Miss Me Not (Page 23)

"I know, son, but Madison needs you to be strong," she said, pushing him toward me.

Their exchange confused me. He was angry at someone else? Maybe he missed something in my story. Didn't he realize this was my fault?

Giving in to his mom's insistence, Dean dropped back down in the chair next to me and gently grabbed my hand.

I felt like I needed to clarify things, that I didn't deserve his kindness.

"It was my fault. I started the whole thing and then froze up. It was wrong."

"Sweetie, the only thing wrong is that he touched you in the first place. As adults, we live by a moral code. As a religious man, his moral code should have been even stronger," Sarah said, disgusted.

"But it was my fault. I seduced him. I was wearing a skimpy outfit. I was drunk. It was all my fault," I said, repeating the words Donna had thrown at me.

"He was the adult. He should have walked away," Dean said in a voice trembling with anger.

"Madison, what did he do when you wanted to stop?" Sarah finally asked.

"He said it was too late, that I asked for it. He said that a man can't stop once he starts, so I stopped trying to push him off me and I let him finish. My parents walked in as he was finishing. Jim was instantly defensive as he pulled on his clothes. He called me a slut and told them I had seduced him. I wasn't aware I was crying until my dad turned to me, looking for an explanation. In that instant, I no longer wanted their attention. My dad looked at me and at the evidence of my virginity on the couch and went ballistic. He punched Jim out. He was shaking with rage. It was awful," I whispered.

"What about your mom?" Sarah probed gently.

"She was pissed, too, but not at Jim, at me. She knew I had seduced him. She and my dad argued about it after Jim staggered out. My dad claimed it was her fault. That she'd never shown any of the motherly influence that I obviously needed. Their screaming went on all night. I eventually showered, trying to wash Jim's touch from me, but no matter how much I scrubbed, I couldn't erase the memories. Somewhere around two a.m., the thought of a possible pregnancy came up. Horrified at the idea of having a thirteen-year-old pregnant daughter, my mom drove me to the hospital and told them I had been raped. I had to go through a rape screening, fill out a report and then they gave me the day after pill. I was so relieved to take that pill. Never in all my scheming had I ever considered pregnancy. My mom sat sternly by me during it all, and on the way home, she laid down the new rules. If I was going to act like an adult, I would be treated like one. I was not allowed to call her ‘Mom’ anymore, and she would only provide my basic needs. That drive home marked the last time she and I would ever really talk again. My dad moved out the next day and I haven't seen or spoken to him since. The police went to the church and arrested Jim for statuary rape. The church was up in arms over the scandal. Some felt that Jim should have known better, but there were plenty who knew about my wild ways, and blamed me completely. It split the church down the middle, and it really never recovered. Katie spread it around school, and my fate was sealed," I finished, sinking back in my chair, weary and drained.

Dean and Sarah were silent for several minutes as they digested my story. Finally, after a few minutes, Sarah broke the silence.

"Why was your mom so mad after your trip to the hospital?" she gently probed.

"She was angry because I had forced her to turn against her beliefs. By asking the hospital for the day after pill, she was agreeing to terminate a possible pregnancy. She felt it was no different than an abortion, and she hated me for that."

"That's ridiculous, you had just turned thirteen," Sarah said, sounding agitated.

"That didn't matter. I had made adult decisions. I destroyed many lives that night, so I made it my goal to slip into the shadows, to fade away. As the year went by, everyone finally stopped noticing me and talking about me, until eventually no one acknowledged me again. Donna and I learned to coexist and life went on. The tomb-like silence in my house reminded me daily of my sins, always sitting heavily on me. I began to dream about disappearing from the Earth once and for all. That's when I met James. James had his own demons like me, although we never shared them. We learned to lean on each other without getting personal, if that makes sense. That's really where the pact came from. We would leave Earth much like we lived on it. No fuss, no muss. But Mitch's death changed everything. People who didn't even know him used his death as a platform to get attention. I didn't want that. The pact was no longer an option for me. Life seemed bleak, knowing I could no longer count on death—and then, I met Dean," I said, meeting his eyes as he laced his fingers with mine. "He changed everything."

"I didn't know," Dean said, sounding choked up.

"I know," I whispered. "I told you, you didn't need to save me, but you and Mitch did just that. But I wasn't able to save James. I left him behind," I cried as a fresh wave of tears cascaded down my cheeks.

Dean pulled me in his arms, letting me weep for my lost friend and my lost youth. Eventually, my tears did dry up. Mentally exhausted, I leaned heavily on Dean, marveling that he wasn't disgusted or horrified with my story.

My eyes felt like someone had dumped a handful of sand in them as I finally looked at Sarah.

"Sweetie, I'm sorry you've carried this around for so many years, but you need to listen to me. None of this was your fault. Do you understand me? I'm all for accountability, but where was your support system? Who is accountable for that?" she said, bending down to give me a tight hug.

I returned her hug, unsure what I had done to deserve her acceptance.

"I made the guest room up for Madison. Do you want to show her where it is?" she asked Dean.

"Yeah," he said around a yawn, helping me to my feet. "Are you going back to bed?"

"Not right now. I'm going to wait a little while longer, and then give Madison's mom a call to let her know she's here."

I looked blurry eyed at the old-fashioned clock on the far wall. I was surprised to see it was almost five a.m. It had taken me almost three hours to get my story completely out. No wonder I felt like I had been dragged behind a pickup truck. It had been a long couple days with no sleep.

"Sarah, I'm so sorry to have kept you up like this. You don't have to call her. I can do it," I said, already grateful enough for their understanding and compassion.

"Honey, you don't need to apologize. I'm just happy that we are able to be here for you. And no, I think it's best if I make the call," she said in an even tone that made Dean grin.

"What?" I asked as he led me up the stairs wondering what I had missed.

"My mom obviously has an agenda I strongly agree with," he said, stopping at an open doorway right off the top of the steps.

"Donna won't care," I said flatly. I knew my mom well. She felt she was the victim here. I had ruined her life.

"You'd be surprised what my mom can accomplish," he said, leaning against the door frame as he stroked a hand up my arm.

"How are you two not running from me screaming?" I finally asked the question that was burning through me.

"The last thing I want to do at the moment is run screaming from you. Truthfully, I want to do the exact opposite. I'm seriously fighting the urge to drag you away, caveman-style, to protect you from future harm. I want to hunt that Jim guy down and do what your dad did. I want to wring Katie's scrawny neck for spreading the rumors around, but most of all, I want to throw your mom in the middle of a pack of wolves and see how she feels being all alone."

"There are two sides to every story. I'm sure hers is different than mine," I said, wondering if I had unconsciously sugarcoated my story.

"There is no excuse for anything she did. Even if I heard her version of the story, I would still see that she abandoned her hurt daughter," he said, dropping a soft kiss on my forehead. I swayed slightly as exhaustion from the endless day weighed me down. It seemed hard to believe that less than twenty four hours ago, I had said my final goodbyes to my friend. It had been a long day.

Seeing my exhaustion, Dean led me into the room and pulled back the quilt so I could climb in the bed. He tucked the blanket around me before dropping a featherlight kiss on my lips.

I closed my heavy eyelids. My last thoughts before slumber pulled me under was where I would go from here. Life was beckoning me. I could feel its insistence and enticement. At the moment, death was nowhere to be found.

Chapter twenty three

I slept until late the next afternoon. I didn't jump up immediately, but lay there, taking stock of my life. The unbearable weight I had been carrying for years was gone. The saying "the truth will set you free" took on a whole new meaning for me. James's death will forever remain in my heart. Deep down, I knew I should have been there for him, but carrying that guilt would not bring him back. Instead, I needed to live, for both of us.

The house was quiet as I slowly made my way down the steps.

"Hey," Dean said, looking up from the book he was reading. "You look better," he added.

"I feel better," I said, feeling self-conscious just standing there in my rumpled clothing and bed head. "Where is everyone?" I asked.

"My dad and the twins went to hang out with my papaw and nana. Mom and Trish went out to get some clothes for you," he said, patting the couch next to him.

"Gah, they didn't have to do that," I said, sinking down next to him.

"I think my mom needed an outlet. I'm gathering things didn't go all that well with your mom," he admitted.

"Do I need to call her?" I asked, dreading the thought.

"No, Mom said they'd worked out some kind of compromise where you get to stay with us for a few days," he said, avoiding my eyes.

"Otherwise translated, I'm not welcome at home," I said, seeing through his lie.

"Um, pretty much. Needless to say, there was a lot of swearing on Mom's end after the call ended. But trust me when I tell you my parents wanted you to stay with us for a few days anyway. Your mom just thinks it was her idea."

"That sounds like her. Hopefully, in a couple days, she'll calm down enough that I'll be able to talk to her," I stated, trying to sound confident while I ignored my panic over the idea of being homeless at seventeen, that just sounded bad.

"Don't worry, we'll work it out. My mom has a plan," Dean said, patting my leg reassuringly. "Trish laid out a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt for you if you want to take a quick shower, and then maybe we can go for a walk."

"That sounds perfect," I said, pushing my fears to the side for the moment.

"There's an extra toothbrush in the cabinet in the bathroom," Dean said as I made my way back up the stairs.

A half an hour later, I felt more human. The yoga pants Trish laid out for me were long in the legs since she was taller than me, but fit snugly across my butt since I had more curves than her. I pulled the hem of the sweatshirt down self-consciously as I made my way down the stairs. Dean looked at me appraisingly in my borrowed outfit and a small spike of pleasure shot through me. Despite everything, he was still here looking at me like I belonged here.

"Ready?" he asked, taking my hand.

"Sure," I answered, slipping on my shoes.

The air was crisp from a cold front that had obviously moved in while I was sleeping.

"Swing?" Dean asked, pointing to the tire swing.

"Yes," I answered, strolling that way.

"How are you feeling?" Dean asked as he held the tire still for me so I could climb on.

"Fine," I lied, falling back on my old secret-keeping habits.

"Madison?" he said, seeing through me.

I sighed. "Aren't you sick of all my drama yet?" I asked.

"Madison, nothing about you is drama. You're so much more. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you."

"And how is that?" I said as he swung me lightly back and forth.

"Smart, beautiful, stubborn, loyal," he answered. "Snippy for sure, but in a cute way," he added.

"Lay off the drugs. I think they're messing with your brain cells," I said uncomfortably.

"My brain is in perfect working order, and it knows what it likes," he said, tugging me over so that my back was nestled up against his chest. His arms encircled me, keeping me in place as I sat on the now stationary swing. Eventually, he asked me questions about my childhood, stuff I had glossed over the night before. With no more secrets between us, I opened up to him, answering each question honestly, even when it hurt. Despite their understanding, there was no denying that I had been a brat as a child, and a pain in the ass as preteen.

We were still on the swing an hour later when Sarah and Trish pulled into the driveway. Dean and I joined them by the car to help carry stuff in.

Sarah gave me a hard hug. "How are you doing?" she asked, looking at me with concern.

"Weird," I answered honestly. "I feel better that it's out there, but I feel weird that I just let it all pour out. I kind of feel like I betrayed someone's trust, even though it was my secrets that came out," I added in a rush.

She pulled me in for another hug. Her warmth spread through me, and I brought my arms up around her, returning the hug. "Thank you for listening," I said quietly, fighting tears.

"I'm honored you trusted me," she said, finally pulling back to look at me with bright eyes.

Trish gave me a hug next. I could tell Sarah had filled her in, but it didn't bug me. I had no more secrets to hide.

Trish released me so she could reach into the minivan and hand several grocery bags to Dean. She handed the lighter ones from the mall to me and Sarah. We headed up the porch steps into the house with our arms loaded.

"What's for dinner?" Dean asked, placing the bags on the kitchen table and peeking inside. "Sweeeet, snack night," he crowed, pulling out an odd assortment of items.

"Snack night?" I asked, feeling like I was missing something.

"Mom and I like to call it 'comfort food,'" Trish said, unpacking the grocery bags. "Basically, it means junk food galore with no guilt," she said, laughing as she pointed out several gallons of ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream.

"Comfort food sounds perfect," I said, eyeing the box of chocolate brownie mix she pulled from the bag.

Sarah laughed at my comment. "Yes, comfort food is just what you need," she said, handing several bags to me. "This should keep you clothed while we keep you kidnapped here," she said, winking at me.