He flushed, swallowing, and then he winced once more. “You don’t want me around you?”
“When do I ever?”
He frowned, his hand in his hair once more.
Yeah, yeah. I wasn’t being normal Cheyenne, well, fuck that Cheyenne. Fuck who that was—“Do people like you think about the people you hurt?”
“People like me. People like my mom.”
“Huh? I didn’t hurt your mom. Your mom, she—”
“She was a goddamn junkie, Chad! You were a teenager, but in that moment, you were the adult--”
“No, I wasn’t! I was a teenager—”
“You took advantage of her and you know it. You and your fath—”
He surged toward me, getting in my face. His finger was pointing and he was red. “He’s not my father! He’s yours!”
“Then why are you here?!” I yelled right back.
The switch was flipped and I didn’t give a fuck.
I didn’t care about him.
I didn’t care about the police.
I didn’t care about his neck.
She was taken from me, and that wasn’t their decision. Deek wouldn’t have come over if Chad hadn’t--but he was right, and I stopped because he was right.
“Hey.” Cut’s voice came down the hallway. He was alone and frowning, his head inclined and moving between the two of us. “What’s going on?”
I turned away.
She could’ve lasted longer.
She might’ve lasted longer.
She might’ve—she might’ve got help, but no. I was lying to myself.
She did get help. A lot of it. And it never stuck.
When would it have stuck?
Or would she have done it herself later on? Would she have pushed the second needle in anyways?
Cut and Chad were talking. I heard their voices murmuring to each other, and then Cut was coming toward me.
I didn’t want him near me.
His voice was gentle.
His hands were gentle.
I didn’t want gentle.
I whipped around and shoved him back. “Don’t!”
“He—what?” From Cut.
Chad had been leaving, but he stopped and turned back.
“This.” He had to know. I already told him, but he had to know. “This isn’t a one-time shitty thing that happened to me. This is the last in a long list of shitty things that have happened to me, and I thought it was done. I thought when she died, and when I went away, and when I got better, I thought it was all going to get better. I’m still here! I’m still in the police station because my father helped my mother overdose. He killed her, and he had no right! No. Right! NO RIGHT!”
I was remembering those days.
Bits and pieces. They were disjointed.
We ran out of shampoo.
I used soap from a gas station a block away.
I remember my stomach growling, and growling, until it got to a point when it stopped growling. I thought it stopped working at times.
I remember the cold.
I’d forgotten the cold, until now.
I had no blankets.
She took them, but I never knew why. She just did.
And she was cold.
I wasn’t talking about temperature.
I just wanted someone to make me warm.
“Let’s go home, Shy.”
I wasn’t numb anymore.
So many thoughts and feelings were blasting me now, but I heard him and I lifted my head.
I was sad. I didn’t want to be sad anymore.
“You used my nickname.”
He gave me a crooked grin, but to me it was the most beautiful smile ever.
He murmured, reaching for my hand and curling two of his fingers around mine, “I can call you Shine instead? My own nickname for you.”
I liked that.
A wind funnel formed inside of me. I had my own tornado in me. It was going around and around, and then finally, at the touch of his hand, it started to leave me. I was all empty inside, just the aftermath of that storm.
I curled my hand tight around his two fingers and I held on.
I needed to hold on.
“She was an outcast growing up. She told me that. She stayed an outcast, too, and so was I. She made an outcast, but,” a sick little laugh rippled up my throat and left me. I felt like it was pulling the last of that wind with it, leaving me hollow. “I never felt like an outcast back then, but I was.” I looked at him, feeling nothing except emptiness inside of me. “I was one back then, but I didn’t feel it. I’m not one now, so why do I feel like I am?”
His eyes darkened and he stepped toward me, pulling me to his chest. He curled his arm around me, holding me tight and his head bent down. His lips grazed my forehead. Then my cheeks. Then my lips. Then my throat, and his breath tickled me.
“I can’t speak on what it was like for you back then, but I can tell you about now. And now is good. Now is where you have Sasha and Melanie. You have Reba and Boomer at Come Our Way. You have all the guys at Come Our Way. They all care about you, and you have me.” He held me even tighter. “You have all of me.”
His breath warmed me.
He warmed me.
It was later on the ride home.
We were going to Cut’s house.
I don’t know what happened to Chad. I didn’t care. Cut told me that Chad was going to call Natalie, and he was sure that Natalie’s husband would help Deek how he could. It was karma in a way, but Cut also reassured me that I didn’t need to worry about Chad saying anything about his neck.
But it hit me around the time Cut was turning onto his road that if my mom hadn’t died, what then?
Would I have gone to my uncle’s? Got better? Gone to Silvard?
Would I have ended up where I was right now, with Cut?
I’d never know, I guess.
But there were two things I did know.
I fell in love with Cutler when I first saw him, and I still loved him.
I’d love him for the rest of my life.
I lied. I knew three things after all.
Koala Sister: I love you
Koala Brother: Same.
Three months later.
My mom was whispering/hissing to me, her hand clutching my arm.
“I know, Mom.”
She stood on her tiptoes, pulled me down, and yelled-whispered in my ear, “Adorable, Cutler! Adorable.”
Her hand squeezed harder. “You kept her away from us for too goddamn long.”
This was not the response I thought I’d get the day my parents met Cheyenne for the first time.
They flew in for the start of the playoffs. We were going to pick them up at the airport, but they insisted on renting their own vehicle. Dylan and Jamison were with them, and at first they weren’t going to stay at the house.
They always stay at the house.
“Oh, no,” my mom said to me in our conversation about it. “You didn’t have a lady friend then.”
“She’s not a lady friend. I love Cheyenne. She’s going to be my wife one day.”