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“Ridiculous,” Blaze mutters. “We’re not even fucking Catholic.”
I watch in horror as his father walks up to the simple casket and pours golden liquid on the small spray of flowers. His grandmother gasps when he pulls what looks like a burnt spoon and hypodermic needle from his pocket and lays them both on top. It’s the only emotion she’s shown since the service started.
Blaze tenses against me, but doesn’t make a move toward his father. I stare in horror as his father falls to his knees and wails about losing the love of his life. His sunken cheeks and hollow eyes don’t even dampen with tears as he howls to no one in particular, shouting that his world has come to an end.
“He’s probably the one who loaded the syringe that ended her life,” Blaze spits out, his body coiled with such rage, I’m afraid he’s going to attack his grieving dad.
I gasp, not knowing whether to keep looking on or pull him away from the cemetery. It’s the first time he’s confided exactly how she died. I wanted to ask, if only to help find a way to alleviate the pain somehow, but didn’t want to press the issue.
“We should go,” he mutters, reading my mind.
I nod and start toward his truck, unable to formulate words. He begged me not to judge him when I met his family, and I now understand why he felt the need to warn me against what I was going to see. But I don’t want to run from him. In fact, I want to hold on to him tighter than ever before. I know the last thing he wants is the pity I can’t help but feel for him, so I keep my mouth closed, only stopping our trek to the truck to scrape a clump of mud that lodged itself on the heel of my boot.
“Thomas!” a voice rings out behind us.
“Fuck,” he mutters, the tension multiplying in his body.
I turn with him, refusing to release his hand. He doesn’t say a word, just stands still as his grandmother closes the distance between us.
Her distaste and disapproval of me is apparent in the way she looks me up and down, her nose scrunching like she smells something fowl. I want to curl inside myself, but Blaze releases my hand and wraps his arm around my shoulder in defiance.
“The church is hosting a lunch at my house,” she says.
“I didn’t think I’d be invited,” he says, no emotion in his voice.
“You’re not,” she agrees. “I wanted to make sure you knew you weren’t welcome in my home.”
He nods in acknowledgement, already expecting this from her.
“Or any point in the future,” she presses. “Your mother’s burial is the final tie that connects us.”
“The fuck?” I mutter before I can stop myself.
“Classy,” she mumbles before walking away.
I stare at her back, aghast at her words, behavior, and lack of grief during such a horrific time.
“I can’t believe—”
“Not now,” he pleads, turning us back to the truck.
He holds the door open for me, but doesn’t say another word as he climbs in to the driver’s side and drives out of the cemetery. Halfway back to campus, he reaches for me, pulling me into the side of his body. I begin to cry, but hang my head in shame because there are no tears marring his beautiful face. I don’t want him to read my emotions as misplaced, but I can’t hold them back any longer.
Sobs wrack my body as I lean my head against his chest, tears dripping and staining his khaki pants as we drive through town. He swallows roughly several times, but doesn’t give a voice to his own pain. They fell in a torrent last night, but I know the liquor allowed the pain to escape, and he’s too ashamed to let that happen again. I hate that he can’t grieve around me without the aid of alcohol. I don’t want to think about the pain he’ll go through—the bad decisions he’ll make when his emotions take over again and he’s alone with nothing but a bottle of Maker’s Mark to ease his discomfort.
I wipe my eyes with the sleeve of my jacket as he pulls the truck into the empty parking lot of a small chain restaurant.
“You hungry?” He doesn’t make eye contact with me, probably ashamed of how I’m acting, mistaking my tears for grief at his loss rather my own inevitable loss of him.
I shake my head, unable to face anyone right now. I must look like a hobo after crying so hard for the last twenty minutes. My face sticky from my tears, I know I’ve wiped all my makeup away.
“You need to eat. It’s late afternoon and we didn’t eat anything when we woke up.”
Unable to refuse him, especially today, I wipe my eyes one last time and flip down the visor, accessing the mirror to get a quick glance at myself. Red, swollen eyes stare back at me, empty but somehow full of staggering grief at the same time.
“Hey,” he says, tucking a finger under my chin and directing my gaze to him. “You’re beautiful. I’m so fucking lucky to have you on my arm.”
“I love you,” I whisper.
He shakes his head and squeezes his eyes tight, rejecting my words.
My lip quivers again, but I can’t regret the truth that slipped out. The urge to say them before we destroy each other is too great. He needs to know how I feel before he breaks my heart. I could feel him pulling away from me the second we climbed inside the cab of this truck and I refuse to make it easy on him.
“I do,” I insist.
“You pity me. You want me to feel better, that’s it.” I shake my head, but he can’t see since his eyes are still closed. A tear rolls down the left side of his face and my heart clenches at how broken he is. The desire to kiss it away barrels to the forefront of my mind, but I tamp it down as his eyes pop open, bloodshot and so void of emotion.
“No one can love me.” He swallows, shaking his head. “You can’t love me, Fallyn. I’ll hurt you. I’ll ruin every amazing thing about you.”
The sense of self-preservation I felt the first time I saw him at the party is even stronger today. My gut wills me to cut my losses and leave, but my heart clenches at the thought of walking away from him. I know he’s going to shred every ounce of faith I have in humanity, but for now, I love him and want to feel every lick of the raging fire until it consumes me. I’ll worry about the dusty embers I’ll become when I begin to spread across the desert, propelled into nothingness on the wind.
They say the only way to go from there is up, but what is “up” when you’re born into someone else’s rock bottom?
At ten, football became my first love. It’s what got me out of the house away from my self-destructive family. My love for football landed me at Las Vegas University with a full ride scholarship, and the orange on my jersey was my favorite color…until my eyes landed on the red dress Fallyn wore the night we met.
At twenty-one, I jumped off the cliff into the unknown the second Fallyn McIntyre danced in my arms at a party. I had the greatest girl in the world and the opportunity to play college ball every Saturday. My rock bottom was looking up, thanks to my two first loves.
Parties, sex, and football—life was perfect. But one drink too many, and my world came crashing down. When I chose pills over my second love, my head told me it was the best decision I ever made. The pills keep me warm and protect me from the distance Fallyn created. Percs don’t judge me. They make me feel alive.
They say the best things come in threes, but one leads to a stable future, one is my salvation, and the other drags me to hell—a hell I’d willingly burn in for eternity…if it weren’t for my second love.
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