Authors: Gail McHugh
“I’m as close to crazy as they get, darlin’. But come on,” he urges, lightly elbowing my ribs. “You like that I’m a little out there. Admit it.”
“I’ll do no such thing.” And I won’t.
Though he looks as though he belongs on the cover of a magazine, has a cute sense of humor, and is trying hard as hell to get into my panties, Brock has another thing coming if he thinks I’ll admit to anything this early on. If ever. It’s as if he’s trying to open me up and read the torn pages of my heart. To be honest, I don’t like it. I’ve already reduced myself to acting like an excited ball of anxiety around him, and I have no intention of letting the situation get out of hand.
Well, at least not the mental part. I’m all for the physical, though.
“I can’t figure you out,” he says, searching my face.
“What do you mean?”
“Never mind.” He looks out at the water, his expression distant.
“No. Tell me,” I press, nudging his arm.
He brings his attention back to me, a million questions floating behind his eyes. “From you not giving me your number, to making it close to impossible to get you to go out on a date with me . . .” A pause, a shake of his head. “I don’t know. I just can’t figure you out.”
“Why are you trying to figure me out?” I ask, my concentration turning to the light tug on my line.
“You’re like a jigsaw puzzle.” He shrugs, his voice soft. “One that’s in desperate need of being put together.”
I swallow, my heart rioting in protest. “I don’t
your pity, and besides, maybe I don’t
to be put together.”
I think I want to be put together, but I’m pretty damn sure no one can accomplish that without losing their sanity along the way.
He licks his lips and stares at me a long moment. “I’m usually not a pity-giving dude, believe that, but something’s telling me you might be worth it. What if I leave you no choice?”
” Thrown by his response, I pull my attention from what I’m sure is a fish murdering the worm on my hook. “I don’t understand.”
“Ah, sure you do. You heard what I said, Ber. What if I leave you no other choice but to let me put you back together?” He shrugs again, his eyes alight with challenge. “I’m all for nicknames and figuring out people who I think need something more in their lives. Especially ones who I’m pretty fucking sure stepped into mine for a reason.”
Though his declaration comes out as a soft whisper, the conviction in it torches my ears. I clutch the fishing pole tighter and stare at him, my heart pounding as my mind replays his words. I don’t say anything. I can’t. Instead, I look at the water, wishing I weren’t so handicapped about opening up to others.
having an accent,” Brock says, reeling in his line a little, “but seriously, which West Coast state are you from?”
Persistent—I can’t deny I like it . . . sometimes. I sigh. “Washington.”
“I knew it.” A triumphant smile stretches his lips. “So why Maryland? Did your parents insist on Hadley U?”
The question flares old wounds, opening the levee guarding my memories. “My parents are dead,” I say flatly, my attention honed in on a canoe pulling up to a dock. I watch a couple stumble out, their laughter thundering over the sound of ducks fighting for their next meal.
“That blows,” Brock notes without a hint of solemnness.
gonna go into the whole
sorry for your loss, I understand what you’re going through, and if you need someone to talk to I’m here
spiel?” I bite my lip, realizing what a bitch I sound like.
Shock jumps over Brock’s face, but he sobers. “To answer your
first example: Yeah. I’m sorry you lost them, but I told you I’m not a pity-giving dude, and that
to be what you want. You’re closing yourself off to me; I can feel it. I sensed it the moment we met. So fuck pity, right?”
I open my mouth to speak but snap it shut. I can’t form a coherent thought. Nothing’s there. I’m blank.
He continues. “To answer your second example: No. I’m not gonna say I understand what you’re going through because I don’t. I’ve never had anyone close to me die, but I know I will one day. When that happens, then we can live bitterly ever after.”
Wide-eyed, I just stare, swallow, and listen to the rest of what he says.
“And to answer your third and final example, my beautiful, mysterious Ber, who I
eventually piece back together no matter
the hell I have to do: I have ears, and if you ever decide you wanna talk, I’ll listen. I’ll listen to everything you need to get out. But for now, the only thing these ears wanna hear from your pretty lips is my name being called out while I fuck away
bad pent-up memory and twisted shit you’ve ever seen right out of your mind. Cool?”
I’m sure I just fell in love for the first time in my life. I nod. Jesus, the only thing I can do is nod.
“Cool,” he repeats, reeling in and recasting his line. He looks at me, his eyes soft with curiosity. “So do you live here with extended family?”
Like the first time we met, in those clear peridot pools of warmth, I see something familiar yet unfamiliar. All the same, I feel as if we’ve met in a different space and time. Somewhere along the ragged edges of my sweetest dreams and darkest nightmares, I’ve talked with this boy. He’s told me his secrets, and I, mine.
Still, I’m nervous about revealing too much in fear that I’ll scare him off. I’m sure it’s not often that he comes across a girl who watched her parents rot away into nothing but pale flesh covering bones under their heroin addiction. Add that spectacular picture
to the same girl witnessing her father take out her mother with one bullet reserved for the back of her skull, and the second reserved for his mouth, and you’ve got yourself a chick no sane parent would approve of their son dating.
Murder-suicide makes for some great evening news. It also scares most decent families away from the one who was left in the aftermath of its destruction.
Nauseated, I decide to let Brock in on just enough that he no longer feels like I’m trying to push him away. “Can I just give you a summed-up version of my past so we can talk about something else?”
“Absolutely.” He nods.
I pull in a shaky breath. This is the first time I’m about to spill my story, even a little bit, to someone I barely know. “I live here by myself and don’t have any extended family members who I speak to. They ditched my parents after I was born, so I never met them, only know what they look like from old photos my mother showed me. My foster parents were set on me going to Hadley because they both graduated from there. They live in Florida now, and out of the three or so foster parents I’ve gone through, they’re the best I’ve come across. I still have a relationship with them.”
The curiosity in Brock’s eyes thickens.
I’m aware I’ve already said too much, but the sutured scars have ripped wide open, and there’s no turning back. Might as well keep going. “I have foster parents because my . . . my father shot and killed my mother, then turned the gun on himself in front of me when I was eight.”
Brock’s face clouds over with the shock I’ve come to know.
I brush it off, hoping to push him away from the subject for good. “Six therapists in three different states, spread over the course of eleven years of intense counseling, couldn’t get me to talk. Neither could those three or so sets of foster parents, including my latest. Before them, the others couldn’t take my mood swings, de
pression, or anger issues, so they handed me back to the state. Cathy and Mark were the only ones who held on to me.”
Looking at the water, I think about how much Cathy and Mark have done for me. How much they’ve endured with me over the last two years. A knot of emotion wraps around my heart. Though I’m what most would consider a walking tragedy, a complete mental mess, I owe any sense of normalcy I’ve had to them.
I sigh and bring my eyes back to Brock’s. “Fake friends at several schools talked behind my back and eventually ditched me the second I had a meltdown. I mean, shit. Even my last remaining living grandparent ditched me. Her great excuse when the state of Washington’s Child Protective Services contacted her to notify her of her son’s suicide?” Though there’s nothing funny about what she told them, I can’t help but let out a light laugh. “She couldn’t
taking care of a grandchild who she never considered hers to begin with.” I blow out a puff of air, a shrug lifting my shoulder. “I guess I’m unlovable. So, please, don’t try to get me to talk about any of this again because . . . I won’t. Cool?”
I feel completely naked, exposed. I’m no longer looking at him, but I can sense Brock’s eyes on me, heavy, suffocating. I wonder how many judgmental thoughts are pelting around in his mind. I’m pretty sure he’s thinking about how fast he can shuffle me back into his Hummer and as far away from his life as possible.
Silence mantles the air for the longest minute of my life before Brock breaks the tension. “Is it okay if I say I’m sorry?” he asks, his words soft, hesitant. “Or are you gonna rip into me if I do?”
More silence while I study his face. It could just be me, but he seems genuinely concerned I might hack him to death.
“If it matters at all,” he continues, “I really want to say I’m sorry that happened to you and your family, Amber.”
Feeling like the queen of bitches, I see nothing but sincere remorse, not a shred of judgment, behind his eyes. “I’m sorry for jumping down your throat. I just—”
“No. Please don’t apologize,” he states through a whisper. “That’s some pretty heavy shit.”
“It is, but I’m good.” Yet another lie. I’m not good. I’m sure I’ll never be. Either way, I’m finished talking about my shit-stained past. “So you and Hailey Jacobs had something?”
A grin quirks the side of his mouth. “Quick change of subject.”
“Well, she approached me while I was waiting for you to finish up practice.” I shrug, trying to play it cool despite desperately wanting to know their story. “She made it seem like you two have some kind of past. One I’m positive didn’t end on a good note.”
Anger flashes across his face, washing his expression into something that disturbs yet intrigues me. “What the
did she tell you?”
A hard tug on my line pulls my attention away from him, my gaze flitting to the water. “I don’t know. Some shit about you appearing to be the way you want everyone to think you are. That it’s all an act and, within time, I’ll see you for who you really are.” A second tug, this one violent. I jump to my feet and attempt to reel in whatever’s on the other end.
Brock hops up and positions himself behind me. Large hands seeking mine, his chest is pressed tight to my back, his chiseled jaw cushioned against my cheek, as he aids my fight with what I’m sure is Jaws. Though I’m trying hard to concentrate on the task at hand, every nerve ending fires, heat simmering in my bones as we continue to brawl with nature. A second goes by, and the line snaps, sending us both flailing backward onto the pier with a thud loud enough to shake the wooden structure.
Staring up at the cloudless sky, lying
of Brock’s chest, I giggle. He bursts out laughing, the sound heaven to my ears as I take in the unexpected moment. Still giggling, I attempt to get off him, but with viperous speed, Brock stops me by resting his palms on the flat of my stomach, gently tugging me back down onto him.
“No,” he whispers, his nose buried in my hair. “I want to stay like this for a minute. I’m digging the way you feel in my arms.”
The drowsy cadence of his voice slips through me, centering deep within my belly. I swallow, acutely aware of his soft fingertips dragging up my bare rib cage, our breathing turning into lyrical notes of want punching from our lungs as I digest his words.
“Turn over,” he says, his tone soft but authoritative. “I want to see your beautiful face.”
Not an ounce of rebellion runs through me as I obey his request, adjusting my body to his. Chest to chest, his gaze devours me, stroking between my eyes and lips. Brock’s hands find my cheeks, his touch causing a delicious fog to overrun my mind, their warmth expelling every fear I had about opening my heart to him. My entire being focuses on the way he’s staring at me, his dark rain forest eyes dominant with urgency to taste my lips, but still patient as he waits for permission. Sparks whisk through my nerves as I melt into the sensation of his fingers sinking into my hair, their adept movements eliciting a violent tremble deep within my core. I nearly go liquid as he lifts his knee, wedging it between my legs.
“I’m gonna kiss you, Ber.” His words come out as a husky whisper as he lifts his head, pulling my face a breath away from his. “And it’s gonna be a kiss you won’t soon forget. It’s gonna be a kiss I want burned into your fucking memory whether or not we get together. One that’ll make you hate every other kiss from anyone else after me. You’ll have no other choice but to think of
kiss when another dude gets his lucky chance. Cool?”
Nervous, I nod, my pulse thudding in anticipation as our gazes connect with a sizzle right before he brings his lips up to mine. The kiss starts off soft and slow, a sinuous trail of desire testing limits and exploring unknown turf. Brock’s lips are silk, the taste of his tongue tinged with mint and beer.
I love the parallel between the two.
A primitive groan rocks from his throat as he pulls me tighter to him, one hand caressing my nape, the other buried in my hair. My nipples awaken, my heart stuttering like a worn-out engine. Ecstasy floods me, washing away the world around us. I barely register the hum of boats, birds, and people as the intensity of our want explodes, unleashing a string of harder strokes from our tongues. Brock moves his hands down my rib cage, his thumbs kneading the sides of my breasts along their journey. His touch is gasoline to my fire, fueling the maelstrom inside me as a soft symphony of moans fall past my lips. My head’s dizzy, my body high from his touch, its rapture for him already an addict.