“Would you freaking sit still?” Crystal nearly shrieked as Dylan turned his head once more, making her miss the cut over his brow that was dripping blood.

He leaned back on the toilet and looked up at her, blood falling over his eye and down his cheek. “Take it easy. It’s just a few scratches and bruises, alright? I’m fine.”

“You are bleeding on the floor,” she pointed out through clenched teeth. “It is not alright.”

He sighed and ran the back of his hand over the cut, ignoring Crystal’s wince. “I’m fine,” he repeated slowly. “Why don’t you-”

“Dill, please. Just let me clean you up.” Her lower lip trembled as she took in the blood and bruises. The day had gone so well up until Dylan had taken her home. A few wrong words and their drunk father had started swinging on his favorite target. She bit down on her lip, trying to keep the tears under control. The last thing he needed was her sobbing all over him.

Sensing she was on the verge of tears, Dylan obediently leaned forward and presented his face to her. “Make it quick, okay?”

Tamar bit the tip of her thumbnail as she listened to the dial tone. She’d hoped he would call her first and explain why he was late getting to her but as the night dragged on without word from him, Tamar couldn’t ignore the nagging twinge at the back of her neck. That uneasy feeling that something was wrong. Still as she waited for Dylan to answer the call, Tamar prayed her worry was baseless and unnecessary.

Crystal looked up when she heard Dylan’s phone vibrating across the table. He jumped on the opportunity.

“Go get that for me, will you?” he asked taking the alcohol soaked napkin from her hand.

She hesitated for a second but nodded and dashed toward the kitchen for the phone, her eye on Dylan all the while. “Hi–um, Dylan’s phone.”

Tamar breathed a sigh of relief   almost immediately at the female voice. “Crystal?” She bit her bottom lip, still strung up from waiting anxiously for Dylan. “It’s Tamar. Is your brother with you?”

“Hey Tamar. Yeah. . . he’s here.” She looked to Dylan for instruction and saw his eyes widen before he muttered a curse and dropped his head. “He’s kinda a mess right now,” she blurted out.

Tamar’s eyes widened and she felt her windpipe tighten. She stood to her feet and walked quickly to the door of her room. “Messed up? Where is he–where are you?”

“At his dorm. Could you. . . could you come over?”

Dylan made himself get to his feet. He’d forgotten that he’d planned to spend time with Tamar after dropping Crystal off. He would apologize and make it up to her but she didn’t need to see this. “Crystal, give me the phone, honey.”

Her voice firmed. “Don’t let him talk you out of coming. Please.”

Tamar shivered at Crystal’s urgency, already heading out the front door. Thankfully, Bekah was still on campus and wasn’t there to stop her. “I’m on my way now. I’ll take the next bus and come straight there.”

“The phone, Crys,” he prompted, finding patience when he was certain he had none left. She handed him the phone then. “Hey pretty girl. Sorry about earlier. Some things came up. You don’t need to rush over here. Everything’s fine. Make it up to you tomorrow?”

Tamar shook her head, moving quickly to the bus stop across the street. “Don’t, Dylan. Please just let me come to you. I already left home and if I go back, I won’t be able to sleep until I see you. I’m coming and that’s final.” She managed to keep her voice steady even though her body trembled at the thought of Dylan being hurt. What happened?

Dylan forced himself not to glare at Crystal. She’d already been through enough. “C’mon pretty girl. Don’t you trust me? I’m still in one piece and I’ll still be in one piece tomorrow,” he added even though he knew he’d already lost.

“If you’re in one piece, then you won’t mind me coming by to see you and Crystal,” Tamar answered, looking up just as a bus pulled up. “I’ll be there within ten minutes.”

He sighed. “Right. We’ll be here.”

“Good. I’ll see you.” Tamar disconnected the call as she stepped into the bus and made her way to an empty seat. Releasing a haggard breath, she prepared herself for the worst as the bus eased off the sidewalk and onto the street leading to the campus.

“She needed to come, Dylan,” Crystal said softly.

“No, Crys. She didn’t.” He dropped his head back in an attempt to stop the nosebleed.

“If you’re going to be serious about her then she needs to know our dad is. . . less than fatherly,” she said pinching his nose for him. “She was going to find out eventually. No relationship should have secrets. You told me that.”

“I’m going to stop giving you advice,” he warned. “Can you clean up the bathroom so she doesn’t have a heart attack?”

She nodded and dropped her hand. “You need to get a band-aid on that before she gets here if you’re trying to clean up,” she added on her way into the bathroom.

Tamar told herself to walk slowly after the second time she tripped on an uneven concrete slab. “Relax,” she bit through clenched teeth, crossing the sidewalk to Dylan’s dormitory. If she showed she was worried, Dylan might not let her stay and she had to. At this moment, she could only hear Crystal’s frantic voice and Dylan’s strained plea for her to stay away. Her pace quickened, taking the stairs as she prayed that Dylan was not as badly hurt as her mind let her believe. Reaching his door, Tamar took half a second to catch her breath before knocking. “Please don’t let it be too bad.”

Crystal glanced over at Dylan who was still mopping up the blood on his face.  Pushing him toward the bathroom, she turned to open the door for Tamar. “Hey,” she tried to say easily and started to give her a hug only to realize her hands were stained with her brother’s blood. She hastily linked them behind her back, swallowing hard. “Come on in.”

Tamar didn’t know what to react to first; the fact that the tensed Crystal was racing to embrace her or that she jerked back as if catching herself. Swallowing hard, Tamar nodded and entered the empty room, her eyes immediately searching for Dylan. “Where is he?” She whispered, turning back to face her. Her breath caught, noticing blood on the right sleeve of the younger girl’s shirt. Eyes jerked back to Crystal’s. “What? Dylan?”

“Give me a few seconds, pretty girl!” Dylan called out.

“He’s okay,” Crystal rushed to reassure both herself and Tamar. “He just needs a few band-aids.”

Tamar shook her head, already following Dylan’s voice to the bathroom door propped slightly open. The sight of the blood stained tissues on the counter and Dylan’s face made her entire body tremble. She pushed open the door and stepped inside, her tongue heavy. She could only stare at him, tears welling up already.

“You’re not real good with–” he looked over and caught the sheen of tears in her eyes. “ Aww, pretty girl, don’t cry. I’m fine. Barely even hurts. I promise.”

She shook her head, blinking back the tears. Crying would do nothing to help Dylan or Crystal. The gash above his eye was still bleeding and the scratches along his cheekbones and upper lip were noticeable darker than the rest of his face. Tamar stepped around him, running water over her hands while she eyed the bloody stack of tissues in the waste basket. They’d attempted to clean up before she came and she swallowed the hardened lump in her throat. Heaving a sigh, she reached for another clean tissue and turned to face him. “Sit down,” she said sternly, staring at the bloody cut over his eye.

He opened his mouth to protest but the look in her eyes made him close his mouth and sit as instructed. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” he mumbled, resting his elbows on his thighs. “You’re gonna make a big deal outta this, aren’t you?”

Tamar didn’t respond, too angry with herself for wanting to hold him and cry. Why would anyone lift a hand to hurt him? She gingerly pressed the tissue against the wound, pursing her lips when he winced. “Hold this. Do you have a first-aid kit?”

“Yeah, you are,” he decided when she didn’t answer. He sighed and slipped his hand underneath hers. “I’ve got a tape kit under the sink. There might be something in there you can use.”

She gave him a puzzled look before sighing. “I’m going to bring you a first-aid kit later.” Waiting until he’d secured his fingers over the stained tissue, she moved to the sink and knelt down. It didn’t take long to fish out the tape kit and she almost groaned, turning the box in her hands. There was not much she could do with it. Tamar rose slowly, scanning the counter before looking back at him. “I’ll need alcohol. Where’s your cologne?”

“Resourceful but not necessary. Crystal has the bottle somewhere.”

“Here,” she offered quietly, leaning against the door frame and handing Tamar the alcohol. Something in her eased having Tamar there, knowing that Dylan’s welfare wasn’t depending solely on her.

Tamar nodded gratefully at Crystal before turning back to Dylan who lowered the stained cloth from his brow. Drenching another clean tissue with the alcohol, she barely hesitated to press it on the open wound. As he winced again, Tamar clenched her teeth to hide her grimace. “Who did this to you?” It was hard masking the anger in her voice.

“I think we should talk about your day instead. Classes were good? Learn anything interesting?” he asked knowing she wouldn’t entertain him but unwilling not to try.

Tamar cut him a look. “I don’t want to talk about my day, Dylan. What happened?”

“Got into a fight,” he answered sheepishly.

She forced out a breath impatiently. “Well yes, Dylan. I know that.” She dabbed at the wound, relieved that the bleeding was ebbing slowly. “Who was the other guy? He better look worse than you do right now.” Pulling off the stained cloth, she reached for another clean wipe and doused it with more alcohol.

“Told you she was violent.” Knowing he couldn’t put it off forever, he sobered and drew in a deep breath. “The other guy was my father.”

Tamar’s hand stilled over his eye and her heart stopped for a brief moment. His father? Her hand slowly lowered from his face and she gaped at him in disbelief, knowing she’d obviously hard wrong. “Who?” she croaked out.

“You heard it right the first time. Dear old dad decided to take a few swings for old times’ sake. Not a big deal. Are you done with that? It stings.”

Crystal made a soft sound in the back of her throat and turned away.

Tamar pulled in her slack jaw and nodded. “Just need to put a tissue and some tape on it. I’ll get you bandages later.” She squeezed the soiled tissue, her blood curdling as she allowed herself to quickly process what Dylan just said. By the curt way he responded, it was obvious that this wasn’t the first time and that alone broke her heart.

To keep from prodding him further, Tamar focused on dressing his wound. “Sorry,” she whispered, careful to keep her fingers light and steady over his face.

“No need to apologize. I might need to do this more often just to get you to play nurse. You’re pretty good at it. When you concentrate you get this little wrinkle right here,” he said lightly tracing a finger above her eyebrows. “Cute.”

She gave him a long-suffering look as if trying to figure out what to do with him. Then quietly, Tamar knelt in front of him and as carefully as she could, wrapped her arms around his waist. Ignoring the toilet seat poking at her hips, she leaned into him and pressed her cheek against his chest.

Air caught in his throat and he had to cough to relieve the tightening in his chest. “Tamar, get up. We can go sit in the room or something.” Even as he said it, his arms slipped around her waist to hold her closer. Even Crystal gave him space after a fight. Never had anyone thought to comfort him like this and he wasn’t sure what to do with it.

She shook her head, content with holding him here despite the cold tile pushing at her knees. The tight feeling in her chest didn’t ease up until his arms wrapped around her and she blinked back tears, frustrated that she couldn’t do anything else for him. “I wish I could do more than dress your wounds and give you a hug.” she whispered against his chest, breathing him in. Her arms tightened around Dylan.

“That’s more than enough. More than enough,” he told her gruffly, finally letting the stress of the day slide away.

“No it’s not but it’ll have to do for now.” Tamar shivered, realizing that she’d felt slighted waiting for him, busy dollying herself while he fought off his father’s blows. She closed her eyes tightly and held him tightly.

He winced, having taken more than one body blow but he’d take another before he told Tamar she was holding him too tightly. Her affection, her comfort was more than worth the pain. He closed his eyes to savor it, pushing past the twinge of discomfort.

At his silence, Tamar eased back to peer up at him. Her heart squeezed painfully, taking in the darkening bruises and she had to refrain from caressing his cheek. “I want you both to come home with me.” She pushed up to her feet, staring at him with a straight face. Fear gripped her at the thought of leaving both of them here while Dylan’s dangerous father lurked out at night. “Besides, you were supposed to sleep over tonight anyway,” she added quickly and her brows lifted, daring him to  protest or reject her offer.


“That’s a great idea, Tamar,” Crystal interrupted returning to the bathroom and looking straight at Dylan. “I already have a bag in the car and it won’t take Dylan long to pack.”

“Do I have a choice?” Dylan asked leaning back, trying to ignore the stiffness already settling in.

“Not if I can help it,” Tamar answered easily, giving Crystal a grateful smile over her shoulder. “Great. We have one extra bedroom, so you two can be comfortable.”

“I’ll pack–”

“I can pack my own things, Crystal.” Dylan sighed and pushed himself off of the toilet. “Since you two have clearly decided to be on the same team tonight.”

Tamar rolled her eyes and quietly watched morosely as Dylan trudged away from her. His movements were stilted and stiff, as if there was more to his injuries than the bruises and cuts on his face. She sighed heavily. Once they were alone, she aimed to treat all his wounds and find out why he fought with his father.

“Thank you for coming,” Crystal said softly. “I can only do so much and he gets so. He’ll shut you out to protect you.”

She smiled wearily at Dylan’s sister, her eyes scanning the girl’s face for any sign of injury. “It’s understandable… We all do that with those we care about.” Dragging her gaze back to the door of Dylan’s room, she sighed and turned back to Crystal. “What happened?” she asked in a gentle voice, hoping the girl would confide with her.

<<Chapter 24 || Chapter 26>>