“You don’t have to say anything.”
“Yeah I do,” she sniffled.
They’d been sitting in her living room in total silence for the last twenty minutes, her not wanting to be alone, and him not wanting to leave her. They sat side by side on the couch, her head resting against his shoulder, and his arm wrapped around her comfortingly. She’d begun to speak, but when her voice failed her, he made it clear he wasn’t expecting any explanation from her.
“San, just take it easy,” he said softly, rubbing her arm gently.
“He went to high school with me...”
“Your classic case of the egotistical football star...”
“I have to get this off my chest,” she said softly, gazing up at him.
Nick took a deep breath, nodded, and tightened his hold on her. “Whenever you wanna stop, stop.”
“I was... well... not the most likely person he’d be interested in. Yeah, let’s put it that way. My family wasn’t as.. well off.. as his was, and I was reminded of that constantly. Him and his.. clique, they picked on us a lot.”
“Not just you?” he asked softly.
“No,” she sighed. “Me, Carrie, Christopher, Matt... quite a few of us. Coincidentally, we were all friends; so it was our group they picked on. We were...” she broke off, shuddering a little, causing Nick to draw a shaky breath. “Trash.”
“They... they said THAT?”
“That was one of their nicer words,” she sighed. “And then there was Amanda...”
“She picked on you too?”
“No,” she said quickly. “No. Far from it. If anything she got hassled, too. For being one of them, but hanging out with us. Manda’s my best friend,” she finished. “She saw past the boundaries they drew between us since we were kids, and she’d always been there.”
Nick nodded, relieved that she wasn’t completely alone in that world she left behind.
“We’d always known he was a jerk,” she continued, “They all were. No one dreamed how bad things would get, though. No one knew Zack’s true colors, that I know of. Until I got my turn...”
She took a deep breath, and her trembling started up again as she thought back to the incidents that would eventually lead to her leaving the only life she’d known behind.
“San... you really don’t have to go on...”
“Yes I do,” she replied. “This is what I have to let out.”
He nodded, a bit unsure as to whether he should let her go on or not, but before he could make a decision, she was talking again.
“I wasn’t interested in Prom,” she was saying. “It wasn’t my thing, going to dances and socializing with the same people I didn’t want to have any contact with during the actual school day, so why see them when I didn’t have to? I didn’t go to any of the dances, to make a long story short, but I went to the Prom, and I regret it so damn much...”
Her hands flew to her face, and Nick immediately brought both arms around her, cradling her in his embrace as she cried.
“Don’t say any more,” he pleaded softly. “Please don’t.. it hurts to see you like this.”
“An entire month before,” she continued, her voice a bit weaker, her resolve dissolving a bit more, “He’d approach me, and talk, and laugh and joke. In class, he’d sit next to me, ask me questions... small talk... and he’d actually seemed nice. Not to mention cute,” she laughed bitterly. “That hair, those blue eyes... I’ve always been a sucker for that...” she trailed off when she felt Nick wince beside her. “Oh, Nick, I’m so sorry...”
Nick managed a small smile. “It’s okay, San.. don’t worry about it.”
“No, it’s not okay,” she shispered. “All this time I’ve judged you unfairly, I’ve treated you like HE deserved to be treated, and not how YOU deserved to be treated. I did a world of wrong to you, Nick, and I’m so incredibly sorry, I won’t live long enough to even begin to make it up to you...”
“San, it doesn’t matter,” he assured her. “I know why you did it, and I don’t blame you.”
“You don’t know,” she corrected him. “Not yet.”
She gathered her thoughts quickly before continuing. “He’d charmed his way into my heart. To but it bluntly, that’s what he’d done, so when he asked me to the Prom, I was so quick to say yes. I didn’t even give it a second thought when Manda asked if I was crazy...”
She was quiet again. Not crying, not shaking... just quiet. Maybe she couldn’t think straight right then, but Nick’s arms around her were keeping her from going completely insane; they were protecting her from her own past, and that made it easier for her to continue.
“He did it at prom... didn’t he?”
She nodded, and Nick cussed under his breath.
“We left early... before it ended. He said he was tired, and asked if I didn’t mind calling it a night a bit earlier than the rest of them.”
“And you said it was okay...”
“I did,” she nodded. “And we got in the pickup to drive me home. Then he pulled the ‘oh, my mom asked to pick something up at the convenience store for her, do you mind if we stopped by first?’ line, and I thought nothing of it. So, again, I said it was fine. When the truck came to a stop on the side of a dark dirt road, underneath a tree with low-hung branches... that’s when I started to panic... and that’s when it all happened.”
He was at a loss for words. He couldn’t register what she was saying; he refused to believe... yet, she was there, and her words were ringing true in his mind.
“He didn’t... San, tell me he didn’t..”
She didn’t answer him, she just kept her gaze lowered and her lower lip began to tremble.
Her silence was his answer.
“Oh, God,” he whispered, pulling her to him as she began to sob uncontrollably, harder than before. He held her impossibly close to him, a fierce, protective hold on her he never wanted to release. He felt fear for her, anger for what she’d gone through, and determination to never, ever allow her to go through something even remotely close to all that again. To think of that.. jerk.. pouncing on such a trusting, gentle, unsuspecting person like her, and taking advantage of her in the worst imaginable way...
Nick tensed, and she felt it. The way he just straightened, and his hold on her tightened even more so. She turned a concerned gaze on him and her breath caught in her throat when she saw his face, so... distant, eyes cold, angry, jaw set.
“Nick?” she whispered, and that hardened face softened when she spoke, those eyes got their sparkle back when he looked at her, and it was then, as a small smile spread across his lips, it was then that she knew exactly how much he truly did love her.. and how much she’d grown to love him in return.
[chapter list | chapter sixteen]