chapter forty

“What’s the meaning of this?”

I followed AJ’s gaze through my windshield and watched the waves roll in briefly before answering him.

“I’d say it’s the perfect setting.”

“For what? Reliving the past?”

“To face the fear,” I corrected. “You may be the epitome of bravery, but I’m not.”

“I never said that.”

“Some things aren’t meant to be said,” I told him, opening my car door and hopping out. “Don’t forget to lock it.”

I stood a good ten feet from the water and watched. A few moments later, I felt AJ’s presence behind me. I didn’t turn around, though; it was his move.

“I thought I had forgotten the last time we were in a place like this,” he whispered. “I guess I didn’t bury the memory deep enough.”

“I guess not,” I replied cooly.

“Cass, why’d you leave?”

It was about time I faced the question. No one, in the time I had been here, had asked why I left Orlando, and I was more than ready to give answers.

“I left because I couldn’t survive over there. Everywhere I went, everything I did, only brought painful memories I haven’t gotten over. It was either stay there and be driven slowly insane, or come back home.”

“Orlando IS home,” he said. “You were born there.”

“Home,” I began. “Is not where you’re born. It’s the place that watches you grow up, it’s where you’re loved no matter what. It’s what you love. This is home for me. It always will be.”

“You were loved back home.”

“Was I?” I shot him a sideways glance. “We both know that isn’t true.”

“You’re still on that?” he asked me. “We were kids, Cassie. I thought everything was forgiven.”

“Maybe the forgiving party wasn’t as sincere as you thought it was.”

“It was definitely sincere,” he argued. I could hear his voice rising steadily. “You’re just giving up.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. You’re giving up.”

“That right there,” I shot back. “Goes to show that you never did know me as well as you though. I do not give up.”

“It’s what you’re doing right now. You’re giving up on yourself. You’re pushing me away, refusing to fight for something you hold so dear in your being. The battle isn’t over, not yet, but you’re giving up.”

“I do NOT give up!” I finally shouted. “You think it’s easy to say, don’t you? That I’m giving up. But it’s not like that, it never will be. I’ve fought, AJ, believe me. I fought with inner demons, and a ton of things on the outside as well, but every time we’d make a little progress, something came along that set us back double the distance we had crossed. I would get back up and fight some more, but I don’t want anything bad to happen again. The last incident was more than enough for me to bear. I’m not giving up, I’m just tired.”

He watched me in silence, not making a single move. I hoped beyond hope that he would finally understand. That he’d realize we were just another accident waiting to happen.

“Then I’ll fight for you. For the both of us.”

“AJ, no. Please,” I sighed. “Things can’t work out that way, you know they can’t. We’d be on a road to damnation if we kept going. It’s useless. Help me forget all this by forgetting everything yourself. I’ve had enough of living like this; it’s just not worth it anymore.”

[chapter 39 | chapter index | epilogue]