9 | Daxson's Secret

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Something bad had happened to Jacie and Daxson's father

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Something bad had happened to Jacie and Daxson's father. The pain on his face and in his voice made that apparent. Daxson felt responsible and carried the guilt with him. I knew how it felt to have it eat at you. It takes a little piece of you everyday, until one day there won't be anything left.

"You can't live with that guilt, Dax." My fingers curled around his hand as the tears stained his cheeks.

He shook his head. "But I do. I live with it every single day. There's nothing I can do to ever bring them back." His eyes fell to the pattern on the quilt beneath us.

I sighed and shifted closer to him. "I live with guilt every day too. It can be ugly."

Daxson's golden eyes rose to my face. "Your mother?"

My shoulders rose as I inhaled a deep breath. "Mainly. It's nothing in comparison to your situation, but she makes me feel like I'll never be good enough for her. It doesn't matter how hard I try to be her perfect little girl because there will always be another beauty pageant to win, another person to impress, or another pound to lose." I studied Daxson's face.

His presence comforted me. I didn't feel like I had to hide anymore. He was just as vulnerable as me.

"That's why you struggled to eat at Troy's that day. It all makes sense now."

I nodded. "I've been sick for three years now." My fingers rose to trace along my lips. "Throwing up has wreaked havoc on my body. If I go much longer, I could lose my teeth or get ulcers along my throat. I know it's hurting me, but it takes away the guilt. It's my escape."

"You know, you don't have to be the perfect daughter. You shouldn't feel guilty for being yourself." Daxson's slender fingers rubbed along the top of my hand.

"Easier said than done. You don't know my mother. I do it for Caleb. I play the part because he needs me too. If I'm perfect, he doesn't have to be." I gave Daxson a weak smile.

Daxson's eyes darkened. "I understand where you're coming from. I play a part too. My love for football started because of my dad. We'd spend hours out in the yard back home throwing the ball. It didn't matter if I had school the next day. We'd be out in the yard together until three in the morning. He taught me hard work and dedication, which led me to a spot on the high school football team, and eventually, to my scholarship with the Tide." He fought another round of tears. "After he passed, I was broken. I didn't know what to do other than continue to play that part for my mother and my siblings. I was the football star from a small town in Mississippi with enough talent to carry me to a National Championship, and the NFL. I'm going to be the provider for my family. I just wish my dad could be here to see me now. I think he'd be so proud."

I lifted my hand to place it against Daxson's cheek. "He's still proud of you. He might not be physically here, but he's in here." I dropped my hand to touch his strong chest.

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