Something inside me started to change during Jake’s confession. He had embraced me by force like Nan had, wrangling me into emotional and physical submission. I knew he hadn’t done it to hurt me. He’d done it to wake me up, to make me feel, even though it had been against my will. Anger, rage, sadness, hopelessness—so many emotions I hadn’t processed for years, if I ever had at all, came crashing together at once within me, all of them occupying the same space inside. After Jake’s confession, it felt like all those feelings began moving around, searching for their proper places in my body, and in my life. I could still feel their presence, but they weren’t trying to pull me under the surface anymore.
I didn’t feel suffocated by them any longer.
Jake talked to me quietly until our exhaustion started to take over. When I could see his eyelids getting heavy, he stood and lifted me onto the bed, setting me under the covers. Just when I thought he was about to leave and go to his regular spot on the couch, he surprised me by sliding under the covers behind me, still fully clothed. He dragged me into his chest and wrapped his arms around me. “I didn’t want to tell you this way, Bee. I had another way in mind. I swear I was going to try and ease into it. It obviously didn’t work out that way.” Jake sighed. “You know too much already, but there is so much more you need to know.” He pulled me closer, pressing his lips to my forehead. The burn was gone, and for the first time in my life I felt what a kiss was like: warm softness against my newly cooled skin. “There’s somewhere I want to take you tomorrow. I want to show you something,” he whispered.
It was the last thing he said to me before surrendering to sleep. Shortly after he drifted off, I gave into my own exhaustion.
I fell asleep that night in the arms of a killer.
I’d never slept better.
IF RIDING ON JAKE’S BIKE without touching him had been the thrill of a lifetime, then riding on his bike with my arms wrapped around him under his leather jacket was fucking extraordinary.
The bright light of day faded into a hazy dusk. The once-enjoyable breeze became frigid as Jake wove his bike down the unfamiliar back roads. They were uneven and most of the time unpaved. There was hardly a stop sign or street light to guide our way as we drove, seemingly headed nowhere.
The last road we turned down was more of a path than a road, just dirt and weeds, barely wide enough for one car. Both sides of it were overgrown with palmettos and weeds. Some of the branches were so long they looked as if they were reaching out to connect with the foliage on the other side.
Jake was quiet, but determined. I had no idea where we were going, but it really didn’t matter. All I knew was that he had something to show me, and if it was located at the end of the world, I would gladly follow.
Jake brought the bike to a stop and punched down the kickstand with his foot. "We have to walk from here,” he said. “The ground is too soft for the bike.”
We walked hand in hand in silence for about ten minutes, down the path that continued to narrow until there was no longer room for us to walk side by side. Jake let me pass him and rested his hand on the small of my back, guiding me forward.
I smelled the orange blossoms before I saw them. We reached a small clearing surrounded by the fragrant citrus trees arranged in a circle. Purple flowers covered the ground below. Rays from the coming sunset traveled through the branches and lit up the clearing. The only sound was the breeze rustling the leaves, sending a wafting of sweet scent into the air.
“It’s beautiful here.” I said, admiring how the tops of the trees created a small canopy. When I turned to face Jake, he wasn’t there with me. He was on the other end of the clearing, kneeling at the bottom of the largest tree. I approached him slowly and put my hand on his shoulder. Without turning, he took my hand in his and squeezed. “Why are these trees in a circle?” It seemed a little unnatural for them to not be in the shape of an actual orange grove.
When he started to speak, his voice became strained. “I think one of the locals may have wanted to grow and sell oranges and probably didn’t have the land to plant the trees, so he just came out here and did it where he thought no one would ever find them. I can’t really think of any other reason myself. I came across them when I used to ride four wheelers out here with Mason.” Jake turned to face me. “I wanted to choose a beautiful place for her.”
With his hands in his pockets, Jake dropped to his knees and pulled me into the same position in front of him. He cupped my face in his hands, touched his forehead to mine and took a deep breath. “I don’t know what you think of me now, but I know after what I told you yesterday you might not even want to look at me anymore. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to hate me for what I am. I just need you to hear all of it, and if you want to run away as fast and as far as you can once you know everything, then that’s something I’ll just have to deal with.”