By: Aria Cage

“You could have.” I shriek a little; I don’t mean to, but his lack of self-preservation scares me to death. I know those thoughts, and I don’t want them for him.

Nate takes my hands in his and brings them to his mouth. I try to pull them away out of instinct, but he holds them tight and kisses them. I watch his mouth as his lips soften, and they make contact with my skin again. The gentle touch makes me shiver, and I close my eyes, recalling that Thursday, allowing the small tingles to spread through my arms before I open my lids and look into his hazel eyes. A lot of changes have happened to his body. He has become a strong man, but those eyes are the same; they hold my secrets and part of my soul forever.

“I am alive, and I am here.”

I nod, and instead of pulling my hands away, I use one to stroke his stubbly cheek, while he holds the other tightly. “Nate?”

He kisses my hand again, and I sigh. “I have missed you, Charlie.”

A tear slides down my cheek, dropping onto his blue shirt. “I have missed you.”

The front door closes, and Nona’s mumbling breaks the growing electricity between Nate and I. I can’t believe that just happened. I can’t believe after all this time, we are sucked right back into the world where we are teenagers wanting things we shouldn’t. Well, we aren’t teenagers anymore. We have responsibilities and people who will get hurt if we don’t watch ourselves and our demons, which always take control when we are together.

I stand up and brush my face as Nona comes in the room eying us like a radar. “Can he eat?” she asks me.

I nod. “Yeah, he can eat.” Then she was gone, leaving me to stare after her. She’s angry, and I can’t blame her. 7:42 this morning, her grandson was brought into emergency room of Beaver Dam Community Hospital. Thirteen-and-a-half hours later, he is home and so is his broken, long-lost puppy. Nona doesn’t need this kind of stress, but I don’t know if I can leave him yet.

I turn back to Nate, and he is shaking his head and trying to sit up. “No, no, no,” he chants. “Don’t you dare go!” I rush to his side and push against his good shoulder, wary of his injury.

“I never said I was,” I try to soothe.

“I know you. I can read you like a book.”

“You never could read very well.”

Nate falls back and looks up at me in stunned silence until a huge grin spreads across his face, reaching his eyes. I love that smile.

Davey was back with a pillow and a blanket, his smile like his brother’s. Nate told me they had different fathers, but I can see a strong resemblance, so I assume that they take after their mother with their dark hair, soft mouths, and wide chests. The major difference is in their eyes. Nate’s are hazel until he is real mad, and then they are darker; they are his mood indicator, like the ring he gave me when I was eight. Davey has blue eyes, sweet and beautiful. I’ve never seen him mad; I don’t think he has it in him.

Davey gives me the pillow, and I take it, gently aiding Nate up as I slide it behind him.

“I don’t want the blanket, it’s hotter than hell,” he chides. I give him a look and nod, taking the blanket and folding it over the back of the sofa in case he needs it.

“So did you commit a breakout or actually sign out against doctor’s advice?”

He cocks his head and gives me that look, the one that says I should know better by now. He never did anything by the book.

“So you didn’t get the drugs you need?”

“I don’t want them.”

My mouth opens to yell, but I hold it in and exhale slowly. “You need pain relief, and who knows what else. More than likely you need antibiotics and dressings, and if all else fails, a club over the head for being so stupid.”

“I don’t want the pain relief, the club—”

“Why not? Have you turned into such a masochist you enjoy the pain now?” As soon as the words flew from my mouth, I wanted to take them back. I just opened up the door to the past we both never would want to visit. I wait for him to mutter the words that will grind me back to the ground. Sweat beads down my back, reeking of fear and anticipation.

“Because… I could easily have become an addict a long time ago. I was close, so I try not to risk it.”

I’m shocked. I was more than shocked as I picture the youthful, seventeen-year-old boy I had been ripped from eleven years ago. I can’t see him giving into the likes of drugs, not when he was so dead against them because of his mother. He was a fighter, hated alcohol and drugs because of what they could do to families. I just don’t get it. What had he gone through in prison that would drive him so low? The thought terrifies me.

“It’s not what you think, Charlie,” he says softly, almost disappointed. “I got hurt pretty bad and had to―”

“Enough chatter. Eat,” Nona commands as she carries two plates of roasted meat and vegetables out, Davey following with a pitcher of iced tea. “You both have a lot of history and a hell of a lot to talk about. Not all of it has to be faced in one night.”

She’s right… and very, very wrong. I don’t plan on sharing any more than he knows, because after I share this meal, I have to go back to the life I have made without them. I love them more than anyone, including Paul. I miss them more than I can say, but that doesn’t change anything. It didn’t change anything back then, and it can’t change now. Too much time has passed and yet not enough pain.

They have been through too much because of me, and I will not allow any more to come.

IT’S GETTING WORSE. Not what her father wants us to do; that has never really changed over the six years. Six fucking years. He is methodical in what he wants from her―the same thing every time. Same place, same time, same sick and twisted game. I whisper stories of Neverland in her ear when I feel her stiffen against me. I don’t want her to be repulsed by my touch, as I no longer am.

I was too young when this all began to understand the feeling I had at nine. I knew it was wrong, that was clear, but I was never repulsed by her. Instead, I feel as though I have betrayed her. I guess it’s because I haven’t been able to save her. Now I face the dilemma on a day to day basis of loving her. I’m fifteen, and I love a girl who is so damaged, she no longer talks to anyone at school but me.

Boys still look at her, but I give them the firm stink eye. She is not theirs to gawk at, which is such an asshole thing to say, because she shouldn’t be anybody’s. She is just thirteen, and should be going out on the lake with everyone else this weekend. But I know what she will do, because he has trained her very well. She doesn’t go out; she doesn’t make phone calls or have sleepovers with the other giggly girls in her class. He has her so withdrawn that she can’t see straight. She wants him to be happy. Who the fuck cares if he’s happy?! He’s making her miserable! He is breaking her down until I’m petrified there will be nothing left to break.