Untouched: A Cedar Cove Novella Part 7
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I reply, I just scramble down from the cab and charge across the front lawn.
The front door is wide open. I stride into the house, fists already clenched at my sides. And there he is: Artie Keller, the low life piece of junkie trash. The man who got my mom hooked into all this misery in the first place. He's got his back turned to me, trying to lift our shitty-ass excuse for a TV from the console.
I cross the distance between us in a few short strides and smash his face with a hard right hook. He reels back, blood spurting from his nose. "What the fuck are you doing in my house?!" I roar.
I grab him by the throat, shoving him up against the wall. Artie gasps for air, his beady eyes bugging out of his head. "Well?" I yell, shoving him back again. His skull bounces against the plyboard, and I hear the crack with grim satisfaction. Blood is pounding in my ears, and all I can think is how much pain this sniveling excuse for a man has caused this family, how easy it would be to end him for good.
I hear a yell behind me, but I don't turn. I slam Artie against the wall again, watching the blood gush down his face. When I was younger, he seemed so big, but now he's nothing in my grip, skin and bones.
"Emerson, stop!" There's a hand on my arm, pulling me away. I finally drop Artie and he crumples to the ground.
I turn, breathing hard, expecting Brit or Juliet.
But it's my mom. Tired, and strung out, eyes wide with horror.
She lets out a sob, and pushes past me, going down on her knees by Artie's bloody body. "What did you do?" she cries.
"What...?" I'm reeling. "What are you talking about? Mom, he was stealing our stuff! Why did you even let him in?" My rage flares brighter. "Did he hurt you?" I demand. "Are you OK?"
She ignores me and fusses over him, whimpering apologies. "I'm sorry, baby, I'm so so sorry."
Artie groans, still conscious. She helps him to his feet.
That's when I see the duffel bag by the door. The box filled with photo frames and junk.
I stumble back. The truth is so clear, I should have seen it coming. I'm so fucking stupid.
"You're leaving." I say, voice thick with disgust. I stare between them: mom, looking away from me, ashamed and broken. And Artie, sneering. Smug.
"Sorry, kid," he drawls. "Guess she couldn't stay away from me."
Fury blazes again, and I move to smash his face in. Mom blocks me, hands to my chest, pushing me back.
"Please, baby, no!" she cries. "Don't be like this!"
"How the fuck else am I supposed to be?" I yell, powerless and hating it. I can't believe she's defending him, this worthless piece of garbage.
That she's choosing him. Over us.
Mom doesn't speak. She helps Artie to the door.
Pain splinters through me, so sharp I can hardly breathe. "What am I supposed to tell Brit?" I demand. "Or Ray Jay? What about them? They're still just kids!"
Mom turns back with a sob. "I'm sorry, but I can't... I just can't. Staying here, letting you all down. I can't do it anymore. It's for the best, you have to see that."
"Don't worry, kid." Artie sneers at me. "I'll take real good care of her."
I snap. I let out a roar and charge right at him. I bend low and tackle, head butting into his torso as we fall out of the front door and down the front steps. I roll on top of him, and unleash it all, raining down blows on his face, his neck. Pounding. Furious. Mom's screams blur into the background. My knuckles smash against his skin, tearing it back to the bone. Artie gurgles, choking on his own blood. I can't stop. All I want is to end him, to break this hold he has over her, to keep her from walking away.
"Emerson!" Another voice screams. "Emerson, stop! You're killing him!"
Two arms reach around me. I struggle, but the fight is leaving me now.
"Please," I hear them beg me. Through my haze, I recognize the voice. Juliet. "Please don't do this."
Artie lays there, groaning, eyelids flickering. A shell of a man. A fucking parasite. I could kill him, right now.
But what would that make me?
Juliet pulls me off him. I fall to my hands and knees on the grass, gasping. She sits beside me, pulls my head into her lap. I don't move. All my rage is gone now, leaving nothing but despair.
She's finally leaving.
"It's OK," Juliet murmurs, stroking my hair. "Everything's going to be OK."
I don't answer. I don't look to see mom take Artie over to the car. I lay there, crumpled, empty, listening to the sound of her going back to the house, getting her things, closing the car door behind her. The engine starts.
"Emerson?" Juliet's voice is shaking.
"Let her go." I manage. "She wants to go."
I lay there in Juliet's arms, listening to mom drive away. It should be a relief, after all the midnight whispering me and Brit have done, but instead, it just feels like betrayal. Like a dark cloud, blotting everything good from the sky.
She left. They all leave, in the end.
My pain hardens in my chest. I know now what I have to do.
I sit up, and take a shuddering breath. Bracing myself.
"I told you to stay in the truck."
"Emerson..." Juliet's staring at me, wary.
I get to my feet. I hate that she's seen me like this, but maybe it'll help. She'll know exactly the mess she's escaping, have no time for regret. "Come on." I barely look at her. "I'll take you home now."
"I can stay. You need.... you need to talk about what just happened."
"No." My voice spits it, harsh. "I want to be alone. I need to talk to Brit, and find Ray Jay.. it's family stuff, OK?"
I start for the truck without looking at her, sit up in the driver's seat until she climbs in. I stare at my knuckles: raw and covered with blood. His or mine, I don't know. I don't care.
I wait until she's buckled in, then I start the engine.
"Wait a minute," Juliet says. She reaches out and puts her hand on my arm, soft. Soothing. "You're hurt, let me bandage up your hand-"
"No!" It comes out a roar. "You shouldn't be here. This is none of your fucking business, so just let me take you home, OK?!"
I hear her soft intake of breath, but I can't bear to look and see the hurt on her face. I keep my eyes fixed on the road ahead, all the way back to her house. I pull up in the driveway, and wait for her to get down.
"Emerson. Emerson, look at me!" Juliet yanks my arm and forces me around. She bites her lip, eyes wide and full of such tender sympathy I almost break, but I can't. This is for the best.
"Not until I know when I'm seeing you again," she insists. "I can come over later tonight."
"Tomorrow then." Her jaw is set. Firm.
Frustration boils up in me, edged with guilt and shame. Why can't she be like the other girls: easy to walk away from? Why does she have to be stubborn, and strong, and look at me like she actually gives a damn?
"Don't you get it, Jules?" I demand. "I can't do this. Be with you. You saw what happened back there!"
Her answer shocks me. Juliet's eyes flare, determined. "You don't get to push me away because of your fucked up family. I know what it's like, remember? I can help you. Let me be there for you, it's what girlfriend's are supposed to do!"
"Girlfriend?" I give a hollow laugh. "So, what, we go steady for a couple of months? I take you out on dates and kiss you goodnight on the front porch?"
Juliet looks down. "It worked today."
"Today was a dream." I tell her bitterly. "A fucking fantasy. Don't you get it? That's not my life, it never will be."
"You don't know that." Juliet's voice twists. "Us, together, it could change things. It's already changed me!"
My heart clenches. "And then what?" I finally meet her eyes, desperate. "What happens at the end of summer, Jules? What happens when you go?"
"I'm trying to do the right thing," I explain, hating the pain on her face. "If we stop this before we get in any deeper..."
She gives me a small smile. Twisted. Rueful.
"I'm already in." she says.
I close my eyes and grip the steering wheel tighter, to stop from grabbing her, kissing her, making it all go away. When I'm touching her, it's the only time my life makes sense, but it's a false promise of a tomorrow I can never have.
"Go." I say it again, clinging to the certainty of the harsh syllable. "You'll see, you don't know what you're saying. It'll only be worse, in the end, if we pretend like this can ever be real."
I wait, and when I hear the door open, and feel the warmth of her body slide away from me, I swear, my heart breaks right there in my chest.
She walks away, slowly, and I watch her go. I try to imprint her on my memory: every detail, every moment of perfection.
Then I drive away. Grief presses down on my chest. Grief, and guilt, and hopeless despair. Juliet was wrong. Sometimes, it is stupid to hope-at least, for someone like me to hope for someone like her.
Look where it's gotten me now.
I cry for three days straight. I don't even leave my room, I just lay there, curled under the covers, feeling the pain rip through me in an endless swell. I turn it over in my mind every way I can, but there's no way around it.
What happens at the end of summer?
If I'm feeling this wretched now, like my heart has been cleaved clear in two, then how about once we're even closer? When we've had weeks of perfection like that day by the swimming hole; whole nights spent wrapped in each other's arms? I feel like I'm missing a part of myself even now, not being with him. How could I ever bear to leave him, when summer finally comes to an end, and I have to leave for college?
Maybe this is for the best, I try to tell myself. If I look at things clearly, then of course, it makes sense: like ripping the band-aid off in one go, instead of dragging out the pain through a long, doomed goodbye.
But the ache I feel without him doesn't make any sense to me at all. My whole body feels wrong, like I've been split apart and put back together, but the pieces don't fit right anymore. What I told him was true: he changed me. Something happened between us, more than sense or logic can explain. I saw my future in him, that first day on the highway; felt a connection that shouldn't ever be broken.
And now it has, I can't go back to the girl I used to be, not even if I tried.
"Honey?" My mom taps on the door and swings it open. "I brought you some lunch."
"I'm not hungry." I tell her, muffled from under the duvet.
"I made PB and J, with the crusts cut off." She comes to sit on the edge of the bed. "And there's milk too. Oh, sweetie," she sighs, pulling back the covers. "You need your strength, this isn't healthy."
I want to tell her to go, but my stomach lets out a rumble, so I reluctantly pull myself into a sitting position and reach for the food.
Mom watches me, cautious. I didn't say much, but I can tell, she knows.
"Maybe you can come down and sit on the porch?" she suggests brightly. "It's a lovely day outside."
"I don't know..."
"You need to get up out of that bed, and do something." Mom says firmly. "Nothing's going to get fixed unless you make it fixed."
I stop. She's talking about my broken heart, about time, and moving on, I know. Life without Emerson. But her words spark something in me. I sit up a little higher.
"OK. After I'm done eating, I'll come down."
"That's my girl."
Untouched: A Cedar Cove Novella Part 7
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Untouched: A Cedar Cove Novella Part 7 summary
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