Pain isn’t new to me. I’ve been to hell only to find it never really leaves when you get back. It haunts me through nightmares, unrequited love, lies, broken hearts, and now death. A monster almost took my life. My best friend carries half my soul a world away. My boyfriend broke my heart but refuses to let me go. And my father is dead. I don’t believe in fate and I don’t believe in happily-ever-afters, but for some reason, I still hope. Live, even with a tainted spirit. Long for my other half to come back to me. Risk another broken heart, just to feel loved again. And refuse to let another horror break me. In the face of my most recent tragedy, I have to decide whether forgiveness is something I can give. But even if that’s an option, can I be forgiven?
I’M IN A SEA of black. The beautiful May day gives no impression that there is any sadness or grief in the air. It’s one of those days that you want to spend outside, smelling the new blooming flowers, getting some sun, and walking in the grass barefoot, but none of those things hold any interest for me.
Everything is a blur around me, a haze that mirrors my own depression. I know people are talking to me, but I don’t hear them. They express sadness in their words, but most of them never sympathized with us before today. They talk as if they know us, but where were they before? They live their lives talking shit behind people’s backs, but don’t see the hypocrisy in their fake condolences.
I’ve learned to ignore the whispers and stares, a lesson received repeatedly as I grew up in what some would call an “unconventional” household. Apparently punching everyone who bullies you isn’t the socially acceptable way to handle things, so I try to just ignore them. I don’t want or need to let any of their negativity in, so I remain quiet. There’s been enough sadness in our lives, and there’s no need for nasty words from nosey neighbors to pile onto that pain.
A person in a black suit finishes shoveling dirt into the cold, deep grave. I focus on the earth closing around the person I loved so immensely and to whom I felt so close. The ground consumes the casket and takes my loved one away into a lonely pit; permanently putting an end to the best person I will ever know.
I look at my dad sitting next to me. He is distraught, but well medicated for the occasion, only showing emotion when he remembers he just lost the love of his life. He seems to have aged ten years in the past week. He was once the strongest and most commanding person I knew, but today, he looks like a child. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t do anything except for the essentials. He exists, but he’s not living. He looks up at me and I feel like maybe he wants to reach out and say something to comfort me, but I know his internal pain limits him from showing affection. I put my hand on his shoulder to show I’m here, hoping he understands what I mean.
People are finally leaving. Leaving us behind to grieve together in peace. That’s a lie. There is no peace for us, and there won’t be for a long time. With the preparations for the funeral complete, I have all the time in the world to sit and think about the gravity of what I just lost. That’s not peace. That’s torture.
“Dad,” I say, “I think that maybe we should head back to the house.” He sits there, giving no indication that he heard me suggest our departure.
“Dad,” I try again, after a minute. “Let’s say goodbye, and go home.” I can’t stand to be here any longer.
He stands slowly and walks over to the heap of dirt covering a life that was once vibrant and lively. He collapses onto the mound, and at first I’m startled by the sudden fall. Once I hear the heart wrenching sobs that escape his mouth, I understand he is saying his goodbye. I hear him murmuring about his undying love, and decide to give him some privacy.
I look toward the entrance of the cemetery, shaking myself out of the haze that I was in. I don’t even recall walking this far to get to the grave site, but I don’t want to remember, so I don’t try to conjure up the memory.
A figure leans against one of the nearby trees and I start to sweep my eyes past until recognition hits me in the chest heavily. I don’t think he wanted to be seen, but he was caught and he knows it. My throat starts to constrict and pain obstructs my chest.
He hasn’t changed much since the last time I saw him, except that he has no smile on his face today. He’s still breathtakingly handsome… but he’s also still the asshole I left behind at the café a year ago.
Why is he here? How dare he show his face here on a day like today?
I’m in such a state of shock that I lose concept of space and time. I stare at him for a good two minutes before I jerk back to reality.
He gives me a small wave and a slight lift of his beautiful lips. It is a sad and withdrawn smile, enough for me to know he understands exactly what happened.
I glare back at him, not in any mood to be civil, and start stomping my way toward him, intent on giving him a piece of my mind. He has no right to be here.
As I draw closer to him, he pulls himself from the tree and approaches. We meet up and stand so close I almost forget the reason why I came up to him. In my mind’s stuttering state, he speaks first.
“Hi Josie.” His deep, dominant voice washes over me, and I’m angry that it thrills me to hear his voice again. I swallow down the warmth, and try to keep my guard intact.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I hiss. “I’m pretty sure I made it clear I never wanted to see you again. How dare you show your face here?”
“Jo… I just wanted to come and say how sorry I am about your loss. I heard about Will, and I needed to come see how you were doing,” he responds, sadness clear from the roughness of his voice.
Hearing him use my nickname with his gentle tone makes me weak. I wrap my arms around my body to try and keep my anger from being impacted by his kindness.
“I don’t want you here,” I whisper, looking anywhere but at him. I don’t want him to see me break down ever again, but between my loss and seeing him, I don’t know if I will be able to hold back. In that one sentence, filled with the longing and sadness that I didn’t want to show, I made it clear to him that I’m still hurting over what happened.
“I understand. I needed to make sure you’re okay. I know how hard this is for you.” He slowly starts to reach out his hand, and while my cheek tingles at the thought of him touching even an inch of my skin, I think he knows that it’s unwelcome. As I turn the slightest fraction away, he lets his hand fall back to his side, a look of regret crossing his face.
“I can’t do this. Dad needs me right now. I have to take him back to the house,” I say, wanting to get rid of him and the memories he is bringing back.
“Let me stay with you for the day. We can catch up and I can help you with things. Today is tough as it is, let me help,” he says, confidence and determination starting to come back into his personality. This is the man I knew.
I hear footsteps behind me as my dad walks up to us. He stands there, lost in a world I don’t want to enter. He said his goodbye and now he’s retreated back into his shell. I look up at my unexpected visitor and get ready to tell him goodbye for the last time.
“Mr. Sommers, I am so sorry for your loss,” he says softly to my dad. “Josie and I were talking about heading back to the house to catch up and throw away some of the food your neighbors sent over.” He gives me a sly smile and then returns his attention to my dad. “Would one extra person be okay?”
My dad grunts and gives a barely noticeable nod, and we both know him well enough to know that he has accepted the offer. I shake my head at his response.
“Dad, go ahead to the car. I’ll be there in a couple minutes,” I say, hoping to convince Blake Porter to leave. When Dad is almost at the car, I whip myself around to scowl at the same stubborn Blake I used to know. He has a small cocky smirk playing on his lips, and I don’t like how distractingly handsome he still is.
“You need to leave and never come back around here or me again. I can barely even look at you without wanting to punch you in your stupid face!”
The last part is only partially true; a part of me wants to hit him again, and the other part wants to kiss him. His smile grows a little after he hears me say that, because he knows me well enough to figure out that I really do want to hit him.
“I get that you never wanted to see me again after the last time, Josie. Just let me be here for you today. Let me be your friend this one time. I can help. You know I can help,” he says sincerely. I know he can help, but that scares me.
I take a deep breath and try to sort out my thoughts. He is the last person I need to be talking to, and the second person I’ve wanted to talk to since this happened. I know exactly who is standing before me, and I know without a doubt that if I let him back in, I will be hurt and betrayed all over again.
WHEN WE GOT OUTSIDE, Blake grabbed me and led me towards the wall where he caged me with a hand on either side of my head. He was breathing heavily, and for a moment neither of us said anything. Our breaths combined as if they weren’t coming from either of us— as if we were one breathing being. He moved his hand to my face, traced down my cheek, and cupped my jaw.
“That was so stupid and reckless,” he said, anger and awe mixing in his tone.
He moved his fingers to softly trace my lips, and rested his other hand at the small of my back. His fingers grazed over the skin between my shirt and shorts, raising goose bumps all along my skin. It felt like I had been shocked and then reawakened with raw passion. With a gentle tug, he pulled my hips right into his.
“It was also the sexiest fucking thing I have ever seen.”
He crushed his lips against mine, and I moaned at the ferocity of the moment. I moved my arms to wrap around his neck and pressed my chest to his so we were as close together as we could be. My bottom lip was trapped between his. The light touch of his tongue hinted at more.
He grabbed the back of my head and put his other hand on the wall so he could grind his hips even harder against mine. I could feel how much he wanted me, and desire flooded me. With every lick of his tongue against mine, I could picture that same pressure against other parts of my body.
I moved my hands to rub his arms and his muscles tightened underneath my touch. Please, touch me more. My heart thudded and I arched my back, desperate. Blake moved the hand that had been in my long hair down my neck, and touched the cleavage that was spilling from the top of my shirt. He ran his hand down my ribs and then went under my blue top, to touch my bare skin. His hand, splayed against my stomach, made the heat that was building inside of me turn into a wildfire. I let out a loud moan, but I was too distracted by his lips to be embarrassed.
He pushed me harder against the wall and started trailing kisses and licks down the side of my neck. When the bricks scraped against the skin of my back, I was brought back to reality by the agonizing torment that would follow me around like a grim reaper looking for death.
With a hand around my throat, stopping my screams, he pushed my dress up to my neck.
“You make a noise, and I won’t let you get out of this alive. No one is coming for you, sweetheart,” he growled. He shoved me back against the brick wall. My bare skin scraped against the brick and blood trickled down my raw skin.
I gasped and pulled away from Blake. His brows knit in confusion, but once he got a look at my panic-stricken face, he backed away from me.
“We… I… no more.” I couldn’t catch my breath and fought to calm the intense emotions that consumed me. I was rocking back and forth when I felt Blake slide down next to me. I don’t know how he knew, but he didn’t touch me and I was grateful. His presence was enough. There were no tears. There hadn’t been any tears since that night.
After a few minutes I calmed down enough to sit back against the wall. Blake rested with his knees pulled up, arms bent, and face in his hands. He looked up at me, and the anguish almost broke my heart.
“I’m s-,” he began.
“I’m so sor-” I said at the same time. “Blake, there’s a lot you still don’t know about me. I’m sorry I freaked out.” I looked back over at him and he sat up straighter and creased his brows together.
“Don’t ever say you’re sorry for wanting to stop or for needing a freak out moment. I will never force you to do something you don’t want to.”
I nodded, and felt a little better hearing his words. I wasn’t ready to delve into the reasons behind my change in mood. It was enough to know that he understood, and wasn’t going to press me for anything more than I was willing to give him.
Victoria Klahr (pronounced “Claire”) lives in Elizabeth City, North Carolina with her husband and daughter, Stephen and Alexis. She loves her chug (Pug/Chihuahua), Bandit, and daughter to pieces. She is a huge and proud book nerd who looks at her bookshelf in admiration daily. When she’s not daydreaming about book boyfriends and fantasizing about being a badass heroine like Rose Hathaway, she’s busy doing schoolwork for her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and writing the stories that speak to her in her head. She loves peanut butter with Oreos, good friends, amazing gossip, driving in the middle of merge lanes, comedies, crude humor, pretending like she can dance, pretending like she can kick major ass, and a really, really good laugh.
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