Authors: Sasha Clinton
In my arms tonight
Love me like you do
What if you can’t help but hurt the person you love?
Kat Cullen has it all—a staff writer position at the New York Times, beauty, independence—until she finds herself alone on the subway at night with a rapist. Saved by Alex Summer, a democratic candidate running for mayor of New York, she develops an unexpected friendship with him.
Alex’s chaotic past is the kind of juicy scoop every political reporter dreams of—which is why he keeps it hidden. But as he starts falling in love with Kat, he opens up to her about his darkest secrets. What he doesn’t know is that Kat already knows all about him, and she’s on an assignment to expose his history.
Caught between truth, love and ambition, two people must figure out the politics of the heart.
Forty-two years ago
he shadows haunting the walls of his room grew bigger and scarier, creeping closer to the edge of the bed. Shivering, Cole ducked his head under the sheets. His pulse pounded like nails being hammered into the wall.
Footsteps. Coming towards him. Growing in volume.
The creak of the door opening made him almost pee in his pants, but he controlled himself by biting his bottom lip. He had to be strong.
Holding his breath, Cole peered through a sliver of space he created by lifting the bedsheet.
Someone snuck in, filling the room with a strong presence. Mom. She switched on the lights and shook her head in disapproval when he blinked at her and then screamed in joy.
“You should be sleeping,” she chastised.
Tugging at the hem of her pink skirt with his chubby fingers, Cole tried to pull her closer to comfort him. “Tell me a story.”
Instead of her bending over for the book, which lay somewhere in the dark place under his bed, her gentle fingers raked through his hair.
“Sorry, dear, I can’t. I have to work. Be a good boy and go to sleep, okay?” She hugged him. It was a short hug, which meant she had no time.
“I’m scared.” Cole pushed his cheek against her tummy when a trace of those dark forms crawled over the walls again. He didn’t want to upset her by crying, so he reined in his tears.
“Don’t be scared. You’re a brave boy.” Her fingers brushed his neck and her scent—feminine, soft and comforting like her—infiltrated his nostrils.
Cole tried to throw a tantrum to make her stay, knowing that she wouldn’t. She never did. “I need you.”
“Tomorrow, we’ll go to the park and I’ll buy you ice cream. But only if you go to sleep now.” Her body pulled away, leaving his skin cold.
The mention of ice cream soothed his anxiety. “Promise?”
“Promise.” She kissed his forehead and he almost shed a tear. “I love you.”
He loved her too, but he didn’t say it.
She tucked him in under the sheets, left the light at his bedside on and soundlessly shut the door.
Then never returned.
By the time he was twelve, Cole had realized a few things. The first was that the best way to deal with bruises was by hiding them, the second was that trying to please people was the most useless pursuit in the world and the third was that like all the other foster parents before them, Maria and Bill were going to send him back.
His ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ stood at the door like statues, holding Dawn, their newly adopted girl, waiting for him to vacate their suburban castle. Cole had never thought of them as his parents, but that didn’t mean their rejection didn’t hurt.
Turning up the intensity of his scowl, he sneered at the woman standing by the door jamb. The social worker. He’d seen her a couple of times before.
All he could say about her was that she was fat. So fat he couldn’t make out where her stomach ended and her legs began. That’s why he’d nicknamed her ‘Watermelon’.
“It’s time to go,” she said.
To their credit, his ‘parents’ flashed a sickeningly superficial smile and mumbled words that didn’t matter. Dawn reached out a finger to him, muttering a slurred, “I’ll miss you.”
At least she was genuine, though, with the red eyes and stuff.
Cole slapped her hand away, a move that invited a sharp look from his ‘mother’. What was her name again? Mrs. something? Honestly, he’d had so many ‘mothers’, he couldn’t be bothered to keep track of all their names.
Dawn looked upset, but she didn’t cry. Little Miss Perfect.
Dawn had been his sister for the two years he’d lived in this house. She was seven, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed and perfectly lovable.
She had no ‘behavioral problems’, didn’t break stuff, did well in school, said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for everything.
In contrast to his ugliness, she looked beautiful. In contrast to his darkness, she looked radiant. In contrast to his imperfections she was perfect. And she was loved. Cherished, kept like a treasure, not tossed away like an empty can of tuna.
Cole hated her so much.
“Thank you for providing him with such good care, Mr. and Mrs. Alesio.” Watermelon bowed.
Glaring at him, she silently urged him to show his gratitude.
Cole stuck out his tongue at the four of them—Dawn, his ‘parents’ and Watermelon—then averted his face. He refused to thank the two people who were throwing him away.
“Take care. It was great having you with us.” Mr. Alesio said, caressing Dawn’s hair. Wishes were not meant to be delivered with such a strained face.
Watermelon wrapped her cigar-like fingers around his wrist. “Come on.”
Cole gave her a dirty look, but followed her out of the house without protest. He didn’t like her, but he’d seen her so many times, he could at least tolerate her.
When all was said and done, she was the only constant factor in his life. Every year or so, she showed up without fail to take him to a new version of hell. A new set of faces he would try to please, long to be loved by, until they uttered the dreaded lines: “I can’t deal with him anymore. He’s out of control. Let’s send him back.”
Then a few days later, Watermelon would appear and drive him to a group home, before dumping him on another pair of losers, aka ‘parents’.
Cole, these are your new parents. Mr. and Mrs. Loser,
she’d say, in her super-annoying Minnie Mouse voice, crossing her fingers behind her back, praying desperately that he would click with the new family.
Cole felt a twinge of pain as the yellow-painted house, built with the ingredients of a fairytale, became another painful thorn in his memory.
He’d never liked that house or Mr. and Mrs. Alesio anyway. They were nice in a fake sort of way, like they were trying so hard their faces could crack. He didn’t like fake people.