Echoes of silence unquie.., p.28
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       Echoes of Silence (Unquiet Mind Book 1), p.28

           Anne Malcom
 

  I felt physical pain at that realization. I couldn’t imagine the thing I loved more than anything causing my pain, being something different than a part of me.

  “Zane,” I called softly, not able to be alone with those thoughts much longer.

  His head snapped up, and his entire face softened. His eyes flickered with a small glimmer of light.

  I had already pounced on him earlier tonight. He’d held me in his arms a long time before he let me go and I went to the herculean task of filling him in on the past two months. I’d been so excited to see him I’d almost forgotten the reason why he left. I hadn’t acknowledged his pain. I had to do that.

  “Yeah, Lex,” he answered, his voice soft, his eyes guarded. He obviously sensed the change in my demeanor, realized I knew.

  I stepped forward slowly to stand in front of him. I craned my neck to meet his eyes.

  “Can I play you a song?” I asked softly.

  Zane nodded wordlessly.

  I smiled at him and sat down in the chair I’d sat on many times before.

  I started to strum and began singing the one song I hoped would be able to say everything I couldn’t, “Unclouded Day” by Audra Mae.

  Zane’s body was frozen as I strummed the last few notes and my voice faded away. He stared at me for a long while. Then very slowly, and very purposefully, he pulled the guitar out of my hands and placed it against the chair. He pulled me up into his arms gently.

  I knew what he was silently doing. He was saying everything I said in the song, the same things I didn’t know how to say.

  He let me go after kissing my head.

  “You’re not going anywhere now, are you?” I asked in a small voice.

  Zane’s jaw turned hard. “No, Lex. I’m here with you and your mom. I’m not going anywhere,” he promised.

  I smiled. “Good.”

  There was a long pause and I thought about what Zane had been through. About the loss he endured. I knew how it felt to lose someone who was your world. I only lost part of mine. A big chunk, that was for sure, and the pain was so great I reasoned I’d still feel the echoes of it for the rest of my life. But I had Mom, Killian, and Zane. I had all of these people to help.

  “Four years ago, Zane had a woman. A woman he loved very much. His person.”

  His person. His world. Zane had lost it all. I hurt for him. Bled for him. But something else, some small, ugly part of me felt different. If this Laurie was his person, what was Mom? Was she still his person? Or was she his second.

  Zane seemed to sense something because his large hand tilted my head up. “Lex?” he asked in a low boom.

  I met his eyes. “As soon as I saw you, as soon as I saw the way you looked at my mom, I knew,” I whispered. “I knew you were her person.” His body jerked at my words. “I know it’s silly, but I knew. At first, it was a dream built from books and songs, one I dreamt for my mom.” I sucked in a breath to find the courage to say it all. “Then I met Kill and knew that this person thing, this soul mate thing, isn’t a dream. And I was even more certain that’s what it was for you and Mom. More complicated than what Kill and I have, but the same too, you know? The essence of it at least,” I whispered, and Zane’s stare was heavy on mine. “You’re it for Mom. Her person. Her only person,” I clarified.

  There was a long silence as my words hung in the air, settled there. Zane’s eyes never left mine and his body was tight.

  “Jesus,” he muttered. “Knew you saw a lot, kid, but didn’t realize you saw it all.” He paused. “You’re right. It’s complicated. It’s also simple. I had love once. Four years ago. It was beautiful what I had then.” His voice sounded tortured. “Life turned ugly after that. Won’t elaborate, but it was dark. Then I met you and your mom. Found the light.” He cupped my cheek. “What I got for your mom, it’s love, but it’s more than that. You’re right. She’s my person. My only person. Only one that was meant for me. My person,” he declared, his meaning clear.

  Despite the tears in my eyes at the torment in his voice, I grinned at him, beamed at him.

  “Good,” I whispered.

  ONE MONTH LATER

  “You don’t talk about your Dad,” I observed, twisting my hands in Kill’s.

  I felt his body stiffen beside me. “What’s to talk about?” he responded in a flat voice.

  I turned my head to regard his profile. “What he was like, what you used to do together. You’re allowed to miss him,” I told him quietly.

  We were in our place. It was a beautiful day, and we had been gazing up at the cloudless sky in silence, letting the quiet seep in, the true quiet I only felt with Kill.

  “He’s pushin’ daisies now, Lex. He’s gone for good. There’s no point in talkin’ bout that. Dwelling on that.”

  I put my hand on his chest. “He’s not gone for good. I bet he’s somewhere, watching you. Proud of you,” I whispered.

  His icy eyes met mine. “There is no somewhere, Lexie,” he said in a harsh voice. “There’s life, then there’s death. Nothing. Heaven doesn’t exist for the dead. It exists for the people left behind, so they can fool themselves into thinking the people they love are something more than worm food.”

  I flinched at his words, at the certainty behind them. My hand left his chest, and I pushed off the blanket and onto my feet. I walked away from him, toward the edge of the cliff, looking at the sea. I knew he hadn’t meant to cause the pain in my heart that his words had punctured. But he did. That belief of something more was something I clung to. Had to be certain about. I had to know there was a place where Steve and Ava were now. That they weren’t just snuffed out of existence and buried in the earth. That Zane’s Laurie was watching out for him, proud that he’d been pulled out of the darkness.

  I hugged my stomach, eyes on the waves.

  I felt his presence behind me. His hand came up to the center of my chest and he gently pulled me into his. “I’m so sorry, Freckles,” he murmured into my hair. “That was an asshole thing to say, to hurt you with those words.”

  I kept staring at the waves. “You did hurt me,” I agreed and his body stiffened. “It hurts me to think you believe that. I can’t imagine how lonely you must feel being so certain your dad’s not somewhere, he’s not with you.”

  He squeezed me tight. “I’m never lonely, not since I met you.”

  I turned in his arms. “So what if something happened to me?” I asked. “Would you be able to think of me as just gone, as ‘worm food’?”

  Kill’s entire body stilled at my question, and his jaw went hard. His hands came up to my cheeks. “Don’t,” he choked that word out. “Don’t you ever say something like that, breathe life into the idea that the world could somehow keep spinning without you in it. You don’t ever say this shit again,” he commanded.

  I put my hand on his wrist. “I was just—”

  “I don’t care what point you were trying to make, Freckles,” he cut me off. “Make it some other way.”

  I nodded, slightly taken aback at his reaction. His hands left my cheeks, and he pulled me so I was tucked into his side, so we were both watching the waves. The only sound was the waves crashing for a long while. My mind was no longer silent. It was thundering with disquiet.

  “I’m angry. I was angry.” Kill broke the silence. “So angry, I didn’t even know who I was without it. I was consumed with it.” He kept his eyes on the waves. “It’s easy to be angry, to embrace the fury instead of admitting anything else. I was so angry at him for leavin’ me with her,” he spat out, his hatred for his mother clear. “For turning her into... that. For leaving.”

  I turned my head to look up at him. “He didn’t leave,” I whispered. “I didn’t know him, but I don’t have to. Looking at your photos, at the way he looked at you, I can tell he would’ve fought, fought to his last breath to stay here for you,” I said with certainty.

  He squeezed me and kissed my head. “Yeah, I’m startin’ to realize that now, Freckles.”

  I l
eft it there, knowing it was enough sharing for Kill today. I had to be patient, had to let him go through this in his own time.

  “You ever think about your dad?” he asked softly.

  I laughed bitterly. “You mean the one who did actually choose to leave? To let me and Mom go? The one who Mom won’t even talk about? That one?”

  Kill looked down to meet my eyes. “Anyone who doesn’t spend his every waking moment trying to find the beautiful girl he created, fighting to be in your life, he ain’t worth being called a father,” he declared hotly.

  I gave him a small smile. “I guess. But I want to know him, you know? Give myself my own chance to decide that. So I don’t wonder my whole life who he is,” I said in a small voice.

  “Can’t speak for your mom, Freckles, but I’m thinkin’ she’s got a pretty good reason for keeping him outta your life,” he replied, his voice tight.

  I looked back at the waves. “I guess,” I mused. “But I’m starting to realize that’s not her decision to make any more.”

  ****

  “Mom, where’s my dad?” I asked, sitting at the kitchen table.

  It was after Kill had dropped me home. I decided to go straight to it. I needed to know. Kill was haunted by the ghost of a father long dead; I was haunted by an unknown father, very much alive, as far as I knew at least.

  She froze, her coffee cup halfway to her mouth. She was leaning against the kitchen cupboards. Seconds ago, she had been smiling and engaging in idle chitchat as we often did.

  She wasn’t smiling now.

  “What?” she choked out.

  I sat up a little straighter. “My dad. You keep telling me you’ll explain about him when I was older.” I held out my hands. “Well, here I am, older and ready for an explanation.”

  Mom’s face was pale as she placed her coffee down on the countertop and turned all of her attention to me.

  “Doll face, I don’t think you’re ready to talk about him,” Mom said quietly.

  I met her eyes. “I disagree. I’m sixteen, Mom. I think I deserve to know why I’ve never had a father. Why I can’t know him.”

  Mom blanched at that. “Lexie, you don’t want to know him.”

  I let out a frustrated breath. “That’s not your decision,” I said, my voice raising with my anger.

  Mom crossed her arms. “I’m your mother and you’re my child, so it is my decision.”

  I rose from my chair so quickly it screeched against the floor. “I’m not a child!” I yelled.

  She raised a brow. “Really? ‘Cause you’re doing a good job of throwing a tantrum like one.”

  “Really?” I hissed out. “A tantrum is what you’re calling me wanting to know my father? It’s my right!” I yelled. “I should get to know what’s so bad my own father doesn’t even want me. Doesn’t want to know me.” I ended on a whisper this time. “You made that choice for me once, but now I’m old enough to question that choice, to know why you made it. Kill was destroyed by the death of his father. I know he’d do anything to get him back. And I’ve got one. I’ve got a dad that’s alive and breathing. I owe it to myself to know who he is. You owe me that.”

  Mom stepped forward. Her eyes glimmered with hurt, with pain. I inwardly flinched at being the one who put that there, but I stayed firm. I needed this. I was getting this.

  She clutched my hand. “You’re right,” she said finally. “You deserve to know. But I don’t want to tell you. Not because I want to rob you of your father, but because I want to save you from him.”

  My heart dropped. “I-I don’t understand.”

  Mom smiled a sad smile. “That, that right there is what I wish I could preserve. Blissful ignorance. It’s another part of that darkness I never wanted you to see. To know.” She sighed. “It was always a pipe dream. My girl’s too smart to be ignorant to the darkness. Your dad, he’s not a nice guy. Not in the way Wyatt’s dad is up himself or Sam’s dad drinks too much.” She paused. “Even worse than Noah’s dad, baby.”

  My stomach dropped. Mom knew more about Noah’s dad than I’d imagined. I shouldn’t be surprised, behind her sarcasm and humor she saw a lot. My stomach dropped because Noah’s dad was bad news.

  “I wish I could tell you different, honey. Tell you that he was just a stupid kid, not ready to be a father, and then you could go and find your dad. Maybe that stupid kid turned into a good man. You can’t. He won’t have. If anything, he’s become worse. Worse than before.” She squeezed my hand. “Before was pretty damn bad. You know how I said I’d protect you from anything and everything that could cause you harm?”

  I nodded slowly.

  “Breaks my heart to tell you this, doll face, your dad falls under that umbrella.”

  I stared at her, those words like acid, burning through my stomach.

  “I’m so sorry, Lexie,” she said, trying to bring me into her arms.

  I stepped out of her embrace. I ignored the hurt look on her face.

  “Does Zane know? Does he know anything about my father?” I asked.

  She shook her head slowly. “No, Lexie. He’d—” She broke off.

  I knew what she was going to say. I knew how protective Zane was over my mom, over both of us. I doubted my dad would be anonymous for long if he knew about him.

  “Zane doesn’t know. He doesn’t need to know,” she continued.

  I stared at her in shock. “He doesn’t need to know?” I repeated. “Mom, he’s your boyfriend! He’s your person. He told you about Laurie. He doesn’t speak to anyone, but he speaks to you. To me. He needs to know,” I informed her, my voice rising again.

  She narrowed her eyes at me. “I disagree,” she bit out. “He does not need to know something that might rip him back into the darkness.”

  I pursed my lips. I hated to admit it, but a little part of me understood her. Zane might have been protective over her, but she was protective of him. She loved him. She would die to protect anyone she loved.

  She tried to step toward me again, to comfort me.

  I stepped back, retreating toward my room. “I-I need to be alone right now,” I told her, my voice flat.

  She flinched but she nodded.

  I turned on my heel to walk into my room.

  “I’ll be right here when you’re ready, doll,” Mom called to me.

  I didn’t turn around, just walked to my room and closed the door behind me. I wanted to slam it. I wanted to scream. To smash everything in my room. I understood what Kill meant. Anger was so much easier. A defensive mechanism. Something distracting you, obscuring the truth. Anger was easier than the reality. That my father was a monster. Mom didn’t say it explicitly, but it was obvious. She wouldn’t have gone to pains to get away from him if he wasn’t. She wouldn’t have had that haunted look on her face if it wasn’t true.

  I padded over to my desk and picked up my headphones and phone.

  I had spent much of my childhood imaging my father to be some kind of hero too busy saving the world to be with his family. I’d dream he’d come and save us one day. Not once did I imagine him to be the villain.

  ****

  Hours later, I was in the same position, lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, music blaring in my ears, thoughts on repeat in my brain. It was dark now; I’d missed dinner. I expected Mom to knock on my door and try to coax me out. I dreaded it. She didn’t. She knew me. On the rare occasion I got in a mood, she left me to it. She knew I took my time to deal with things and respected that. Apart from the fight we’d had about Zane a month ago, we never fought. Not seriously. It killed me because I needed to talk to someone. I couldn’t talk to Mom. And when I couldn’t talk to Mom, I called Ava or Steve. I couldn’t talk to them either.

  I rolled over and looked at the time on my phone. It was late, really late. I yanked my headphones out of my ears. The house was quiet. Still, like a tomb. It was that loaded sort of quiet that a sleeping house had.

  Zane and Mom must have gone to sleep. Zane lived with us now. He technicall
y lived across the street, but that was merely a place to park his bike. He spent all of his spare time at our place.

  I had expected him to come in here, too. After he’d come back, we were closer than anything. It was like he was my... dad. I laughed on the inside. Apart from he wasn’t. My dad was some kind of evil, someone my mom wouldn’t even tell Zane about. The man who lived outside the law. The man who lived in darkness. Who I thought could fight anything.

  My mom wouldn’t tell that man about my father.

  What did that say about him? About the blood that ran through my veins.

  I sucked in a breath and made a decision. I grabbed a sweater and slipped out the door. I still had my shoes on. I hadn’t bothered to undress when I lay on my bed. I did my best to be quiet. Much quieter than I was the times I’d snuck out to meet Killian in the backyard. Mom may not have been a light sleeper, but I didn’t know about Zane. He was a big macho man. I expected he could sense movements of rebellious teenagers in his sleep from upstairs.

  Somehow I escaped his macho man senses and slipped into the night, walking quickly to discourage the dark air from clinging to me. It was a futile effort considering how cold my blood had been since Mom told me what little she did about my father.

  The night was quiet. Dead quiet. The suburbs in Amber were like a graveyard at this time of night. It wasn’t like the city that always had the lights on. People were tucked in bed before the clock struck midnight most of the time. That was until I ventured closer to my destination. There were a few lights on and even a couple of groups of people congregated on porches. Luckily, I snuck past them unnoticed. I didn’t think they were likely the people I wanted to meet up with alone in the middle of the night.

  I was relieved when I reached my destination, more relieved when I saw both his car and bike in the dim light. I knew he spent as little time as he could at home, and he wasn’t constrained by things like curfew, so he routinely was at the club until the small hours. My feet crunched across the dead grass as I rounded the house to the big window that opened off to the backyard. I rapped on the glass softly, shifting from foot to foot. I guessed I should have texted him first to make sure he knew it was me and not some intruder. My phone was halfway out of my pocket when I saw a dim light underneath the curtains, and then they were pulled back.

 
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