Chapter 9

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November 2014

Half an hour later my front door flies open and Caroline walks in without knocking. She finds me curled up on the couch deep in thought and she eases herself down next to me. Looking at my expression, she knows to ask. 

"Just how much trouble am I in?" She looks worried, and she should be. I've been sitting here this whole time trying to figure out what to say to her. Trying to sort out what Caroline is actually culpable for, and how much blame she actually shoulders? 

"Depends," I answer calmly, "how long have you known?"  

"About Derrick?" She checks to see if she's right as I nod. What else would I be talking about? Or is she already keeping other secrets from me? She takes a deep breath; she's prepared herself for this question. "I can't remember; I've just kind of always known." 

"And you never told me?" My nostrils flare with anger. 

"He's my brother Ellie, and he only officially told me last year." 

"Don't you realize what this means?" I can feel myself get angrier. My voice rises as Caroline's eyes grow wide. "If Derrick is gay, that means that most likely William, and Harrison, and Raymond, and even Steven they were all gay too! Don't you understand how this changes things?" 

"Yes, but-" 

"What's wrong with you Caroline? Why didn't you ever say anything?" I stop my tirade long enough to notice that she's cowering in the corner of the couch. I pull back my assault on her. 

"It wasn't my secret to tell," she moans. Immediately I start to feel guilty for laying it all onto her, for making her take the fall for eight other people who've kept secrets from me in each lifetime. I take a breath and push down my simmering misgivings. 

"You're right, it wasn't. I'm sorry I yelled at you." 

"Now that you know, I suppose you've said no to his idiotic plan." She looks at me expectantly. I cast my eyes down and my hands and don't answer her. Caroline's mouth drops open as she shakes her head in horror. "Oh no, Ellie! You can't! You'd be doing it all over again!" She grabs my arm looking at me like I'm insane. What am I supposed to tell her? She's right. 

"He says he needs me," I say simply. But it's not that simple and she knows it. Derrick needing me is going to cause my life to fall into a tailspin again. Caroline looks furiously at me. It's such a different reaction than I've ever experienced with her. Mostly in the past she's begged me to stay with him but now she's mad at me for going along with his ridiculous scheme. Interesting how some things change. Of course Caroline doesn't know all the facts about the past, like what could happen to Derrick if I say no. I don't think she could handle knowing. 

"You aren't the only one who this affects Ellie," she reminds me. "If you die, apparently I don't have long left either. And it's not just me Ellie! My brother, my parents, Max, even Jared, you're playing with all our futures too." It's like a slap across the face. The enormity of the responsibility I have. 

"What do you expect me to do?" I snap in a whisper. "Have you seen your brother? He's losing it Caroline! I've never seen him this bad off before." That's not true. I have, one time, when I said no. 

"Tell him to ask someone else." 

"Really?" Sometimes Caroline's nativity floors me. "You know how this place is. Do you think someone else will keep his secret or jump at the chance to expose him? Besides, it's not a done deal; I told Derrick that I'm not doing anything without talking to Jared first." She begins to laugh, a drastic change from her foul mood just minutes ago. "What?" I feel defensive.  

"You're going to ask Jared?" She almost can't get the words out she finds them so hilarious. "Ellie you've known him for a month! You haven't even slept with him-" She stops noticing a subtle change in my face. Suddenly she's bursting at the seams, not quite believing the news. "Eleanor Blackwell you little slut!" She grabs my arm. "You slept with him! When?" She demands more information to satisfy her salacious appetite. 

"Last night," I murmur suddenly shy, which is ridiculous because this is Caroline after all. She's the one person who I can talk about this with. 

"And now you're going to ask him if you can pretend to be Derrick's girlfriend?" I nod. "Oh Ellie!" She looks at me like I'm hopeless. "Are you sure you're two hundred years older than me? Because that's the worst idea ever!" She starts laughing at me again and even though I'm slapping her arm, I can't help join her. She's right, it is ridiculous. "He's going to say no," Caroline predicts. Catching my breath, I just shrug my shoulders. Maybe, but at least I'm not the one making the choice this time. Fate rests in somebody else's hands, not mine.  

"Caroline, you never said anything about your father and Derrick before." I point this out delicately, knowing from experience how personal this kind of secret can be. Caroline becomes awash with guilt. "Why didn't you talk to me? You know out of everyone I'd understand." 

"It's never been about me," she confides, "just Derrick. I've always felt so torn up about it, incredibly sorry for Derrick, yet incredibly thankful that it wasn't me on the receiving end of my father's wrath." She whispers this confession. "It's just something that's so fucked up about my family. My mother lavishes love onto Derrick and despises me, and then there's my father, lashing out at him and coddling me like a princess. I think he's always suspected Derrick was gay but doesn't know for sure, and Derrick certainly isn't admitting anything to him." She looks disgusted by her own family.  

"What about your mother?"  

"Does she know? I'm not sure, but I've always suspected that she does. The way she protects him and shields him from my father, she certainly wouldn't do that for me. It's all Derrick and I know Ellie." She looks at my face and must see something there because she sighs. "Sounds like it's all my family has ever known." She's right. Thinking about all of them in the past, they've always had this dynamic.  

"I feel like this is some way I can help." Because, honestly what power do I have to do anything else against the Allston's and keep Derrick safe? Caroline looks gloomy, like she hasn't settled on the idea at all.  

"I don't like it," she admits, as if it isn't written all over her face. 

"Let's not argue about it now. Nothing's been decided yet, besides I need to find Jared and I need you to help me."

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