I sit up in bed alert. I’m sweating, and my breathing comes in quick, short gasps. My long, thick curls stick to my neck, and I can still feel his large hands covering my mouth preventing me from breathing.
The outside lamp casts an orange glow through the blinds into the dark room. I stare at the shadows around me. I put my head in my hands and wait for the fear to pass, and I’m afraid. Afraid of what hides in the dark, what always hides in the dark. Secrets.
Matt, my twin brother, snores in the next room. The walls pop where the house settles in the night, and I jump. An owl hoots amidst the night songs of the crickets, and a twig snaps under the foot of someone outside. My heart rate accelerates, and its boom-boom-boom echoes loudly in my ears.
I want to listen closely to make sure that I’m not imagining the footsteps, but I can’t hear anything other than my heart and heavy breathing. Matt’s snoring breaks through the symphony of my fear playing in my ears. I take a deep breath and mentally count to ten. It’s something Dr. Finnegan tells me will help when I’m upset. My breathing calms and so does my racing heart.
I strain my ears to hear. There are more footsteps. He’s here. He’s coming after me like he said he would.
I consider waking up my brother or even my aunt and uncle, but I don’t know what I would tell them. The truth is out of the question, and I don’t want to wake them at three in the morning when they have school and work in just a few hours. I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around them. I have to do something. I have to make sure that he doesn’t kill me.
I grab my cell phone off the nightstand and dial a number I haven’t called in almost a year.
“Hello,” Christian answers.
“I need you.”
“Alex?” He pauses. “What’re you doing calling me in the middle of the night?” His speech is still somewhat slurred from sleep, but he sounds angry.
“I need you.” I close my eyes to keep the tears at bay.
“Can’t Matt help?”
“I don’t know.”
“This is crazy. We have school in a few hours.”
“I think there’s someone in the yard.”
“What?” He sounds more alert now.
“I heard someone walking in the front yard.”
“You sure it wasn’t just an animal?”
He pauses, but I hear more movement on his end. I feel bad for waking him, but he’s always been there for me.
“I’ll be there soon,” Christian says, and the phone beeps. I stare at it and listen to my surroundings. I sit still and hold my breath, eyes still on my phone. The footsteps are closer to my room now.
I slide out of bed, pull my curls back into a ponytail, walk to the door, and quietly open it. The hinges on the wooden door squeak, as I pull it open. I flinch hoping I haven’t woken anyone. Matt snores in the room next to me, and no one comes rushing down the hallway to see what’s going on. I manage to slide through the door without making any further noises. I feel my way along the hallway in the dark using my cell phone as a light to guide me until I’m past everyone’s rooms.
As I wait at the door for Christian, I want to look out the peep hole, but I’m afraid of who I’ll see. That’s when it hits me. I just sent Christian to check and see if there’s a murderer in my front yard.
Tires crunch on some loose gravel in the driveway. I’m shaking. The engine’s cut, and I hear a door open and shut. I finally peek out the peep hole, and in the dim light of the street lamp, I see Christian walking onto the porch.
I hurriedly open the door to keep from making any unnecessary noise. He steps in, and I shut and lock the door quietly behind him. I wrap my arms around him, and after a minute, he holds me back. I melt into his embrace like I used to and cry.
“It was a dog.” His body is stiff against mine.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper into his chest.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
He pushes me away from him. With tears still in my eyes, I grab his hand and lead him into the den to our left.
Christian pulls away from me, and I feel the cold, hard sting of rejection. He walks to the tan sofa and takes a seat. I follow his lead and sit beside him. I turn so I’m facing him and tuck my legs underneath me.
His gaze stays on the brick fireplace straight ahead. I stare at him hoping it won’t anger him any further. He wears a pair of blue plaid pajama pants and a wrinkled Bakersville High Crows t-shirt. His brown hair makes a kind of faux-hawk from where he’s tossed and turned in his sleep, and I have to admit that I still find him extremely attractive.
He turns his hazel eyes on me. They’re heavy with sleep and irritation. I try to keep the tears from escaping my eyes as I think of how much he must hate me.
“What’s going on?” he asks.
I flinch and say, “I can’t tell you.”
“Seriously? You drag me out of bed over a stupid dog and you won’t even give me a decent answer?”
He raises his voice, and I flinch again, hoping no one else in the house hears him. He shakes his head and stands. I grab his hand and much to my surprise, he stops. Without looking at me, he asks, “What do you want from me, Alexia?”
“I just need you right now.”
He turns back to face me. His eyebrows are furrowed and his lips pursed. He pulls his hand away but takes a seat beside me anyway. Maybe that’s promising. I don’t want him to leave. I need him, but it’s my fault I don’t have him.
Tears blur my vision again, and I feel so weak, like a stupid damsel in distress. I don’t want to be the girl who cries at the drop of a hat and needs a man to save her.
The wind howls around the house, and I jump. I’m such a wuss. I cover my eyes with my hands and hope that will keep the tears from flowing again, but Christian takes ahold of my hand and gently tugs on it. We fall into our old routine. I move closer to him, and he wraps his arms around me. I rest my head on his shoulder and despite my attempts of preventing it, cry. He rests his head against mine and gently rubs my back. He smells like fresh linen, and I try not to think about the good memories we’ve had.
“It’s okay,” he whispers.
It isn’t going to be okay. My hard exterior is crumbling. I’ve done so well at keeping it all intact. What’s happening to me?
“You know you can tell me anything,” he whispers, and for a minute, I actually believe he still cares.
“This is about your parents, isn’t it?”
I can’t tell him the truth.
“Don’t want to talk about it then.”
“No,” I whisper.
“Yeah.” I need to talk about it, but I can’t risk anyone else finding out. I’m frustrated with myself. I know he thinks I don’t trust him, but that isn’t true. If I could trust anyone, it would be him.
Christian pulls me closer to him, and I feel safe and protected. We fall silent, and after a while rearrange ourselves on the couch. He still has his arm wrapped around me, and I rest my head on his shoulder.
I look at the large brown clock hanging on the wall above the mantle. We only have two hours before we need to get up and dress for school, but I don’t mention that to him. I want to be selfish for once. I want him to hold me like he used to.