I give a shit? Pain I can take.” I push myself up to a sitting position, refusing to have this conversation lounging around like an invalid no matter how much my shoulder hurts. “I’m a f**king expert at taking that shit. But you walking away to protect me? That’s not okay. If you’re messed up, you come to me. If you’re hurt, you talk to me. You let me help you—”
“Why should I?”
Excuse me? “What the f**k does that mean?”
“It means you don’t come to me when you’re messed up. You don’t talk to me. You let me find out about the past that is still haunting you from old newspaper articles.” She’s right in my face now, her sweetness gone as quickly as it came. “Why the hell should I trust you with my mindfucks if you don’t trust me with yours?”
I flop back against the bed, then regret it when my currently numb shoulder starts to throb. Damn it. I walked right into that one. “It’s not the same.”
“It’s exactly the same and you know it, or you wouldn’t be lying there pouting right now.”
“I don’t pout.”
“Sorry. It’s just that that brooding expression looks an awful lot like pouting from here.”
I glare at her, and she glares back like the total badass she is. God, it’s sexy. And God, do I love her.
It’s that thought more than any other that gets me talking. Because I do love her and I don’t want to lose her like I’ve lost almost everything else in my life. I didn’t think she’d stick if she knew, but here she is. She knows everything and she’s sitting right here across from me, all but daring me to try to cut her out of my life again.
I wouldn’t even know how to try. Still, it’s not nearly as easy to talk to her as I wish it was. I’ve locked this shit down deep for eleven years. Spewing it back out now feels about like I imagine swallowing razor blades would.
“Her name was April.” I finally manage to get the first sentence out, then I close my eyes, rest my head back against the bed. “My sister. She was seven years old when she was—” My voice breaks when I try to say it, so I clear my throat. Try to start again.
“When she was kidnapped and murdered.” Ophelia says it for me, her voice strong and steady as she gives voice to the words I’ve never been able to say.
“Yes.” I clutch her hand in mine. “My dad had a business call, and he thought we were making too much noise—thought I was making too much noise—so he sent us to the park down the street for an hour. Told me I was in charge, which I totally rubbed her nose in like the obnoxious older brother I was.
“For a long time it was fine. We played on the jungle gym, ran around, all that stuff. But then I had to pee, so I told her to wait by the water fountains next to the bathroom and I would be right back. I made her promise not to go anywhere, but she was only seven, and …
“I was only in there a couple of minutes. Two. Maybe three. But when I got back, she was gone. At first I thought she was hiding from me, so I looked for her. And I got madder and madder the longer I looked. I told her—I called to her that I gave up a bunch of times, but she never came out.
“Finally my dad came looking for us, and when he realized she wasn’t there, he flipped out. Screamed at me for being stupid. For not understanding. And then he called the police and they came and they talked to me. For a long time I was the number one suspect. They thought I’d hurt April and then hidden her body somewhere. My parents never said it, but I think they thought so, too.”
Hot tears leak from the corner of my eyes at that admission, and I turn my face away, not wanting Ophelia to see what a pu**y I really am. That’s why I never talk about this, never even think about this. Because I’m too f**king weak to handle it.
Ophelia leans over, brushes kisses over the tear tracks on my face. “It’s okay, baby,” she tells me. “You don’t ever have to be embarrassed in front of me. Ever. For any reason.”
“I would never hurt—”
“I know. I know.” She squeezes my hand.
I nod, then continue, because if I don’t say it now, I know I never will. “They found her six weeks later, about a hundred miles away. She’d been—He raped her. That bastard raped and murdered a seven-year-old little girl and then threw her away like she was garbage. Like she was nothing.
“And she wasn’t. She was everything. She was smart and silly and she told the most awful knock-knock jokes in the whole world. It used to drive me crazy having to listen to those ridiculous punch lines all the time.” My voice breaks again. “She wore ribbons in her shoes instead of shoelaces, and always matched them to the bows in her hair. She—” My voice fails altogether, and this time Ophelia doesn’t just rub me comfortingly. She actually climbs into the bed with me, snuggles in against my uninjured side.