Posts tagged “grief

Chasing Truth: Chapter 25

Posted on 12/12/2014

sunny-sky_zps4b29cbdc

“If I wanted you to walk away and never come back, you’d do that?” Mari asked Blake, ignoring the tightening of her stomach.

She couldn’t believe it. If what he was saying was true, he wanted her with him all along and yet he was willing to walk away? Both of their eyes were fixed on the water rather than each other. She could see Blake’s shoulders tense at the question and he inhaled before he forced the air back out through his lips.

“If that’s what you want, I’ll respect it.”

She clenched a handful of sand before she let the grains slip through her fingers. “But it’s not what you want?”

Blake cursed under his breath. “No, Marielle. It’s not what I want, but this is your choice. You were too young to make it then. I’ll let you make it now.”

Mari drew her knees up into her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I don’t know you and up until a few days ago, I didn’t think I would ever even have the opportunity to get to know you. Can we give it a little bit of time before I make that kind of decision?”

“We can do that.”

Neither spoke again. Only the sound of rushing waves and seagulls overhead broke the silence. Mari rested her chin on her knees. She hesitated, turning his words over in her head. It was her choice. She couldn’t even begin to make one without learning more about the man beside her.

“She didn’t talk about you much. Of course I was little when she died, but when I asked questions she would always say that you were a good man. That you loved me.”

His eyes went unfocused and there was a tinge of sadness to his smile. “I didn’t deserve her, but the time I had with her were the best times of my life. You couldn’t be with her and not enjoy life. She made things fun. There were times I thought I would die laughing from her jokes and antics. She brought happiness into a room just by walking into it. Not having you two with me was hard.”

Tears welled up in Mari’s eyes. This was what she’d missed not having him. “You must have a million stories about her.”

He seemed to come back to himself as he shifted in the sand to cross his ankles. His smile didn’t fade. “A million, maybe more.” He looked to her. “And I’m sure you have just as many.”

She nodded. Over the years she’d fought hard to hold onto every memory of her mother she could. She had a journal filled with them.

“Was she ever Miranda Mason?”

The question earned her a genuine smile. “She was my wife when she died but only four, now five, people know that. I protected her just as I protected you.”

“I bet she was gorgeous.”

“The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. I kept pictures. I’ll make sure they get to you.”

“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

“Is her grave close?”

The soft-spoken question was the last she expected. She chewed the corner of her bottom lip, nodding. “It’s not too far.”

“Will you take me?”

“Yeah,” she whispered.

He got back to his feet and extended his hand. She wiped her hands on her jeans, brushing off the sand before she tentatively placed her hand in his. He pulled her to her feet. With a squeeze so quick she couldn’t be sure she didn’t imagine it, he let her hand go and gestured before him.

“Lead the way.”

They climbed up the slope of the shore back toward the road. Mari waved to Janey who was jogging after her daughter running full out for the water. She didn’t miss the curious look Janey shot Blake’s way either. It wouldn’t be long before people were speculating on his identity.

“That’s Janey,” she murmured. “She owns one of the cafés in town. Don’t stop or we won’t leave the beach.”

“She talks a lot?”

“She owns a café everybody loves because she’s friendly and she cares. So yeah, she’s chatty.”

He laughed, but listened to her advice and kept going until they left the sand to cross the road.

“Miranda loved this place, the people. She was happy to get the chance to raise you here.”

“I know. She taught me all about what makes this place so special. I left for school, but this is home. It always will be.”

“Sometimes you’re like her clone when you talk.”

She smiled,  but focused on the trail ahead of her. There were very few times in the last several years Mari had walked the path to the hill with someone else. Raoul went with her several times as a child and Julia and Leilani accompanied her a time or two but as she grew older, she made the trip alone. She couldn’t pinpoint why, but walking up the familiar path with Blake a step behind her sent nerves dancing in her stomach.

She hesitated when they topped the hill and searched for the right thing to say. Blake didn’t need words. He was already crossing the grass between them and the grave. He didn’t speak, just stared at the headstone.

“I can give you a few minutes,” she offered quietly.

“No. Stay.”

That was it. He said nothing else. Mari locked her fingers together and twisted them as she watched him. Several minutes passed and he did nothing but rest his hand on the headstone.

“She liked the view,” Mari finally said. “We used to come up here a lot. Sometimes she’d let me help pack lunch and we’d eat. Other times we just came up here and played. No matter what though, she’d always just sit here for a while and look out at the water. She always said it was like being on top of the world. I didn’t realize when she died how out of the norm it was for her to be buried here, but no one argued so I got what I wanted. What I thought she would’ve wanted.”

“You were close.”

“She was my best friend besides Jules and Leilani. We did everything together.”

“Knowing you had that helps. Knowing she had that. She was so excited when she got pregnant and when you were born you were everything to her. It’s good she never lost that.”

Mari found herself giving voice to something she hadn’t in years. “I miss her,” she whispered. “Raoul was great and Allie when she came. They weren’t her though. It’s just this hole nobody can fill I learned to act like didn’t exist.”

He took a step toward her before he caught himself. He cleared his throat. “Do you talk about her?”

She shook her head. “At first, but it seemed like it only made Raoul sad so it got to  the pointwhere I only talked about her with Jules and Leilani occasionally.”

His jaw ticked.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Mari said quickly. “He never asked me to stop. I just didn’t want to make him sad. I came out here and talked to her instead. He gave me everything they could salvage and just about everything he had of her at his place became mine. Coming out here is what kept her close for me though. Maybe because we had so many memories here.”

His expression cleared as he rested a hand on the headstone again. “I can’t go back and fix that for you but if you ever want to talk about her, I’m listening.”

She nodded and looked back over the hill.

“How long are you staying?”

“Two or three days at the most. At least this first time.”

Mari squeezed the nape of her neck. If today was any indication, two or three days spent with Blake were bound to be filled with awkward moments, but they had to start somewhere. It was more time than she’d expected anyway. She wanted to get to know him and not just because she had questions.

“Okay. I think that’s good. It’s somewhere to start.”

“I want to come out here again while I’m here.”

“Okay.”

“Want to head back so we can show Raoul I didn’t run away with you?”

That earned him a small smile. “That might be a good idea.”

When they wound back down the path and up to the house together the front door was open and Gage stood on the porch. His arms were folded across his chest as he stared Tyler down. Mari inhaled deeply.

“That’s the Tyler boy I’ve been hearing about?” Blake asked.

“Yeah, that’d be him.”

She’d expected to have the entire day with Blake first. Still Tyler had been true to his word. He’d given her the first meeting alone. Now it was time to introduce Blake to her boyfriend.

<< Chapter 24 || Chapter 26 >>

Her Champion: Chapter 25

Posted on 06/08/2013

campusdorm

“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.

“Tamar–”

“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>>

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