Author A. Peek

WALKING THE FINE LINE BETWEEN REALITY AND FANTASY

Based on Characters from:

Chapter 1

They didn’t know I was there. I heard every word and watched every tear slip down their faces as the casket lowered into the ground. No doubt Shay helped Kane pick out the outfit which covered my temple. A temple to which a beating heart no longer drummed a tune of life.

Shay held my baby girl, Kalila, as her pain poured down on her like a summer shower. Maybe I left them too soon. Not that it matters now, but I would never be in the running for the mother of the year award.

I never wanted them to mourn over me. Their tears should have been saved for someone worthy. I loved them. It’s the reason I had to depart from their lives. I’ve caused enough hurt, and they all deserved better. I only hoped the good memories trampled over the bad ones. The thing about hope though, it can disappoint you over and over.

I stayed by their side all day as the sorrow thickened. Shay tried to put on a strong face as she made the all-time cliché casserole. Casserole?! Why do people think it is the dish which cures the anger and sadness twisting around a person who has lost someone they cherished? It’s a crock of shit if you ask me.

Drew wrapped his arms around Shay, steadied her shaking hand. My best friend and her white knight an undeniable match of hearts. Drew is the only one who would understand why I did what I did. He has his own sins to answer for and a promise to keep. Kane, my sweet screwed up man who lit up my life, sat with a picture in one hand and a drink in the other. He rubbed his thumb across the picture of us and I knelt beside the chair. For a brief second, I believed he thought I was there. I believed he felt my hand on his arm, but it was crazy of me to think he would even want my touch.

I made a fool of him and no number of apologies would ever make up for it. The detective who loved a criminal and the child which reminds him of her. Sounds like an episode fit for investigation discovery network. I loved him more than he will ever know. The thing was, we were never meant to be. I would never fit the mold Kane needed.

Is it even possible to produce a tear in death?

I swore wetness slid down my face as I stood over Kalila’s crib. I brushed my finger across her cheek as she slept. I will always be her mother and I knew her life will be better without me guiding her through it until I realized it wasn’t. A child who has never known her mother will always ache to fill the hole in her heart. What have I done?

In life we imagine what death is like. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Maybe it’s different for everyone, but I wasn’t in either place. Stuck in the in between is where I am. A place for those lost, unable to cross over, or waiting their final verdict.

I got to see my baby sister, Mariella. I lost her in life when I was barely an adult. They say when you take your own life, it’s a sin and you will never get your wings. Screw those people because my sister looked beautiful with her wings. She visited me when I first got to the in between. We had a moment to speak, and I told her I carried the guilt every day for not doing a better job in protecting her. She hugged me, looked me straight in the eyes.

“My mind was lost and no one could have saved me. Forgive yourself for I never blamed you.”

It was so long since I had heard her voice and a whirlpool of emotions crept up to the surface. Mariella was always an angel and as she spread her wings, it confirmed the beauty and mystery of it all. From time to time, they allow her to visit me and I don’t take one second of those moments for granted.

What will my verdict be? Is my punishment to watch the world I left to crumble from the things I have done?

Chapter 2

It’s funny, when I was alive I never had time. Now, time doesn’t exist. I wonder every day what it would be like if I had done things differently. I imagined giving Kalila a morning hug right before I walked her to school. Then I cheered her on as she stood her ground disputing issues on the debate team. Even held her as she let the tears roll down her face from her first heartbreak. No, physically I couldn’t do those things.

I don’t know what’s worse, not being able to see those I love or seeing every moment knowing I am quickly fading from their hearts?

The more I watched Kalila grow, the less I felt she needed me. Then it hit me, the sides I left behind collided. It’s not a secret how many messed up shitty people are in the world, but to my daughter, the truth about me was. Then my mistakes surfaced and the floodgates to the person I became opened with a vicious wave.

A part of me was afraid to be a mother to Kalila, so I directed my energy to another little girl. Kalila was only a baby when I struck up a plan for Michelle. Michelle never knew how corrupt her parents were and no child should ever know such things. She was ten years old and never shed a tear as shock wore off. I admired Michelle for her strength, especially as she watched her family get murdered. As she listened to the screams. I stayed with her for a while, told her they will fear her.

I wouldn’t blame anyone if they called me a stone-cold bitch for leaving Michelle in the hands of a man they called “the fixer”. I saw it in his eyes, the manipulative asshole he was and I realized because we did not differ from each other. Once you get a taste of crime, you don’t want any other flavor and I knew Michelle had it in her to rule it all. My mistake was, I didn’t think my flesh and blood would meet my creation. No, I’m lying. I planned for it. I knew one day they would meet and for some sick reason I figured it would be a comfort to my soul. I was wrong.

Oh, Michelle was good, damn near better than me. She weaseled her way in like a virus and planted her seed into Kalila’s inquisitive mind. Took her for a ride while exposing everything I was. Dammit, how screwed up am I to be proud of the person Michelle developed into?

I had to bite my lip and contain myself as I watched the walls crumble. My heart broke all over again as Kalila read every word of my confession. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I felt her hatred towards me as clarity grew. I even started to hate myself. I know I can’t take anything back or fix what I broke for either of them. I also know they will be stronger for it.

They, the brothers and their father, made me into this person I dislike and I can’t use the excuse of having no choice anymore. We always have a choice. I just made the wrong one.

Now, my demons follow me.

Chapter 3

We are drilled with this belief that those who commit unforgivable sins are sent into the midst of Satan’s kingdom to face an eternity of agonizing punishment on a one-way, no layover ticket. The thing is, who determines what is forgivable or unforgivable? Is it the boss man or lady who rules the mystical clouds above or is it some unknown force here in the in between whom tests us with these obstacles from the past?

The in between isn’t a place to find peace. No, it’s a broke down version of a famous coffee shop in the center of copycat reality. One where the above and below scout souls as if they are keeping score. A brutal gang war between the dark wings versus the light wings. Yeah, guess even in the death those need to prove themselves top dog. In life, our bodies are a shell to our soul. In death, our soul is unprotected and if you read between the lines, our souls are free for the taking. What is the catch to this game of afterlife?

Maybe it is not defeating our demons, but needing them. As we have a window into the gates of life, we also need a link to why we welcomed death.

I was wandering around, which I do often since sleep and nourishments are things for the living, and came across a familiar face. We appear as the age we died and there he was, the same smug piece of shit Marcus Mancini. The man who thinks his crown jewels is the comparison to an expensive handbag every woman should have. Oh, sure, he’s easy on the eyes and all. It’s how he gets you. A snake in the grass he is. Marcus was only the half to a whole which made me a miserable, deadly bitch.

The worse part of the in between, you can sense those it connects you to as you get closer and Marcus spotted me like a fucking dog in heat. You never forget the bad shit people put you through.

“Little Vixen.”

I despised the nickname rolling across Marcus’s tongue with ease. Like we were old friends, and this was a joyful reunion.

“Marcus. Figured you would be on the train down under by now.”

He tried to touch my face, but I hit his hand away. There are no rules here, but it’s clear everything you do determines where you go. Violence, I know it well, but I can’t let it determine my path.

“You still look at me as if you want to cut me into pieces. Why is it hard to believe a good guy exists under this sexy exterior?”

I laughed in his face because it was hysterical to think of any form of good associated with Marcus.

“Memories don’t lie. The bruises, the torture, the sleepless nights. You enjoyed every hit you made. Good guy, please. You think painting a false picture will get you an invitation upstairs? I would think again.”

In Marcus fashion, the smirk on his face shined bigger than the damn sun.

“You know how your feistiness makes me lascivious. Don’t pretend. If you want another taste, all you have to do is ask. Besides, Little Vixen, looks like we are all painters of illusion.”

Is it possible to die again?

“I rather die over and over before I ever let you touch me again. It was a mistake, one I will never repeat.”

Marcus tilted his head and there was no way to tell what was brewing in his screwed-up head.

“I still remember how I made you moan. How you screamed for more. I wander what my baby bro would think of our Little Vixen.”

Lucian, the man I once loved. It wasn’t right how he came to the crossroads of death, but it makes sense considering I put the fuel in the engine which derailed us right off the track. Maybe it is not the forgiveness of only the living we seek, but also those who parade around in the grounds of death.

Chapter 4

Life is full of good and bad moments. My baby girl, Kalila, followed the paper trail I led her on. She began to see the variety which made the person I was. I left a piece of myself at every stop, pieces her father never knew. It wasn’t until she found Lucian, when my heart stopped all over again. It was when he found me.

“It was hard for me to look at her. She is a replica of you.”

I couldn’t force myself to turn around to look at him. His voice was ice to my veins. The last time we were together was when I told him his touch disgusted me. How he was the worst mistake I ever made.

“She’s not like me and I’m grateful for it.”

I knew Lucian was getting closer by the sound of his steps and by how rapid my heart beat. What, you think because our tickets have been punched our hearts are completely flatlined? No, boo-boo, our senses here increased as if the date is always four-twenty. A permanent high, even when you don’t want it.

His chest pressed against my back, his hands swept up and down my arms, and his sweet breath tickled my neck. All I could do was close my eyes.

“She’s smart, has your fire. Has a good heart, but is inquisitive. It will lead her down to troubled roads.”

Lead her? It already threw her in the mudslide. No parent likes to see their child hurting and her decision to fulfill the questions lingering on the surface has created a spiral of messed up events. None of which I could do anything about.

“No matter how hard we tried. Our choices led us exactly where we deserve to be.”

I said it with every intention of staying firm on believing it. We created the domino effect. Our losses, our gains, the greed and selfishness of our actions are the ingredients in a pot of shit we all have to admit to. A pot we need to find forgiveness through.

Lucian entwined his fingers with mine, pulled me in closer. It felt like home in his arms. One with flaws, but it brought me back to familiar grounds. One I admit I missed and also hated.

“There comes a time a man must admit he was a coward. I was holding on to the little boy seeking his father’s approval all while I let it destroy everything I desired. I should’ve stopped him.”

I turned around and stared into his eyes, even though it killed me to do so. I put my fingers on his lips.

“Please don’t go there. Not now. There is so much we have to discuss, to make peace with. I don’t want to start with a memory so painful.”

It filled his eyes with regret and it made me want to break all my barriers. To become a deep puddle of tears. He brushed a piece of hair from my face.

“Not sure you have a right to choose where to start since you hurt me deep by sleeping with my brother. Maybe you should start explaining yourself.”

Deliberately hurting someone works both ways. They say an eye for an eye, but I say parading around with a female on his arm to rub in my face gets me a free hall pass for one night of hot meaningless sex.

“You wanted to be the loyal son, be your father’s errand boy. Put our relationship in a box, burned it, and acted like it wasn’t there. While you were out there putting a show on, your father ordered Marcus to make me submissive. It meant doing whatever he felt to get me there. Should I get into the details of how he beat me, how I had to fight to the death like a dog in a ring until I became cold and shutdown?”

I knew Lucian down to every bone. Lucian may be tough, even killed, but one thing he despised more than anything is power used in the wrong context. I continued on.

“Marcus was there, despite the shit he did, he was there. It happened, I can’t take it back.”

Lucian wiped the escaped tear from my cheek. He sighed with disappointment. I wasn’t sure if it was towards me or himself.

“My brother has always been full of himself. An out-of-control train wreck I let derail me one-to-many times. I should’ve left you alone when I first saw you, but I couldn’t. What kind of man am I?”

“A decent man who wears his heart on his sleeve when he needs to. A man who picked himself up with all the intention of fixing what he broke. A man who tried to erase his demons in the best way he knew how. None of us are perfect.”

We weren’t and regardless how I got here. The choices were mine.

Chapter 5

Love has an immortal essence with a wicked right hook to your heart. Damn did it knock me to the ropes with its famous two-three-two combo. I was ready to block every word Lucian planned on throwing my way, as his head rested on my thigh, but he blindsided me with his emotional footwork right before he got a good hit on my guarded barrier.

“You needed me and I allowed the hardness in my soul to drive the train which left you alone in despair.”

When you’ve built a horrid reputation, people only see what you display on the surface. No one really knows or could understand the heartbreaking situations taking place behind closed doors. Truthfully, they never want to see the good in you. It’s easier to make someone a villain, instead of believing they share common ground.

When I first found out, it terrified me with a web of confusion hanging over my head. Nearly panicked, which was completely out of character. My hands have caused many terrible events and I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. Lucian didn’t know right away. I didn’t know how to tell him. When I finally did, it took him a moment to let it sink in. I never saw him in a joyful mood before.

“We were both hurt, going through the motions in the best way we knew how,” I said softly as my eyes closed. My mind reminiscing.

Deep down we were happy in an unpleasant environment we created. We played the game of a normal couple when we were far from it and there were too many odds against us. His family owned him and his loyalty. His blood was theirs and I was the cancer they were trying to spread. They couldn’t control me. In the line of work, we let absorb us, there is always a boss who puts you back in your place.

The stress they caused on my body because of my inability to become a puppet, created a miscarriage. They left me in a cold room with little light, nothing but tears and cramps as the life inside of me no longer formed. We were never the same after that moment. Lucian was distant and I couldn’t stand to look at his face. My hatred and pain became occupied by a personal job.

Detective Kane Martin became my focus and never in a million years did I think he would give me what I had lost. Love, however, always leads you back to the one person you yearn for. Damn angel on my shoulder did a number on me. When I found out I was pregnant with Kalila, I had to disappear. I couldn’t play house with Kane anymore. I had love for Kane, but wasn’t in love with him.

Eyes never lie and when Lucian sat up, his eyes told more than his words ever did.

“He made you smile again. Gave you everything I couldn’t.”

I knew my actions would hurt Lucian, damn near counted on it. I wanted him to feel what I had felt. All it led to was a wave of lies aimed at me.

“No, he may have given me what I needed on the exterior, but he never reached my heart. You always had my heart, Lucian.” I caressed his face, detailed every line down to the sexy dimples when he smiles. “You remember when you held Kalila, how gentle you were even though we fought moments before?”

Yes, Lucian held Kalila before her own father could. It just happened, and I never meant to disrespect Kane. We were living in a moment of loss within the beauty of a miracle. It was the last time I would see Kalila.

“I never forgot. You trusted me again, looked deep in my eyes and kissed me right before you—”

Right before I signed my death certificate. Lucian fought me hard on my plan to end it all. Promised he would find another way, but I knew blood was definitely thicker than water.

“We have all the time now to start again.” Love knows when you need it the most and it knew Lucian and I would never be separate.

Chapter 6

We fear death like a plague, but cannot understand the true depth of it until our time is called. There is a sense of joy in the smaller details we dismiss while breathing life. Hell, I’m not a spokeswoman for the afterlife. I call it how I see it.

Lucian and I are together again in the most unfortunate circumstance and to me, it’s fucking beautiful.

I wrote a letter to my darling Kalila long ago. Expressed how I would always be there for every important life event she would go through and I never broke the silent promise. Every mother wishes to pass on generations of advice to their child. I mean I received none from my mother, but I would like to think my words would ride on the rhythm of wisdom. Kalila was sitting in front of the mirror with the biggest smile on her face. She wore the necklace I left for her and it warmed my heart. I stood behind her, but I was a cold, invisible spot producing goosebumps up her arms.

Yes, it is true. The dead bring nothing but bitter cold in their wake. Mind the chills on your neck because it might be someone you had loved visiting. Someone who wants to check in on you, for sometimes you unconsciously wish for them to.

“I am so proud of you. You have grown into a beautiful, intelligent young woman who is determined to make everything she wants come true.”

The words passed my lips knowing she would never hear them. Then it shocked me when Kalila turned with an urgency as if she sensed I was there. She raised her hand to the necklace and gripped it tightly, but a sad sigh left a sign of disappointment when her eyes sighted nothing. I was there and clung onto the possibility of being a thought which crossed her mind.

I watched as everyone surrounded her with love. As Shay and the new woman in Kane’s life, Leta Linton, helped with the final pieces of Kalila’s dress. Yes, jealously creeped through my cold, deceased bones as I could not be the one to help my child on her special day. Yet, I still was a part of it and it’s more than I deserve. More than I would ever ask for.

The ceremony was filled with true love and passion. Tears and cheers with a few jokes in between. I dos were sealed with a kiss, and I knew I didn’t need to worry or look over Kalila as much anymore. She found her prince and his eyes spoke volumes on how much he will always love and take care of my baby girl.

As I stood as the ghost in the crowd, I noticed Shay’s bad attempt at covering up her wounded heart as she held her daughter, Scarlett, in her arms. I wanted to hug her, to tell her everything was my fault. To forgive Kalila for opening a door she was not prepared to walk through. History repeats itself, no matter how big or small. Shay lost her husband, Drew. He was good to her, even though I knew what he was. My best friend loved him, accepted him and now existed with a damaged heart.

I could never ask for forgiveness, even it wasn’t my hand which did it. There will always be a forecast of sorrow mixed in the sunrays of happiness.

I let the tears flow as Kalila danced with her father. It was good to see Kane smile again, and it made him even sweeter when he offered a dancing hand to Shay. I know Kane and Shay didn’t always see eye to eye, but it changed when circumstances forced them to lean on each other.

Death isn’t the end and when I felt Lucian’s hand in mine, bliss showed no bias.

“Would you have this dance with me?” asked Lucian.

Our bodies moved rhythmically to the music as the sound of our laughter became the high to all the lows life had challenged us with.

“If we were still alive, would you have asked me?”

I always wondered if our pages were re-written, would this scenario involve Lucian and I. Would we have a white picket fence around our dream home with the kids swinging from a play set we built from love?

“The night I came to see you, I had a ring in my pocket. Then you told me your plan, and I cowered from asking you. Maybe if I had, your reasoning would have changed.”

Lucian dipped, then twirled me physically and emotionally. I don’t regret asking. I needed to hear it. To be reminded how selfish I came across.

“You and I both know it wouldn’t, but I would have loved it if you had asked, anyway.”

“Would you have said yes?”

A thousand times over I would have. Despite the shit Lucian and I put each other through, we were still a couple with aspirations for normalcy.

“Damn right I would have, but then I would have told you how bad your timing was in less than kind words. We would have made love and you would have woken up to an empty bed with a screwed-up apology note.”

Lucian tilted his head with a goofy expression. Who knew a giggle could be a turn-on?

“I still won with a yes.”

Death doesn’t slaughter your spirit. No, it puts you exactly where you’re meant to be. It gave me a gift to be a witness to a life changing occasion in Kalila’s life, all while giving me a second chance to find my happiness again.

Chapter 7

Doors we have opened often need closing. Those we have left behind need the answers haunting their dreams, and it’s not fair to them our need of remembrance through the nightmares they keep.

We all need closure. Many are skeptical of the existence of the ones they lost and believe the spirit dies with the body. It’s easy to see it as an excuse or a coverup for pain one no longer wants to feel. Hell, I can’t blame them for that. Am I wrong to invade a sacred space where our subconscious produces moving images from the stresses and traumas life has thrown us? Am I wrong to think by doing this it will make things right?

I found myself back to the place Kane and I last embraced. A place Kane admitted his love for me. The cabin, the crackling fire under the starry sky. The woods by the lake. He was sitting next to the campfire, starring deep into the flames. His .357 magnum cushioned in his hand. I watched with an ache in my heart as Kane contemplated pulling the trigger as he raised the gun to his head.

“This isn’t you, Kane.”

My words startled him, created a shaking hand with a lingering option not suited for the man he is. I saw his eyes racing to connect the voice with a face and when he formulated an answer to his calculation; the gun pointed my way.

“Life has a funny way of torturing me. I tried drinking you away. Fuck, did everything in the damn book to rid my memory of you. Yet, here you are.”

He jumped up with a hateful look in his eyes as I got near. We all fight ourselves, and dammit Kane was fighting harder than anyone. I interrupted his life with a slap of embarrassment attached. What Detective wants to be the fool by the person he dedicates his life to putting behind bars? No one, that’s who. I humiliated him on personal grounds and I don’t think Kane has ever forgiven himself for not seeing who was in front of him.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m sorry.”

“No. You don’t get to fucking pop up, say sorry, and disappear to make yourself feel better. Regardless if this is real or not, you don’t deserve an easy way. I could blow a hole right in your head.”

You can’t kill a person who is already dead, but doesn’t mean his hatred and action would hurt less. Dreams reveal our innermost feelings. They pull the curtain down on the reality we hope or wished would play out because when the person who steals you moment to say what’s on your mind disappears; you have nothing but the alternative state to grab your opportunity back.

“Then hit me over and over with what is keeping you in this place. This memory you are hastily clinging to.”

My words sound like a desperate plea similar to a wounded animal begging to be put out of its misery. The more the silence grew, the more the fear of hours in this condition paralyzed me.

“You sat there, let me pull my heart from my chest and place it in your hands for you to crush it. Turned me into a fucking pussy without a branch to hang on. Then, instead of facing me, you died like the cold-hearted bitch you were. Left me a bullshit confession and a child reminding me of you every second of the damn day. I was a job you screwed. A job you twisted into loving you.”

I’m not a novice to reading between the lines. I knew what he couldn’t say. I knew the blame for his sister’s death was mine. I could have stopped Marcus from…. it doesn’t matter because the responsibility fell on me. It will always.

“I cared about you, Kane. I—”

My temple felt the cold touch of the barrel. My hearing sharp to the sound of the gun cocking.

“Say another lie out of your mouth and I will pull the trigger. Tell me, why me?”

The door slightly moved in the right direction. Closure. This was what he needed. What I needed.

“You were an easy mark. Single, slightly mysterious, and in the right pocket. The thing is, you were more than I expected. Everything you surrounded yourself by was a perfect setup.”

“Is Kalila even my daughter?”

I knocked the gun away from me and it went off, but the loud blast didn’t affect me. Kane doubting Kalila as his own pissed me off. I’ve lied, murdered, cheated. Hell, I am the walking proof of every song written containing these words. I would never lie about him being a father. My hand became the driving force of pushing Kane back. I was a bulldozer pushing everything out of my way.

“Don’t you ever question if Kalila is yours. You can hate me, want to kill me, fuck…. do whatever you want, but accuse me of lying about our child is one thing you will never do.”

He grabbed me and pinned me to the side of the cabin. His eyes were so broken and tired.

“You ruined me. Left me to pick up the pieces, and I was weak. Why couldn’t you just love me?”

He loosened his hold and instinctively I put my hand on his face. Our eyes locked. Forgiveness I don’t want anymore. I needed to close the door.

“Let me go. You are a wonderful father and you have a lovely lady in your life now. Don’t ruin it because of our past.”

Was it enough for Kane to heal?! I’m not sure. I get glimpses of the sadness in his eyes when he thinks no one is watching, but then I know the pieces of his heart I damaged were mended by the true love in his life. He married Leta and yes, she is doing a wonderful job of being a mother to Kalila.

I wish my road was hitting its end. Unfortunately, there are way too many doors which need closing.

Chapter 8

When you have your hand on the door handle, you worry what you will find on the other side. Tears, hatred, or a parallel universe where your face is the target for knife throwing. Never do you know where it will lead because it is not your mind you wander through. Communication from the dead to the living is only done through a dreamlike state. Sure, we can wander as invisible spots which feels similar to walking through a cold arctic blast, but to be seen we have to be wanted.

“I believe Mark Twain said it best. Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. I have been a fool many times over, but it was never for us. It was always for them.”

Lucian stands there with his confident smile. His eyes, I could never hide from them. 

It’s funny, we go on this twelve-step program of redemption to never know if we will make it through the pearly white gates and the ones who fucking understand this screwed-up concept the most, are the ones who stabbed our hearts ten times over.

“Yeah, but at what cost? Dragging old shit up just to hear the eleven-letter word doesn’t make anyone feel better. Can’t imagine you have many doors to open.”

Lucian’s facial expression changes. 

“You’re not the only one who has burned bridges and left a broken heart.”

No, I suppose I wasn’t. Lucian and I had a complicated relationship when we both lived. Even a man such as him needs companionship. I don’t even want to ask.

“Mmm, guess you better go take care of that then.”

“I don’t want to play this game with you, Serafina.”

I learned long ago that you can’t win or lose, no matter what you do. If you try to act like you don’t give a shit or if you push to know, you still feel the fire. Get left with a scar, a reminder forever attached to you.

“Look, I let you go. Met my fate and whatever the hell you did after is no concern of mine. If someone else made you happy, then it is what it is.”

Yes, I told Lucian we had plenty of time to start over. I don’t think my ears need to bleed from his past sexual appetite. 

“I know when you’re jealous,” he says as he moves closer to me. He gently shifts the strand of hair tickling my nose. “You remind me of a feisty bunny. Cute as it tries to be a lioness in a cave of ravenous wolves.”

He lifts my chin, forces me to meet his eyes. 

“Never could there be a comparison. Even when I was with her, all I could see was you.”

“Don’t do that. I might be a bitch, but no woman deserves dismissal like she was a stand in. Dammit, you don’t have to explain.”

I distance myself. 

“You misunderstand. She made me happy in ways you couldn’t. Saw a man I never could see in myself. The thing was, you were always on my mind and the only one who understood me best. I hurt her, left her standing at the courthouse with flowers in her hand as I damned myself incapable of stepping away from anything attached to you.”

No words came to me. All I could do was stand there, dumbfounded over what Lucian just said until I went back in time as a teenager, witnessing my friend pull a stupid move.

“Dumbass!”

Lucian looks at me in a way signifying I had grown two heads.

“You had a life. A second chance and you ruined it because of me. I won’t take the responsibility for it.”

“You left me a letter. What the hell did you think I would do?”

I left him a letter and knew the players in the game, but never could predict their moves on the board. 

“I hoped you would walk away. Tear up the letter and never look back.”

“Not my brother. No, he’s driven by his emotions and you made a love-sick dog out of him,” says Marcus. 

Lucian and I turn his direction. I roll my eyes so far back I thought they would get stuck. 

“Marcus, always inviting yourself where you’re not wanted,” I say.

“Oh, but you wanted my shoulder to cry on when your psycho experiment made Lucian a piece of art. That mini vixen had his parts displayed like a fucked-up Picasso and broke your evil heart. I remember it so well. Your soft hands and your—”

“Always getting off on this shit. Something to throw back in my face.”

“My little vixen, I recall you got off several times.”

Lucian whistles, gets our attention.

“Good to see you two are having fun making me look like a clown.”

Marcus laughs. 

“All I did was get a taste a couple of times, little brother. Our daddy didn’t raise his boys to be pussies, so don’t start acting like one.”

“You know why our father left me in charge of the business?”

“Ain’t it obvious. I was the muscle, the gun who never hesitated. The one who always got the job done.”

“No, he knew you were a fuck up. Exactly why he never entrusted you with anything important. All your good at is intimidation and getting laid. Not one damn smart cell in your idiotic head.”

Marcus rubs his chin and smirks. I won’t lie, I get enjoyment at watching this brotherly rumble.

“Hit me with your book smarts all you want, but let me rub the sore you can’t heal. Father put me in charge of the woman you loved, let me fuck her and beat her to man your ass up. Think about that and then let me know who got the better deal.”

I could see it in Lucian’s face, how deep it cut him to think of that horrid time. When they pulled us about to never be the same. To know he couldn’t stop it, not because they thought he was weak, but he knew it would be worse if he had.

“Lucian.”

“Accountability is on all of us and you sure know how to rip me apart.”

There it is. The third wheel has done it again.  

Chapter 9

I opened the door and I’m taken to Wake Up Buttercup Café. Shay is leaning on the railing of the balcony watching her daughter, Scarlett, play. Her mind struggled in the distance with a thought. The world clouded with haze.

“Don’t lurk around me like a creep. Show yourself. Give me at least that,” Shay said as her eyes scanned the surrounding space. 

My transparency became a solid form which made Shay gasp and cover her mouth with her hands. 

“Hi,” I said, my hand moved side-to-side like I’m the topper to a fucking parade float. 

“You still look the same, like you never aged.”

“Yeah, death seems to be the real anti-aging cream,” I said with a nervous laugh. I saw a partial smile on Shay’s face and realized how gracefully she aged. Her blonde hair pulled back in a low bun, her makeup natural, and her clothes mommy chic style. 

“See you haven’t lost your smart-ass humor. Why are you here on this day?”

I felt like I was trying to get a good-sized jawbreaker down my throat, as harsh as my swallow sounded. 

“Even those we leave behind need to close a door, Shay. I’m here because you called me. Not through words, but emotions.”

Shay shook her head and looked towards the ocean.

“Today is the anniversary of his death. What am I to mourn when only a piece of him is buried beneath a headstone nobody cares for? He’s alone with only us to show him love in death. Do you know what they did with his body?”

When you choose to be a member of a crime organization, betrayal is looked upon differently. Drew no doubt was a great husband and father, but he forgot his place. We all tried to take back control of our lives, but no one escapes the consequences. 

“Our body no longer matters when we are dead, Shay. I’m sure Drew is always with you. Bringing you warmth and love on the days that are grey.”

“It matters to me! He was the love of my life, my heart and soul. He didn’t deserve such a death.” I saw the tears on her face brighten in the sun’s rays. “You were my best friend and caused me so much pain. Why, just tell me why?!”

Truth. Everyone wanted the fucking truth.

“You want the simple answer. I enjoyed it. The adrenaline rush of being on the wrong side was a drug I couldn’t stop shooting in my vein. Then there was a moment where I knew I needed to destroy the syringe before someone I loved found it,” I answered. Shay had this look I’ve never experienced before. “What happened to Drew was not on me, Shay.” 

“No. You don’t get to excuse yourself from this. It took me a long time to accept my best friend was dead long before her body was. No way would my friend be so selfish and twisted to do what she had done. She would have stayed and loved her child, never letting pride get in the way. She would have survived and made sure we were all okay.” 

It always hurts to hear the hatred in between the words. The pain aimed straight to my pathetic heart.

“There was no other way, Shay. I knew in the depth of my soul you would be safe or else I would have put a bullet right between Drew’s eyes the moment I found out who he was.” I paused when her eyes struck mine. It needed to be said. All of it.  “Your skin was thin, and your heart was pure. You would’ve tried to save me, and you know I wouldn’t allow it. Never, no matter how screwed up I made things, would you let my daughter suffer. I knew you would be the glue holding it together.”

“I hate you, selfish bitch. You never let me say goodbye and you created a hell storm.”

I watched Shay’s beautiful daughter play in the sand and even through all the pain caused, the shining light was right in front of us.

“There is an angel in her and in the sky. Life may have taken from you, but it has given you a precious gift of being a mother. Fuck all the other bullshit. Look at how she needs you, the unconditional love you two share. I’ll never have that, but it’s a fault of my own. I love you, Shay, like you loved the raspberry cheesecake chocolate delight here years ago.”

Shay wiped the tears from her face and then clocked me in the arm. “At least I’m not drier than the Sierra Desert. How are those cobwebs, by the way?!”

No, laughter wasn’t a sign of forgiveness or a wave to take away the pain I had caused. It was a moment of stepping back into time to a memory where the only thing we worried about was the opposite sex and a delicious dessert. 

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