Something dropped to the floor with a thud, and I rolled over.
I was disoriented a moment. Where was I? Then the memories came flooding in. I was being blasted by erotic images of me and Stone, and then I looked over. What time was it? I’d fallen asleep in his bed and looked for a clock. It was around eight in the morning.
“Sorry.” He came over, sat on the edge of the bed and knelt back over. He was putting shoes on.
I couldn’t make sense of anything. “What’s going on?”
I sat up, and looked down. Stone had grabbed one of my bags of clothes and brought it in for me. I pulled on a tank top and underwear. Still. No shame here. We’d violated each other a thousand different ways last night. I didn’t move to cover myself, just stared at him, a little dumbfounded.
He finished tying his shoes and got up. Pulling on a hoodie, he grabbed for his wallet and keys. “Okay. I’m off. I have to head in and I’ll be gone most the day. You’ll be okay?”
He paused, glancing to me.
He added, “I’m not talking about your concussion, because you shouldn’t do shit today. Got that? Keep television to a minimum. No reading. Don’t exert your brain. Just don’t. Trust me.”
Great. That left me alone with only thoughts. Not a good picture there.
But, I manned up. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’m not shitting around. Will you or won’t you? I can arrange for that one friend of yours to come and hang out if you need easy company?”
I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. You remember the code, right? If you need to leave for any reason, but seriously. Don’t. I mean it.”
“I know!” I glared. “And I remember.”
He stared at me. I stared up.
All the screwing was done. We were back to our normal, almost-loathing dynamic, though I felt myself wanting to say something to push his buttons, make him hate me. You’re comfortable in what you know.
He sighed, running a hand down his face. “You’re freaking out?”
“No.” Fuck. Shit. I sat up, and holy hell, my entire body ached. It was worse than after the coma even. I balked when I scooted to the edge of the bed and stood. “I’ll be fine. We fucked. That’s it. You helped me out. Thank you for that.” I motioned toward his door. “Go and live your big life. I will be fine.”
He didn’t move, but some of the impatience melted away. The lines around his mouth softened.
What a fucked-up pair we were. I snapped at him and it settled him.
“Go, Stone. I will be fine.”
He nodded. “Don’t talk to your stepbrother today. If he calls, wait till I’m here. Okay?”
I nodded before he left the room.
I was slower following, going to my section of the house.
I didn’t know why he made that suggestion, but whatever. I was so far from thinking about that right now. My stepsister guilt had been dispensed. Jared was with an entire family who wanted him. I’d been fucked by a superstar who was helping me out of guilt. Okay. He said he cared, but I wasn’t looking at him with rosy glasses.
This wasn’t a romance waiting in the wings.
Maybe more sex. Hot sex. Primal sex. Yeah. Maybe that shit, but nothing else, and remembering all of this, I had two weeks to deal. Two weeks to let my body heal. To let my heart deal with the mourning much as I could handle it, and then I had to make a plan because fuck, I was going to need a job when Stone would send me packing.
I heard the garage opening, the gate opening a second later, but then I was in my room and I almost collapsed on my own bed.
No, no, no. I couldn’t do that. I’d think, that led to feeling, that led to wanting the world to swallow me up. Moving. I had to keep moving or doing something. But I was hurting. Nope. Sitting still was worse than the physical pain.
So, what, then? I’d never been into drugs or alcohol, not more than a social wine or something. Cleaning, that’s it. I could clean. But no. Stone’s house looked impeccable. He must’ve had a cleaning lady come in on the regular, I was sure of that.
Back to square one.
I washed up, changed my clothes, and by then the bed was beckoning to me again. Phone. I had to find my phone, at least have it by me. Going in search, it took me back to Stone’s room. There was a pile of my stuff on his floor, and kneeling down, I scooped it all up and went back to my space. I could snoop, take in what his room looked like, but not at that moment. I didn’t have the energy for that.
A yawn left me.
We’d barely slept, so hopefully day one could be passed just by sleeping. Some of the panic subsided, and when I got to my room, I was yawning again. It was the kind that made you tear up, and I dropped my stuff on a chair, digging through it until I found my phone.
Plugging that in, I didn’t check the screen.
Day one of actually dealing with my concussion was about to commence. Doing nothing, here I go. I got back in bed, pulled the covers up, and rolled over.
I slept day one away, meandering out to the kitchen sometime that afternoon, and that’s when boredom hit me. Not normal boredom. This was the kind of boredom that was verging on panic because I needed something to do or I was going to lose it.
I already had lost it the night before and a marathon of sex had been the result.
An idea took hold standing in the kitchen. Stone liked when my mom baked for us. So, going into his kitchen, that’s what I was going to do. It started first with spying a pile of cookbooks in the pantry. I’d been in there looking for water, only realizing later the water would probably be in the fridge, but maybe it was fate. Within an hour, I was sitting in the middle of a stack of fourteen cookbooks.
I couldn’t believe Stone had these, and I really couldn’t believe he had them stashed away in a corner. Why not use them if you were going to have them? Then I stilled, opening one. First page.
To Stone, I know how much you liked that birthday cake I made for your seventh birthday. Here’s the recipe for it. Page 147. — Sherry I looked at the next.
Stone, those cookies you devoured with Dusty for Halloween that one year you were in fourth and she was in third, the recipe is on page 67. — Sherry And a third.
Stone, I’m breaking tradition here. I know you liked my baked goods, but I couldn’t resist. Remember the sloppy joes that you raved about? I made them for Dusty’s tenth birthday. The recipe is on page 183. — Sherry I looked through a fourth, a fifth.
My heart was pounding, then dropping, until I got to the last cookbook. Every single one of them. All from my mother. Each with a note written from — Sherry.
Why did she do this?
But the note on the last one had me doing a double-take.
I know you’re off to do great things in your future. I know you feel badly about slighting my daughter. I’ve come to enjoy our Saturday morning grocery trips, but this is going to be my last note to you. I’m dying and you’re officially the first to know, though you won’t get this book till after I’m gone.
I have loved you as my own son, and I know Dusty still cares about you. I have a wish for you. If you are ever in a situation where my daughter needs help, please be there for her. She’s the silent trooper. She suffers in silence and she doesn’t think I can tell. I do. And I know life has ups and downs, and you both will have challenges. Please reach out. Please care for each other. Please don’t let this thing between your mother and my husband keep you away.
Life is short. Live. Forgive.
I will be watching over both you and Dusty.
— All the love, Sherry
All the love.
All. The. Love.
I read those words over and over and over and over. I lost track how many times I read them.
I knew she cared for Stone. I knew there’d been a special relationship, but this was more. This was so much more than I thought it was, and it cut me. It cut me deep.
He hadn’t even lied to me. I was replaying when I asked him why he was helping me, and he said it. Point-blank. Because of my mom, because he cared for her. Here was the proof. She cared for him back. And my dad and his mom?
What the hell? Again.
What. The. Hell?
Thoughts were flashing in my mind. Bad thoughts. Miserable thoughts.
Like, why’d she have to go?
Why’d he have to go?
Why’d they have to drive on that road? At that time of night? Why’d the deer have to choose to cross the road at that exact second?
Was it me?
Was I cursed?
Did everyone I love have to be taken from me?
My insides were twisting all in a knot, then being knotted again, and again. Bent over, my forehead to the ground, I rocked in a fetal position. Every one of those questions plaguing me, laughing at me, being screamed in my head, taunting me.
It was me.
I was the problem.
I was the connection.
They loved me, and they all died.
I had to go.
I put the cookbooks back where they were, and I had one thought. Leave. I had to leave. I wasn’t a pity project. I felt Stone’s loathing last night. I knew it was still in him, and now it was back and raging inside of me. It hadn’t quite left me.