Miss Me Not (Page 22)

He didn’t say a word as he opened my door and helped me into the jeep. I was relieved at his silence. Silence meant I could pretend nothing had changed. Of course, the hole in my chest contradicted my fantasy. Everything had changed.

The cemetery that James's family had picked for the service was on the other side of town from where they had held Mitch's, and the attendance was only half as much.

The proceedings were also different than Mitch's in many aspects. The minister was longwinded and didn’t ask if anyone had anything to say. He talked about sins and damnation, and used the passing of my friend for his own agenda. I sat in my seat stoically, trying not to glare at James's dad, who I was seeing for the first time in all the years I had known James. He was bigger than I had pictured him, and I hated him even more, knowing how he had used his girth and size against his son. As the minister continued on about the selfishness of James's act, I wanted to stand up and scream at him in frustration. I wanted to punch his dad. I wanted to yell that none of this was James's fault. I did none of this though, because deep down, I knew that as guilty as his dad probably was, I was equally guilty. I had failed.

Dean held my hand throughout the service, never speaking. I was thankful for his presence no matter how short lived it was going to be.

We left as they were lowering my friend down in the ground. I couldn't watch as dirt was thrown on his casket. It hurt too much. Everything I had ever believed about death was wrong. There was no closure, no ending, just endless pain.

Dean didn’t drive me home. Instead, he drove to a park not far from my house. We sat in his jeep in silence for hours. He held my hand the entire time, stroking small comforting circles around the tattoo on my wrist. I knew I needed to tell him. I needed to make a clean break, but I remained silent, soaking in his comfort and wishing I could cry.

Finally, as the sun was setting, Dean broke the silence. "I'm driving to Flagler tomorrow to join my parents for the weekend. Do you want to go with me?" he asked quietly.

"I can't," I answered as a small piece of my heart broke off.


"Because I don’t think we should see each other anymore."

"Madison, I know you feel guilty, believe me, I know how you feel, but it's not your fault. You didn’t do this."

His words pierced me like a knife. He was so very wrong. It was all my fault.

"I need to go home," I said, wanting to get it over with before my heart shattered completely into a million pieces.

Looking at me intently, he looked like he had more to say, but thought better of it. Five minutes later, we were back at my house.

Dean cut the engine off and unbuckled his seatbelt before turning to me. "I'm not going to lose you over this," he said, reaching a hand up to stroke my face.

"You already have," I whispered in a broken voice.

Anguish filled his face before he crushed his lips to mine. "No, I haven’t," he said raggedly against my lips like he was convincing me to change my mind.

It took all my willpower to pull away, which was ironic. Eight weeks ago, I cringed from his touch, and now I wanted to burrow in it. Irony was a bitch.

I opened my door and climbed out, grabbing my backpack he had the foresight to bring me.

Dean jumped down from his side of the vehicle and followed me to my front door.

Taking a deep breath, I finally turned to him. "James's death was my fault," I said, holding my hand up as he started to argue. "Let me finish," I said, silencing him. "It was my fault because it was my idea. We made a pact. We were going to do it together," I said, opening my front door and stepping inside. I closed the door behind me, but not before I saw the horrified look on his face.

Leaning against the door, I closed my eyes, shaking with regret.

"Where have you been?" a quiet voice asked from the living room, startling me.

Jumping slightly, I turned to face Donna who was sitting on her sofa. The sofa she had bought four years ago to replace the one I had defiled. "I was at a funeral," I answered, wondering about her sudden interest. "A student at my school committed suicide," I added, waiting for her judgment.

"Another one?" she asked with her lip curling up slightly in disdain.

"Yes," I answered.

"Ignorance," she said with disgust.

"No, just forsaken," I said, meeting her eyes in challenge. "Sometimes when you have no one you can count on, you turn to the only viable option."

"Forsaken? So, you've considered this?" she asked with sarcasm lacing her every word. "Haven't you ruined enough lives?" she asked, casting her judgment without waiting for me to admit anything.

"I haven't done anything wrong," I lied.

"Right. I've heard those lies before. ‘I didn't mean to do it. I didn't think it would go so far,’" she said, mimicking my arguments from long ago. “I didn't clean up your mess so you could spend eternity in hell," she said, standing up to leave the room.

"I never asked you to clean up my mess, and aren't I going to hell anyway?" I mocked, sick of all the blame she had placed on my shoulders over the years. I was sick of paying for everyone's sins. Shouldering the blame for James was all I could handle at the moment.

"You may not have uttered the words, but your actions gave me no choice. You forced me to compromise everything I believe in. I will never forgive you for that," she said, stalking from the room.

Everything inside me deflated like a balloon that had been popped. No matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to leave the past behind. Despair began its familiar journey up my body until I was practically choking on it. My sins seemed to saturate the house, making it bear down on me. Tears that I had been unable to shed over the last few days finally came as if a dam inside me had burst. Hot tears burned their way down my cheeks. I needed to get away, to escape the oppressiveness that was threatening to bury me alive. I couldn't do this any longer. Why did living have to be so hard? Death beckoned me. It would be so easy.

Choking on broken sobs, I did the only thing I could.

Chapter twenty two

Dean picked up his cell on the first ring. Unable to talk, all I could do was sob into the phone. "Madison, are you hurt?" he asked frantically as I heard his jeep start up over the phone.

I wanted to answer him, but no words came out as I continued to cry. Tears I was unable to shed for four years ran unchecked down my cheeks as I disconnected the call. I knew he was on his way. I knew, despite my earlier confession, he would come. He was coming to save me. It was ironic since that was the biggest lie I had told him, but just like everything else, he could see right through me. I'd claimed I didn't need to be saved, but in reality, I did.

Several minutes later, his jeep screeched to a stop beside me. Without saying a word, he scooped me up into his arms and carried me to his vehicle. He opened my door and gently sat me inside and closed the door behind me. I knew I should tell him I was okay. I knew I needed to stop crying, to push the emotions back where they belonged, but they no longer fit in the place I had stored them. Dean kept his hand on my knee as he drove, offering the only comfort he could. Eventually, the tears dried up and I drifted off to sleep in exhaustion.

I jerked awake when the vehicle finally stopped. Trying to peer through the sandpaper my eyeballs had become, I finally was able to make out the two-story house in front of me. He'd brought me to his parents.

Dean leaped from the vehicle, coming to my side to help me out. Without saying a word, he pulled me into his arms, hugging me tightly to his chest. For the first time ever, I truly embraced him back, clinging to him as a new wave of tears poured down my cheeks. I soaked in his comfort. After a moment, he stepped back and tucked my hair behind my ears before placing a gentle kiss on my cheek.

"I called my mom," he said quietly, leading me toward the house as the front door opened.

Sarah embraced me without a qualm. Not minding that I was on her doorstep in the middle of the night, interrupting her weekend.

"I put on some tea," she said to Dean as she led me into the house. "I thought we could talk in the kitchen," she added, looking at me.

I nodded. I knew from the moment I called Dean that I wouldn't keep my secrets any longer. I was so sick of being a closed vault.

Sarah bustled around the kitchen, preparing the tea. Dean held my hand while I studied the daisies in the center of the table. I couldn't help wondering if he would continue being so supportive once he knew the rest of my secrets.

The tea kettle whistled a few minutes later and Sarah filled three cups for us. I wasn’t much of a tea drinker, but at the moment, it seemed oddly comforting. Once our tea was doctored up to our individual preferences, and there was nothing else to do but listen, they turned to me, waiting.

I took a deep breath and finally began talking. They listened intently as I explained my life as a child, how I was shuttled from regular daycare in the morning to church daycare in the evening, each and every day. I told them how I went to great lengths to get my parents’ attention. They smiled over my Barbie-killer phase and every other one of my exploits up until junior high. Then it became tougher to talk. The easy flow of words stalled out as I contemplated how I could possibly move on. Their looks of compassion were sure to change, and then I would be truly alone.

"Madison, it's only normal for you to seek attention. You had absentee parents at their worst, they were there, but they weren't really there. I'm sure as you got older and dealt with changing from a child into a young adult, your need for attention became more acute," Sarah said, sensing my struggle.

That was putting it mildly. Nodding, I made a point to not look at Dean. I was afraid I would lose my nerve. "The year I turned twelve, I began to develop," I said, flushing slightly, but keeping my eyes only on Sarah. "I suddenly no longer looked like a child, as in, almost overnight. I developed curves and my face lost any baby fat it had carried. I immediately noticed a change in people. Guys twice my age looked at me when I walked by, and girls glared at me with envy. I liked the attention I was getting. I began to dress to show off my assets. I dyed my hair black, and pierced my eyebrow and tongue. I knew the changes made me look older, more exotic and wild. I liked it and so did guys. Suddenly, I was getting asked out and invited to high school parties. I should have been happy. I was finally getting the attention I craved," I said in a shaky voice.

"But it wasn't the attention of your parents," Sarah said kindly.

I shook my head as Dean stood up. Thinking he was disgusted with my desperation for attention, I was surprised when he returned with a box of tissues and slid them in front of me before grabbing my hand. I wasn't even aware I was crying.

Taking a shaky breath, I stared at the daisies, wishing I didn't have to continue. I hadn't talked about my actions in years.

"So, you were hanging out with an older crowd?" Sarah gently probed.

"Yeah," I answered. "Around this time, my parents forced me to go on a church retreat to Mexico. That's when I met Katie Nelson. We hit it off from the very start and became inseparable. We both liked hanging out with the older crowd, and for the most part, they were nice enough, wild, but nice. They were the ones to give us our first drink of Jack Daniels, and our first hit on a joint. It was at one of their parties that I tried crystal meth for the first and only time. It made me ferociously sick, so I stayed away from the hard stuff after that. My parents didn't care. They never asked where I was, who I was with or what I was wearing. During the few months leading up to my thirteenth birthday, I was hit on and propositioned many times, but I held out," I said quietly.

Dean and Sarah waited intently for me to continue.

"See, I had this idea that if I seduced someone from their church, they would finally notice me. They would have to step in. I had the whole idea worked out. In the few times that they dragged me to one of their church functions, I noticed the men there, who were supposedly outstanding Christian men, still checked me out when I walked in. I knew they liked my chest in the small baby doll t-shirts I wore. I could feel their eyes on me as I walked by. One in particular never seemed to be able to stop looking. I decided he would be my target. I didn't consider any of the ramifications. I just knew he wanted me and he would be a means to an end. It only sweetened the deal that he was a friend of my dad’s," I said in a monotone voice as memories from long ago surfaced. "I tricked him into coming over to my house, claiming my dad had a schedule change for an upcoming event at the church. When Jim showed up that evening, I was a little drunk to get my nerves up and I dressed in skimpy lingerie I had stolen from Victoria’s Secret. In my eyes, it was the perfect crime. I was convinced that dressed like I was, drinking, wearing a stolen item and seducing the youth minster of their church would finally put me on their radar," I said, twisting the tissue in my hand. The tears fell hot and fast down my cheeks. I finally looked at Dean, unsure if I could continue.

His face was tense and I saw that his fist was clenched. He was angry. Of course he was angry. What I had done was horrific. He knew from the rumors that I had succeeded in the seduction, but what he didn't know was that I had chickened out.

I looked back at Sarah who gave me a reassuring look. There was no turning back now.

"Jim showed up a half an hour before my parents were due home from work. I had it all planned out, or so I thought. Just looking at him I knew my ploy was going to work. His eyes practically jumped out of his head when he looked at me. At first, it was nice, just like I imagined it would be. He came up behind me while I was taking a drink of my Jack and Coke, and kissed me on my neck and it felt good. The kisses after that were just as good as he slowly backed me up to the couch. Before I knew it, he was on top of me, kissing me harder and more insistently. Our clothes disappeared quicker than I could have ever imagined," I said with shallow gasps. "It became difficult to breathe with all his weight on me, so I tried pushing at him to get him to lift off of me so I could breathe a little. I also wanted to slow down, so it wouldn't be quite so scary. Finally, all I could think about was how much it hurt." I stalled out as the words got harder for me.

"You wanted him to stop?" Sarah asked, grabbing one of my hands. I nodded my head, ashamed. Dean startled me by jumping to his feet. I looked at him as he paced the kitchen. Anger radiated off him in great waves. I didn't blame him, I was poison. I ruined everything.

"Dean?" Sarah said, standing up to stop his pacing.

"I want to kill them," Dean said, slamming a closed fist on the counter, making me jump.