Echoes of silence unquie.., p.19
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       Echoes of Silence (Unquiet Mind Book 1), p.19

           Anne Malcom
 

  “I’m so sorry, baby,” he murmured.

  I didn’t say a thing, just clung to him. I didn’t cry; I couldn’t. I was past the point of tears at that moment. My pain was so deep my body didn’t even react to it, so it just froze.

  Killian held me in his arms for an indefinite amount of time before he gently, as if I was made of china, pulled me from his arms just enough so he could gaze into my eyes.

  “Gets to me, Freckles, that I can’t protect you from things that hurt you like this. That I can’t do anything.”

  I regarded him, eyes clear. “You just did,” I whispered.

  His eyes turned liquid and his thumb brushed my lip gently. The rumbling of an engine had us both looking to the curb where an SUV parked behind Kill’s bike. Zane climbed out of it, his eyes on Kill. Instead of walking toward us, he slammed the door and leaned against it, crossing his arms. Kill’s jaw tightened at this strange action that you obviously had to be a boy to understand.

  He turned back to me, any trace of hardness gone the moment his eyes touched mine. “Know you gotta leave. I want you calling me, Freckles. Texting. Whatever. Just check in. Talk to me. Any time. I couldn’t leave without letting you know you’ve got me,” he murmured. “You don’t need me. I know you’re strong enough to get through this without me. But I’m not gonna let that happen.”

  He leaned in to kiss my head, his lips lingering there for a moment. “Soon as you get back, I’ll be here,” he promised.

  “Okay,” I whispered.

  He pulled back and I found myself desperate not to let him go. But I did. As soon as his body left mine, the agony of the world rushed back in. I watched as he strode over to Zane, got real close, clipped a couple of things to him I couldn’t hear, then turned to his bike without waiting for an answer. He gave me one long, meaningful look before he roared off.

  I took a deep breath. It was broken and sucking in the air felt like sucking in broken glass, but I repeated the process.

  “You ready, Lex?” Zane’s deep voice asked.

  I glanced up at him. “Yes,” I lied.

  ****

  It was the funeral. The most horrible, despicable moment in my life. Walking into the church and seeing two coffins beside each other. Coffins. And two of the most important people in my life were in them. Lifeless. Nothing.

  My step had stuttered, and I stopped right there in the aisle, my eyes locked on them.

  “Doll face?” Mom whispered, her hand squeezing mine.

  I just kept staring, feeling numb, feeling like I might vomit. Feeling like I must have floated into someone else’s life. This couldn’t be my life.

  “Lex,” Zane murmured, his hand squeezed the back of my neck.

  I took a breath of those glass shards in the air.

  “Courage, dear heart.”

  Steve’s voice cut through the shards of glass. No one else could hear it, I knew that. No one else needed to hear.

  I used all of that courage to put one foot in front of the other and walk to the front of the pew and sit down, Zane and Mom on either side of me.

  Mom kissed my head. “I’m so proud of you, Lexie,” she whispered. “They were too. You know that, right?”

  I moved my gaze to look at my mom. “Only moderately proud though, right?”

  Mom and I surprised each other by erupting into a fit of hysterical giggles. Zane’s arm circled around the both of us. I rested my head on his shoulder.

  “Lexie!” a voice called after the service had finished.

  I yanked myself out of Zane’s arms and turned towards the familiar voice. Emma’s tear-stained face came into view, and I didn’t hesitate to run into her embrace.

  “Em,” I murmured, my voice breaking and the tears flowing.

  “I’m so sorry, babe,” she said into my hair, her voice thick with tears.

  Ava and Steve and been family to Emma too. Emma had been my best friend since forever and because her parents were not good people, Mom, Steve, and Ava made sure she spent a lot of time with us. She was part of our family, and I’d only felt okay with leaving her here in DC knowing Steve and Ava would look out for her.

  Now they were gone.

  Fresh tears erupted at that thought, and Emma squeezed me tighter as if she sensed them. She finally pulled out of my embrace, rubbing under her eyes.

  “Why I didn’t wear waterproof mascara is beyond me,” she exclaimed, her voice croaky.

  I smiled a sad smile and squeezed her hand. Emma wasn’t always good with emotion, and she always had to cut it off with sarcasm or a joke. She had a hard exterior, which was necessary growing up with her parents, but I knew a soft heart lay underneath.

  “Hey, Em,” Mom’s soft voice greeted from behind us and her arms circled both of us.

  There was only silence as Mom gave her silent strength.

  When she finally released us, Emma’s black-smudged eyes widened at the form that had pulled Mom’s body into his.

  “Holy crap,” she muttered.

  I giggled, somehow, despite the fact my heart was shattered.

  “Emma, meet Zane. My...” Mom trailed off as if she didn’t know what to call Zane.

  “Emma’s my best friend,” I explained, jumping in to save Mom.

  Zane gave her a nod, his eyes warming just a tad.

  She gaped at him. “Wow,” she muttered. “I mean, nice to meet you,” she added quickly.

  Mom smiled through the tears in her eyes, and even Zane’s eyes brightened just a bit.

  We started the walk to where they’d... bury Ava and Steve. Emma linked her arms in mine.

  “How you going, Lex?” she whispered, her voice tortured once more.

  “Shit,” I said simply. I may not have cussed before. When I was the innocent Lexie. The one who didn’t think there was any reason to use ugly words. Now I realized that there were situations that were so horrible they needed words just as harsh to describe them. Emma was the only one I could be truly honest with. I didn’t want to tell my mom how much my life felt like it was falling apart. She was trying so hard to hold it together. Zane was holding her together.

  “I j-just can’t believe they’re gone,” I stuttered, my voice choking with tears.

  Emma squeezed my arm. “Me either, Lex,” she replied. “I don’t know what to do, what to say, to make you feel better.”

  I squeezed her arm this time. “Nothing,” I whispered. “Just being here is good. I’ve missed you so much.”

  “Missed you too, Lex.”

  I didn’t have time to talk more to my best friend because we reached the place where we’d bury two-thirds of the most important people in my world.

  I had my guitar in my hand. My fingers hovered over the strings. I hadn’t played it since before. Before the split between then and now. I hadn’t been able to. It was like I had forgotten how. Maybe it was because music was my soul and right now my soul was broken. I couldn’t play with a broken soul. I looked out onto the cluttered headstones beyond the two corresponding holes in the ground where Steve and Ava were going. Together. Side by side. They’d have each other. I had to play. I couldn’t let them go down into the ground in silence. Without saying good-bye. I knew they couldn’t hear words of good-bye coming from my mouth right now, but maybe they could hear them if they were coming from my soul.

  “Courage, dear heart.”

  Without thinking, my fingers moved, brushing against the strings. I held my chin high and started to sing “Over the Rainbow,” my voice clear, hoping it would carry to the heavens.

  ****

  “Murdered?” I repeated, my voice tasting bitter with the word coming out of it.

  Mom squeezed my hands, her face blank, trying to be strong for me. But she couldn’t mask what was in her eyes. The pain. The agony.

  It was only now, sitting in the hotel room late after the funeral that I thought to ask how Steve and Ava died. You’d think it would have been something I’d have asked early. A pretty important detail. But when gr
ief blankets your mind like a heavy and poisonous fog, you forget about everything but the pain and the fact that two people you love are gone. You don’t focus on the how.

  “Yeah, baby,” she whispered.

  I felt it. The pain. The agony. There was something else. Fury. White-hot and so foreign I didn’t quite understand the strength of it as it filtered through my veins.

  Murdered.

  Someone had purposefully come in and snatched them out of this world. Stolen them. They snuffed out two people. Two people who were the kindest, funniest, best people I knew.

  My family.

  Someone had come in and stolen that, plunging a dagger into my heart.

  “How? Why?” I choked out.

  Mom flinched then she stroked my face. “Baby doll, you don’t need to—”

  “How?” I interrupted her, my voice like a blade through the air.

  Mom paused and sucked in a deep breath, looking to the ground before she met my eyes. “They were shot, honey. We don’t know why,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

  Shot.

  I felt as if a bullet passed through my own body with this knowledge. Images from TV shows, crime shows, from books came into my mind, of people getting shot dead. The blood. The empty eyes. I tried to picture Ava and her Chanel suit covered in blood. Steve’s twinkling eyes empty. I wondered if it hurt. If they hurt when it happened. How long that pain lasted for. It seemed at that moment, my head was too heavy to hold up with that knowledge, so I let it fall. Then I sucked in a tortured breath and used all of my strength to pull it back up.

  “Have they caught them?” I asked, meeting my mom’s eyes.

  Mom shook her head slowly.

  I gritted my teeth. Then I looked up to Zane, who was standing close behind my mom, his hand on the back of her neck. His face was blank too, but his eyes were soft, different than they had been. More open. Since that day, that horrible day at the barbecue, something had fallen away, a shutter, and he openly showed, in his Zane way, how much he cared.

  It was nice seeing that. More than nice. At any other moment, it would have been. Right now, it seemed nothing in the world would be nice ever again. That happiness was akin to a fairy tale that only children believed in. Because in a world where you lost people you loved, when people could kill people and not get caught, how could happiness exist?

  I stood up on shaky feet and Mom darted up to grasp my hands. “Baby doll?”

  I stepped out of her arms. “I just need....” I trailed off. What did I need? A time machine? A lobotomy?

  Killian. At this moment, I needed him, and he was thousands of miles away.

  “To be alone,” I continued.

  Mom didn’t look happy about this, but she nodded.

  When I met Zane’s eyes again, he gave me a long look then grabbed me so I was engulfed in his large body, his arms going around me. I sank into his embrace and let myself feel some of the safety that he seemed to radiate.

  He kissed my head and let me go silently. He didn’t need to say anything.

  I left the living room of the hotel we were staying in and padded into my bedroom. I lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to quiet the echoes in my mind.

  Murdered.

  Shot.

  The words swirled around like poison in my brain. I didn’t know how I was going to keep on living, keep on breathing, knowing what I knew, existing in a world without Steve and Ava.

  So instead of focusing on what my world didn’t have, I thought about what it did have. Mom. Emma. Zane. Killian. I held onto those thoughts, those memories. And somehow, they were my life raft, keeping me adrift in that sea of poison.

  ONE WEEK LATER

  “We don’t have to go in,” Kill murmured, squeezing my hands. “I can take you anywhere.”

  I glanced from the brick building to our intertwined hands resting on his thigh. My eyes moved to his, which were locked on me in concern. “I know you can,” I replied.

  His hand flexed in mine.

  “But,” I continued, “I’ve got to go in there at some point. Get back to living life. To reality,” I said, resigned, scared, bleeding on the inside. It would be hard, but nothing was harder than the past week, than watching them bury two-thirds of my family.

  “So proud of you, Freckles,” Kill declared, his eyes glowing.

  I smiled at him. I was getting better at making it look real. At actually feeling it on the inside. “I couldn’t do it without you,” I told him.

  I was telling the truth. The past week, I may have lost two of the most important people in my life, but two more appeared. They didn’t fill the gaping hole that was left, they never could, but they helped me forget it was there and believe it might not always hurt so much.

  Zane was our rock. He was with us every step of the way. He didn’t say much, just gave Mom and me his silent strength, taking care of us. It felt right to watch him sling his arm around Mom’s neck, hold her hand, murmur to her softly, and even stay in the suite in our hotel with her. It wasn’t weird or uncomfortable like I thought it might be when Mom inevitably got a boyfriend. It was right.

  Kill might not have been there like Zane was, but he didn’t let me go through the day without calling, without texting, without letting me know he was thinking of me, that he was there. It felt strange having someone other than Mom, Steve, or Ava being so concerned about me. It was a blissful sort of strange. I mattered to him.

  I’d always thought of myself as a peaceful person. I believed in peace and harmony, and tried to live my life turning the other cheek, but the need, the thirst for vengeance trumped everything in the past week. I needed them to pay. I needed to know that these terrible things and the people that did them couldn’t go unpunished.

  Mom had given me a long talk about how the police would take care of it and how justice would be done the right way. I’d nodded in the right places and said what she wanted me to say, but I didn’t want justice done the right way. I wanted revenge.

  Kill leaned across his car and kissed my mouth lightly. “You could do it without me; I got no doubt about that. But you’re not going to,” he promised, repeating his sentiment from last week.

  I smiled against his mouth. “Good,” I murmured.

  Kill gave me another quick kiss and moved out of the car. I gathered my books and clutched the outstretched hand that came from the passenger side where Kill had opened my door.

  ****

  “Lexie!” a voice yelled from halfway down the hall.

  I turned and Sam near bowled into me. His arms circled around me and he lifted me into the air.

  “You’re back,” he exclaimed once he put me down.

  “Good spotting,” I replied.

  He grinned, then his smile disappeared completely as he remembered the reason for my absence. It would have been comical if not for the pity in his eyes. “I’m so sorry about Steve and Ava, babe,” he said on a much quieter and somber decibel than I was used to. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it.

  “Thanks,” I whispered back.

  Kill and I had arrived late this morning, so we had walked through the nearly deserted halls when he walked me to class. I had thought all of the stares I got when I entered my first class were on account of my tardiness, but now I realized every second person was giving me a sideways glance.

  “I take it everyone knows?” I asked, resigned to having to field even more sympathy from mostly nosy teenagers, or at the very least this uncomfortable gawking.

  Sam glanced around and started walking us to our next class, one we had together while he spoke. “Nope,” he replied. “We, meaning Killian, made the executive decision to not share your personal life with the gossip mill. You’ve had mono,” he told me with a wink.

  “Well, at least that explains why I look like hell warmed up,” I said.

  Lack of sleep and grief and shed five pounds off me without me even noticing. My drapey pants and formally tight cropped tank were now hanging on me. I had tr
ied to cover my dark circles with concealer this morning, but it didn’t really work.

  Sam stopped us outside of class. His face was serious. “You look great. On your worst day, you look better than any of these idiots.” He nodded his head to Stacy, who was conveniently walking past us. She scowled at him, but for some reason, smiled triumphantly at me before disappearing into class.

  “Thanks, Sammy,” I whispered, deciding not to waste time on the motivations behind that smile.

  “Anytime, Lex. Though I expect you to return the favor and inflate my ego when needed.” He winked, walking us into class.

  I laughed and it was totally genuine. “Yes, because your self-esteem is about to hit the floor,” I replied, putting my books down. “If your ego inflated anymore, you’d go into orbit.”

  Sam shrugged. “Self-confidence is endearing.”

  “I think the word you’re meaning is arrogant,” I countered.

  He merely grinned at me.

  I grinned back and thought I might just survive this after all.

  ****

  Sam was babbling at my side about our next band rehearsal as we walked into the cafeteria. “Only as soon as you’re ready,” he added, his eyes regarding me in concern.

  I stopped us. “Ready?” I repeated. “I’m more than ready. I need to play.”

  He grinned. “Good.”

  His grin fell and turned into a scowl at someone behind me.

  “Lexie, I’m glad to see you’re feeling... better,” Jordan said, coming to my side, not acknowledging Sam.

  It was something I noticed, Jordan and most of his friends barely spoke to my boys. I reasoned it because of their egos. My boys were much more attractive than any of those jocks and so much more complex, which was why simple minds couldn’t understand them. Therefore, they ignored them.

  “I am, thanks, Jordan,” I replied with a tight smile. I didn’t want to talk to him on principle. If you were a jerk to my boys, you were a jerk to me. But despite that, Jordan was always nice to me. Nice with an ulterior motive, but nice nonetheless. Mom and... Ava had trained me too well in basic manners to be rude outright.

 
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