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Levi’s hand dropped to trace lightly up and down my back. I inhaled deeply. “And that was my life, every week living somewhere new, hiding from the world was the reality of our life. My mom always managed to get us somewhere long enough to have an address and collect her disability, but we never had a home.

“I went to school, I kept my head down and I cared for my mom who, most of the time, didn’t even realize I was there. Until she did, when she would make me feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have a mom like her. My heart ached at how broken she had been made by life. Her parents rejected her, hiding her from their snooty friends. She’d been isolated from receiving life’s tools. In most ways she was the child and I was the adult.”

I cleared my throat when I heard it beginning to break, and Levi’s arm came around my waist. He didn’t pull me close, but I knew he was telling me that he had me… he had me.

“One week at school, I could see a teacher watching me. I never spoke aloud unless I was forced to, so I never asked her what was wrong. I was fourteen, but I had no friends, no one to talk to or get help from. That month my mom was having a really hard time.  You see, I washed our clothes, I stole us food… and I measured out her heroin.”

“Damn, Elsie,” Levi hissed.

I froze, knowing how bad that sounded. “She needed it, Levi. She needed it. I could measure it out in quantities I knew should could handle.”

“What happened next?”

I breathed through the gutting pain building inside. I breathed and continued. “The teacher had noticed that I was unwashed. I’d messed up and hadn’t handed in my assignments. We had just been kicked out of another apartment. The teacher informed social services, she’d told them she was worried I was being neglected.” I sucked in a sharp breath. “When they found us, we were in an alleyway, homeless, and I was measuring out my mom’s nightly dose.” I huffed a disbelieving laugh. “She was dazed, in need of her drugs when they took me from her.”

This time I felt the tears fall to Levi’s sweater. “I screamed, Levi. When they took me from her, I screamed, and I fought them. I shouted for my mom but she was drugged up, her needles lying beside her. She didn’t even see I was being ripped from her arms.” I rolled my face to Levi, needing to see him. Levi’s expression was as torn as I felt. I reached out for his hand. He wrapped his big hand around mine and I held on for dear life.

“They took me to a group home, Levi. And they left her there, in that alley.” I squeezed my eyes shut, seeing myself in the school the next day. “I was sitting in my classroom, in Chemistry, when there was a knock on the door. I saw the principal staring at me through the glass in the door, and I knew. I knew they were coming for me. I knew it was my mom.” A sob came from my throat, my eyes lost in the memory. “I jumped from my chair as the principal and social workers entered the room. I backed away, trying to escape what I knew they were about to tell me. But all I did was crash into the wall—I had nowhere to go. I remember seeing the other students watching me as I screamed. Watching me as I was led out into the principal’s office where they told me what I already knew—she was dead. She’d overdosed. She’d taken too much.” I looked up into Levi’s glistening eyes and whispered, “I wasn’t there to measure it out for her, Levi. She’d taken too much and she’d died in yet another alley she’d just stumbled into. She died on the cold ground, alone, trapped in her world of silence.”

The sobs fell and fell. As I fell apart, Levi lifted me into his arms and cradled me to his chest. He held me close, rocking me back and forth until the tears dried up. Until my throat was raw and my skin was blotchy.

I blinked through swollen eyes and took a long deep breath. Levi pushed back where I lay until he could see my face. Understandably, he hushed, “It wasn’t your fault.”

My lips trembled. “I wasn’t there. She needed me. I wasn’t there.”

“I know, bella mia, but it wasn’t up to you to care for her that way. She was addicted to drugs and she overdosed.”

“I was all she had, she was all I had. I never got to say goodbye, Levi. I never got to put my hand on her face as she did mine and press our foreheads together. I never got to tell her our version of ‘I love you’.” I held my locket in my hand. “All I have is this necklace. This picture of her smiling face. It’s all I have left.”

Levi brushed the tears from my face, and I continued. “Then they left me in the group home. Me and five other girls. And I… I… it was…” My voice cut out when the devastation ripped through, when those dark memories began flooding my mind, stealing my voice and any composure that I had left.

Levi took charge, rolling me onto my back and cupped my face in his hands. “Elsie,” he called, as I tried to un-see their faces in my mind’s eye, to un-hear their words, to un-feel their attacks. “Bella mia,” he said firmly, “look at me.”

His face came into view and I focused on those gray eyes. I focused on those unshaven cheeks and his beautiful olive skin.  My unsteady heart slowed. Levi breathed deeply; I breathed in rhythm.

My hands held onto his thick biceps as he gradually brought me down, his eyes keeping me safe. He blinked, his long black lashes brushing his cheek. Only this time, my breathlessness came from how deeply I felt for this boy. This boy with the heart of gold, and silver hued eyes.

I lifted my hands to brush down his face. The silence was deafening and the tension was taut. He is my rainbow, I thought, hearing Lexi’s words in my head, and he... “You bring me the moon,” I found myself saying aloud. For once, I didn’t guard how I sounded. I didn’t over-think the words, or strive to pronounce them normally. I simply spoke… without fear, my real uncut voice laid bare to his ears.

Levi exhaled, a breathtaking smile on his lips. “Then you bring me the shine.” As his raspy voice replied, I brought his lips down to my waiting lips and our mouths fused in a kiss. I fell harder and harder as his tongue slipped against mine, and I gave my heart away.

Levi untied my robe, and he slipped his hands over my naked stomach, pushing the material to the side. I gasped as he lowered his head, pressing a kiss to my skin, following the path of his hands.

My back arched as my breasts were freed. Levi’s finger journeyed around my nipples, my eyes fluttering closed. Soft lips were instantly on mine and I melted into his kiss.

I pulled off Levi’s sweater and he slipped off his boxers and jeans. We kissed and we kissed in the most beautiful way. When he slipped inside of me, our gazes clashed and we never looked away. It was sweet, it was slow, and it conveyed everything he felt. It gave me everything I needed right now. It was loving, and it showed me just how much he cared. He cared for me more than anyone else ever had.

I knew that now.

I moaned, feeling the pleasure building between us, and as I broke apart, whispering his name, I watched Levi’s mouth part as he gave himself to me too.

He fell to my neck, our bodies pressed together, slick and damp from making love. I held on tightly to this boy, clutching him to me with my arms around his back. “You make it easy to forget all the bad,” I whispered into his neck, feeling him tensing in my arms.

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