Frayed Page 77

’’Please don\ ,’’ I say, kicking my shoes off and heading toward the kitchen to put some physical space between us.

’’Don\ what?’’ he asks, sounding genuinely confused.

I stop at the counter and use it for support. I finally summon the courage to look at him again. Oh God, the look in his face makes me ache to soothe his pain, but my own pain is too great. ’’Don\ touch me.’’

’’S\elle,’’ he says, moving toward me.

I put my hand out. ’’Don\ call me that anymore.’’ I muster up all the courage I have. ’’I\ll tell you what you want to know, and then you need to leave for good.’’

He stares at me and an array of emotions crosses his face, but I think he settles on anger. Good. That\s easiest to deal with.

’’I want to know what happened,’’ he says again. This time his voice is sterner;the edge of kindness is gone.

’’What? In a nice little package?’’ I echo his anger because it will be easier for him to leave if we\ e both upset at each other and that is what has to take place. It\s best for both of us.

He furrows his brow. ’’No, just like it happened.’’

I open the refrigerator and take out an already uncorked bottle of wine and set it on the counter. I opened it last Saturday night but never drank any of it. I take a glass from the cupboard and pour a glass. I turn toward him. ’’Do you want some?’’

’’No. And I thought you didn\ drink,’’ he barks.

I shrug. ’’I didn\ say I don\ drink. I said it\s better if I don\ .’’

’’Then why are you now?’’ This time his voice is compounded with compassion.

His concern starts to break me down, but I need to keep that wall up. I slam the bottle on the counter and turn toward him, allowing my eyes to meet his for the first time tonight. ’’Look, Ben, what do you want to know? Where the baby is? Because I don\ f**king know.’’

His shoulders visibly shake and his eyes widen. I feel a tug at my heart. I\ve never sworn in front of him, but it\s necessary to get my point across that we cannot be together. He continues to stare at me, this time with confusion clear on his face, as I cross the room to the couch, averting my eyes when I can\ stand it any longer.

’’I just want to understand everything a little better.’’

He lowers himself on the couch but keeps a safe distance. My eyes cut to the Huck Finn book on the coffee table with the bookmark sticking out at about the halfway point, and I notice he does the same. I hesitate a moment and then reach to set my phone and my glass down, drawing his attention away from the book. I pull my feet up and twist my head to look at him, resting my chin on my knees. I search deep in my soul and start by asking him a question. ’’Have you ever been the reason someone died?’’

He bows his head and drags his hand down his face as though pained by my question. Silence hangs in the air for one, maybe two long moments. ’’Yes. When my mother had her stroke last year, I blamed myself for her death. I felt responsible.’’

More tears slip from my eyes and I will them to stop. We stare at each other, and the small distance between us suddenly seems like miles. I want him to wrap his arms around me and hold me forever, tell me I made the right choice, the choice that was best for the child with a whole life in front of it, but I shake those thoughts away. That\s not what will happen. It can\ happen. Being together will only end in blame, and I can\ bear that cross. I blink my momentary lapse of misjudgment away. ’’Well, then, you must know it changes your mind-set. You do things you might not normally do. . . . You make decisions that you might have made differently if you had been in a different state of mind.’’

’’Yeah, I know that well. Too well,’’ he answers, dropping his elbows to his knees.

His forthright honesty makes me suck in a shuddering breath. Blowing it out, I keep telling him what I\ve held inside for so long. ’’By the time I had the baby I was in such a bad place I couldn\ imagine raising a child. I didn\ even want to get out of bed. How could I take care of a baby? I told my family I didn\ want the responsibility, but really the pain of what I\d done shadowed any good I thought I had left inside me.’’ My voice cracks on the admission and I have to look away from him.

’’What happened? Tell me what happened,’’ he pleads. His own voice sounds pained.

My mind slips back to that distant place. ’’It was Halloween and you had told me you\d meet me at my apartment around twelve. My brother was in town, so I went to watch him sing. He drove me. He always did. That night my friend Stacy was there and she was after him, but by the end of intermission it was clear he wasn\ interested in her. I wasn\ paying much attention to what she was doing. I was listening to the band. When the night ended I wanted to get home.’’ I look at him pensively. ’’Well, my brother wasn\ ready. I knew he\d be there for a while, so I begged Stacy to take me home. She was upset over him anyway, so I said we\d talk about it in the car. And . . .’’ I take a deep breath and more tears fall from my eyes. ’’I\m not sure what happened, but a semi blew a light and hit us. You see, I made her drive me home so I could see you. I wanted to tell you I was pregnant. And her death was my fault.’’

He shakes his head. ’’No, Bell, it was the driver who blew the light. Not yours.’’

’’So everyone says.’’

He shifts his eyes but leaves his elbows on his knees. At that angle I catch his face in profile. I can see its flaws, the way his nose has a bump on it that looks as if it might have been broken once, his hair so messy that it covers his ears, the stubble on his jawline as though he hasn\ shaved in a few days, but to me those flaws make him even more attractive. I try to stop myself from falling, from faltering as his mind works and he pieces the events of the past together. I can see it happening before me but can\ stop it now that I started it.

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