“I don’t want to hurt you, Tanner. But I don’t need to defend myself to you either.”
“I don’t know where we go from here. Where I go.” He ran his hand over his open mouth and then his jaw. “You were with someone else.”
“It’s not like I wanted to want him. You know, I had this whole idea that I was going to preserve myself, keep myself clean or pure or something, for the person I was before I lost my memory. For this Ray person. But time passed, and King and I, we grew close. And after a while I was so tired of fighting it. Tired of putting the life I could have on hold for a life I knew nothing about. So I let him in. I let him tattoo me. I let him…love me.” The words brought back memories that caused tears to prickle in the back of my eyes. “I don’t regret it though. Any of it. I won’t. And it doesn’t matter what you say, because you can’t make me.”
“Jesus Christ, Ray. He’s like thirty, and you’re just a teenager! On top of that, you’re the only girl I’ve ever been with, and the last time we had sex was when we were fifteen! And you’re standing here telling me that you let him…” He took a step toward the window seat and bent over, leaning his hands against it for support. “You let him…touch you.” He finished in a much calmer tone of voice than he’d started.
A lump formed in my throat. “Yes.” I said, fighting back the tears. “Don’t you dare judge me. I can be sympathetic to you because I know how it feels to be confused and overwhelmed, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know you.” I stared him down and held my ground. I was not about to let him or anyone tell me that what King and I had was somehow wrong.
Tanner threw his hands in the air. “Well, that makes two of us. The Ray I knew never once raised her voice, never yelled, never swore. You may look like her, but you’re just an imposter.” His words slapped me across the face. I could feel the sting as real as if he’d used his hand. “Maybe you shouldn’t have come back after all.” He said, the corner of his lip turned up in disgust.
“Leave,” I demanded, stomping my foot on the ground and pointing toward the window he’d used to come in. “Now.”
Tanner stepped up on the window seat and had one leg dangling off the ledge when he hesitated for a moment. Slowly he turned back toward me, his watery eyes shimmered. “I’m sorry. I really am. I just…I still love you, Ray,” Tanner said softly.
I was still in defense mode, but I realized that the only reason Tanner was lashing out at me was because he really was heart broken. I couldn’t let him leave without giving him something. “I can’t tell you the same, but I know I felt something for you, before all this. It’s the only reason I can think of that your eyes were the only thing I recognize in all this. That’s got to mean something, right?” I offered. Tanner smiled a small sad smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I even sketched them once,” I added, hoping that little bit of information might bring him some sort of comfort.
“Do you love him?” he asked with sadness in his voice. “Tell me the truth, Ray. I can handle it.” I didn’t believe that for one second. I searched my brain and my heart for the answer, one that despite all the bullshit, all the lies, all the misunderstanding, I’d never doubted.
“Yes,” I answered simply.
Tanner cringed. He turned and leapt from the window onto a nearby tree branch. By the time I walked over to the ledge he was on the ground brushing leaves off of his pants. He looked back up to my window. “Even though he knew who you were but didn’t tell you? Even though he used you in order to get his own daughter back? You still love him despite all that?” He whisper shouted his question.
I tried to explain my complicated feelings to him the best I could, “You can be pissed off and still love someone at the same time,” I said.
Tanner walked across the lawn but before he disappeared into the dark shadows I heard him mutter, “I can relate.”
I spent the next three days in my room, alone. Only getting out of bed for a quick shower and change of clothes. But I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep with the exception of a cat nap here and there when my body argued that it was tired while the rest of me was on high alert.
It was past midnight when I awoke from such a nap and found myself in pitch blackness. The panic started to set in. I tried to take a deep breath but I couldn’t pull in air. I fumbled for the remote, but when I found it and pressed every button on it, nothing happened. Willing myself to keep searching for a light source I felt around on the wall beside the bed for a switch but couldn’t find one. Finally, I ran over to the window and pushed back the curtains, hoping the light from the moon was enough to allow me to catch my breath for a second. No such luck. Storm clouds hung low in the air, rumbling across the sky, vibrating the floor underneath my feet. All I could think of was that I was going to die from sheer panic.