Trigger warnings: mentions of suicide, sexual abuse, abuse of a child
I smiled as I walked down the grand staircase of Georgie’s to see Eli sitting at a table by the bar, looking up at me with awe in his eyes. It was a rare sight to see him wearing anything more than shorts in the summer heat, but he even had on a button up shirt and a pair of jeans that looked like he pulled them right off of the rack out of a store. Instead of his typical hat hair, he styled his curls with gel after getting a fresh cut.
“Baby, what are you doing here?” I asked, as he stood up to reach out for my hand.
“I’ve just been waiting on you,” he said, as he pulled out a chair for me.
“You should’ve come up to my office. I was making calls to all of our new hires to let them know about the meeting on Monday, and finalizing reservations for all of our pressure tests. I didn’t want to have to spend any time here tomorrow when I committed to helping Elaina cook up family dinner. I was nervous about the suites. She was being so particular, Eli. I was ready to lock her in a closet.”
He looked over my shoulder with an amused smile on his face. I turned to see what was there, and spotted my father pacing around and growling into his phone.
“I feel sorry for his employees,” he said, nodding towards the man with a fuse about as short as he stood.
“Tell me about it. I have a feeling we will have to develop an HR department because of Paul Hart.” I fiddled with my earring. “I’m so hungry that I smell Chicken Parmesan.”
“Hey Sweets.” He raised his eyebrow at me.
“What babe?” I looked up from my phone after seeing that my sister was calling me.
“Ignore that.” He grabbed hold of my hand. “You know how bad I am with words, right?”
I smiled, resting my chin on my fist as I began to pick up on his nerves. “What are you doing right now?”
He stood up, still holding my hand as he said, “ I hate to talk to everyone but you. I stay as quiet as possible, until you’re next to me. I want to tell you everything. I know that I can tell you anything, because even on my worst days, you have always shown me your love is the strongest thing in my life.”
“It’s so strong,” I whispered to him, feeling tears in my eyes as he dropped to one knee in front of me.
“And so, everyday, I try to be everything for you. People ask me things all of the time, like why I work so much when I don’t have to, or why I’m building a house when I could just buy one. I work hard so I never have to tell you no, so that you can have everything. I built the house, because I wanted it to be where you wanted it, I wanted it to have everything that you wanted, right down to the correct sink faucet, and I wanted it to be the place that made you stay with me forever. Rhiannon Paula Hart, will you marry me?”
“Elijah,” I whispered, pressing my right hand to my mouth. “Of course. What do you mean? I thought I was going to have to plate my cookie in gold to get you to ask. Baby!” I screeched, pulling him into a tight hug and pressing my lips to his.
He smiled at me as music began to play, and the sound of applause came from the ballroom. I turned around to see my three older sisters standing with Nicole, Emmet, Eden, Elaina, and Emma. Paul and Stella stood, embracing one another with smiles on their faces. Lee and Justin stood with Chase…and Thaden?
“Did I miss it?” Shayna Shay asked as she came running through the door. She looked at Eli and me with disappointment. “Fuck, I totally missed it.”
“But, hey!” I held up my ring. “I said yes.”
She clapped her hands together before pulling me into a tight hug.
“We’re going to be official sisters,” Elaina said as she waited her turn to hug me. “It’s about goddamn time that mistake was corrected.”
I smiled at her and everyone else who approached me to congratulate me. Sylvie started setting every seat in the bar area for a dinner to celebrate the engagement. Everyone talked and laughed, but I blanked out for a moment as I stared straight ahead of me towards the windows that overlooked the Hart Family Mansion.
Jenna should’ve been there.
I spent so much time thinking about her, and how she would react to knowing I was having a baby. My older sisters that were around me were so excited, but Jenna would’ve been the one to show up with flowers, cards, fresh bowls of fruit, and so much love. She would’ve looked after me. She would’ve listened to me in a way that Penny, Olivia, and Taylor didn’t care for, and in a way that Elaina never had time for. She would’ve listened to every concern, every hope, and every pain without ever tiring of hearing about it. And to see me get engaged? She would’ve tripped all over herself, because as she always said, she loved love. But, instead of having that, I had the memory of how cold her hand was the last time that I touched her.
“Hey, sweets.” Eli caressed my hand, pulling me out of my thoughts. “Did you want lemonade?”
“No, just water please,” I said, as Elaina and Shayna took seats across from each other at our table.
“What about you?” Sylvie asked, running her fingers through a lock of Elaina’s curls.
“An Old Fashion.” Elaina didn’t even think about it, as she looked over her shoulder at the table where all of the guys sat.
“Have you and Chase worked things out?”
“Mmm.” Elaina gave Shayna a wide eyed look as their eyes met. “It depends on what you mean by that. Did we hook up at my place when nobody was around? Yes. Has he changed a damn thing that I had a problem with? No. He’s still hanging out with Ashton using Moose as an excuse, and leaving me to feel like I’m caught up in the middle of something that I never wanted to be a part of. He’s still running things for his mom. I actually had to bail him out last night.”
“You bailed him out?” I asked in astonishment. “Out of jail?”
“He tried to buy something from an undercover.”
“Laney, you need to get out of that shit.” Shayna gave her a glare. “I have seen how hard you worked and how far you came. You don’t want to get yourself caught up in that life again, bitch. What if he’s lying about picking it up for his mom? What if that shit is for him? What if his ex was right and you’re being used?”
“I just hired him to be the head of the bar staff.” She threw her arms out at her side. “What am I going to do? How in the fuck do you plan me to run a hotel with a double bar without somebody who has experience?”
“Jensen Williams is at Harbor Heights and he hates it. Ina Alder works at Jamestown and she hates it. Leah Parks is at Sheila’s and she would be terrific. If it’s bar experience that you need, I know everyone at every bar in Roy County and they’d fall all over themselves to work here.”
“I’m going to tell you all something I don’t ever say.” She sipped on her drink. “I love him, and I want to make it work. So, let’s drop this and celebrate the engagement that we are here to celebrate tonight.”
“Thank God.” I sighed with relief. “I’ve already put him through orientation and I really don’t want to go through it again.”
She smiled at me, before asking, “So, who is the maid of honor?”
“It’s between you and Pensacola.”
“That’s some bullshit,” Elaina snapped as I giggled at the expression on her face. “You’d have to kill me before I let that buck-toothed weirdo anywhere near your wedding.”
“You know she’s going to want to stay with us. That’s probably why she was calling me. When my mom told me that she was coming into town, I told her she absolutely could not stay at our house.”
“You’re not wrong,” Elaina said. “The way she clogged the toilet the last time she was there and then tried to lie about it, like it just magically happened. I was so pissed. I’m getting heated just thinking about it.”
“Laney, it’s ‘My Own Dance!’” Eden said as she ran up and grabbed her sister’s hand. “You have to dance with me. Please.”
“Okay.” Elaina grinned at her sister. “Let’s do it. Rae, are you going to join us?”
“Come on.” Eden clapped her hands together. “You know the dance.”
“Fine.” I sighed, as I stood up and the three of us found an open space at the bottom of the staircase.
“All the Right Moves” started playing as we went back to our seats, laughing and giggling together. I froze as Chase walked up and grabbed a hold of Elaina’s wrist while the rest of us took a seat.
“What do you want me to do about the way that he’s looking at me?” she snapped.
“I want you to tell the fucking dude to leave.”
“Okay, well it’s my brother’s engagement party and that’s one of our oldest friends. He’s Nick’s fucking brother.”
“And the same asshole you’re video chatting all of the time? Elaina, do I look like a fucking idiot to you.”
“Hey.” Elaina shoved him backwards away from our table and towards the empty bar.
“What the fuck?” Eli whispered as he looked at me.
I shrugged as I reached for my fork to begin eating my favorite dinner of all time. “Thank you, baby. This really is the best night of my life.”
“Oh, you want to talk about my family not showing respect for you? That’s a fucking joke, Chase. Why don’t you ignore the texts from your mom the next time you’re making love to me? Or is it even your mom that’s hitting you up, huh? How do I know you’re not selling the shit yourself?”
“Are we done here?” Chase asked, grabbing her by the shoulder.
She pushed him backwards, and the two of them stared a long, awkward stare before Elaina turned to head to her table.
“Are you good?” I asked her.
She forced a smile at me. “This isn’t about me, is it? This is your night. Eli made it for you and I’m going to enjoy it with you. Chase can go to hell.”
I smiled at her. “Thank you.”
“You’re my girl.” She gave me a wink, before she started digging into her plate.
I could hear my sister’s voice in my head as everything began to die down. She may have died, but she was always alive inside of there.
I’m okay. Just because I am going through things doesn’t mean that you spend every moment worrying about me. I’m your big sister, Rae. I’m the one who worries about you.
“So, why did you go?” I whispered to myself as I walked out of the bathroom.
A gentle hand brought me out of my sleep. I woke up to see Eli leaning in to kiss my cheek.
“Come on,” he whispered, pulling me up into his arms.
A panic that I couldn’t justify ripped through me as I pressed my face into his shoulder.
“Hey.” He grabbed my chin. “Sweets, it was just a dream. Everything is fine. I’m waking you up so you can get ready for your ultrasound, yeah? And you have work after that. Your big meeting is today.”
I nodded my head at him. “Thank you.“
“What has you thinking about Jenna so much?”
“I always think about her.” I went into the bathroom and started undressing to get into the shower. “There’s not a second that I’m not thinking about her. It’s just harder to swallow right now, because I really want her to be here for everything.”
“I get that.” I could see him slipping into a pair of shorts through the bathroom mirror. “I’m always wondering what my dad would say about everything. It could go one of two ways. He’d either be really proud, or he would tell me I’m moving too fast. I do think he would love what I’m doing. I have a business, and now you have one. I’m helping build the house, and we’re getting married. I also think he would love how Elaina’s just taking her time with everything.”
“So…Are you sitting around wishing we had taken our time? Because I didn’t make you propose last night, but we have been together since we were fifteen so this does feel like the appropriate time—“
“Hey.” He popped into the bathroom and kissed my forehead. “I’m not second guessing anything. I just had a talk with my mom about some things and it got me thinking about my dad. A lot like you’re thinking about Jenna. Just wondering what it would be like if he could see me now.”
“Your dad was obsessed with you.” I grinned at him. “Even if you just spit out sunflower seeds at a baseball game he would start cheering like you’re the only kid who ever spit out sunflower seeds.”
“He was a big fan of mine,” Eli agreed. “I’m going to be the same way with this kid. Boy or girl, I’m won over.”
“So, you’re not secretly praying for a son?”
He shook his head. “I am secretly praying for my child and my lover to be healthy and happy when it’s that time. That’s all I want. For everything to be okay.”
We stepped quietly out of the bedroom to find Elaina asleep on the couch, a fan pointed at her, and a washcloth folded over her eyes, a sure fire sign that she was suffering a migraine from two weeks of pushing herself to be on the go with minimal breaks.
“I really hope she feels better by the time we have this meeting. I will puke if I have to do it by myself.”
“It’s just talking to a bunch of people that you’re paying. It’s a no-brainer. Everytime we get a new hire, I introduce myself by saying, ‘What’s up? I sign your check, dude. It’s a swag check, so do whatever I say and you get to keep getting it.’”
“Okay, but you’re just a bunch of dudes who hang out and build furniture all day. This is a hotel. It’s s little different.”
“Furniture, sheds, gazebos, and we have our specialty playgrounds for handicapable little heroes coming out. We are more than bed frames and dressers, thank you.”
“I didn’t mean to limit what you do. And, babe, that’s awesome. How come this is the first time I’m hearing about it?”
“Because, these things were a bitch to design, and I didn’t know if I could pull it off. I had to design a super safe pulley system for the kiddos who can’t walk, and I was ready to give up, but Thaden came in being all inspirational, talking about how if these kids are still trying to have a great time with the odds against them, who am I to give up over a rope? So, I went back to the drawing board.”
“How are you marketing them? Are they going to be expensive?”
He cringed. “Unless I can come up with a better source for materials, they’re up there.”
I bit at my fingernails. “What about a benefit dinner at Georgie’s? I can get some snobs together who like to look kind on paper and get the first five playgrounds to kids who need them free of charge.”
“Damn. You’re right.” He smiled. “And if we just mention it to Elaina she’ll probably pay for ten of them.”
“She does have a kind heart like that,” I agreed. “I want to see them. Maybe I will come down after the meeting.”
“Bet.” He gave me his best smile as he pulled onto Broadway. “For now, let’s get to this appointment and find out what we’re having.”
I couldn’t stop smiling, even as Elaina pulled at her hair trying to find a replacement for Chase. After slamming her forehead into her desk a couple of times, she looked at me and asked, “What do we do? Do we just keep this fucking dude on board as the bar manager until he digs his own grave?”
“If he’s willing. We can’t fire him because you dumped him. That’s not legal.”
“He isn’t hired, is he?” she squealed at me. “Please tell me he isn’t actually hired.”
“He went through orientation and we’re paying him for it, so yeah. I think he’s hired.”
“Mmm.” She nodded her head at me, giving me a long, enraged stare, before she slapped her palm down on her desk. “You knew this as you were sitting there watching me call six people to find his replacement?”
I grinned at her as I pushed myself from side to side in a spinning chair. “I was hoping you would learn a lesson. Don’t mix business with pleasure.”
“Mmm. Well, you’re my best friend and I went into business with you, so maybe that was a mistake.”
“Maybe,” I said with a shrug. “So, my plan is to hire a co-manager. I have Robby lined up.”
“Robby Lake? Like your adopted brother, that Robby? I thought he owned Westlake with Corbin West.”
“He does.” I nodded at her. “He’s a co-owner, but he doesn’t take a lot of shifts there. Corbin does most of the heavy lifting and Robby hops in on busy nights to oversee things, but he’s trying to get up the funds to buy a house. He is totally on board with tackling this position full time, which is great because I don’t know that Chase will even show up.“
“So, this is what we’re doing?” She took a sip of her vanilla iced coffee from Coffee Break. “I’m making messes and you’re swooping in behind me to clean them up?”
“Isn’t that our whole life?”
She glared at me for a moment before she busted out laughing. “You’re right,” she wheezed. “Fuck, you’re right.”
I smiled as I walked out of the office. “I am walking to The Garden Place to get a smoothie before the meeting.”
“Could you not walk?” she asked, as she followed behind me. “Not alone. I’ll drive you if you want. It’s just with that creepy gardener hanging around, I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Why do you call him ‘the gardener’?” I asked, as we started down the grand staircase. “His name is Arthur, right?”
“I was a child when I interacted with him.” She pulled her keys out of her bag. “I got used to him just being the gardener. The man who used to pull me into the shed and make me take my clothes off.”
I stopped, still standing on the stairs as I stared at her. “What?”
“That is the reason I gave you that bag.”
“The emergency suicide kit?”
“After everything that happened with Oliver, the gardener and that man who got to me behind Georgie’s, that bag became my plan to get away if the bad things ever came walking through my front door. An exit strategy. I was going to kill myself before anything else could hurt me.”
“Laney,” I whimpered, holding my hand to my heart.
“I know. You’re probably pissed I didn’t tell you. Don’t be. I have never told anyone. Only Thaden, and I don’t know that he remembers. It was a drunk confession after one too many drinks at Nick and Emmet’s wedding.”
“Why did you never want to tell anyone?”
“Because, as a six year old who is told by your mother that you can’t say anything to anyone, you learn to stay quiet about it.” I nodded my head at her. “We just got into a fight about it a couple of days ago. Rocki told me that I should talk it all out with her, mostly because I was questioning whether or not what happened in the shed was real or made up in my head. The minute I mentioned it to my mom, her whole mood changed, and I felt like I had done something wrong, so I questioned her. Why was it ever so important that I keep it a secret? She said she didn’t want me to be known as the girl from Pacer Hill who got raped by the gardener. She said it would follow me around forever like a dark shadow and that she just hoped that I was young enough when it happened that I would forget. And I almost did. I didn’t even understand it until I was older and losing my virginity to Oliver. Except I wasn’t. I had already lost it without knowing it.”
“He actually raped you?” I clapped my hand over my mouth in disbelief. “You were just a baby, Laney. I can’t imagine how much that hurt.”
“Mmm. You remember the issue with me peeing my bed that didn’t stop until I was like thirteen? The one my mom shamed me for like it was a joke? She treated it so lightly because she didn’t want my dad to find out. I guess she was scared that he would kill Arthur. Talking to her made me regret not going to my dad. Maybe, Mo would still be alive and Nick would have a way better life. Maybe, I would’ve gone a few different directions if I didn’t grow up feeling like the bad thing that happened to me was all my fault. Who fucking knows. It is what it is, now, isn’t it?”
I grabbed her shoulders as we reached the bottom of the staircase. “It was never you.” She nodded her head at me. “You don’t need to carry around any of that weight. That man did that to you because he was a monster. Your mom asked you to stay quiet out of her own fears, from growing up in a world where you couldn’t talk about rape without getting outcasted. I would like to believe that she didn’t know better. And, Mo was murdered by that same monster who had no shame in what he did to you. She wouldn’t blame you. If anything she would cry for you if she knew what he was doing while he was supposed to be working to feed their children.”
“Hey.” She gave me a serious look. “You cannot mention this to anyone else. I have kept Nick from knowing this secret for long enough. If it comes out, now…She’s already suffered enough thanks to him.”
“That is so kind of you, but you were the victim. You don’t have to worry about other people’s reaction to your pain. It’s yours.”
“I am not a victim, Rae. I survived. And if we’re going to name the victims of his crime, Nick, Robby, and Thaden are all victims too. They’ll live most of their lives without their real moms love. They have Stella, and Thaden never stops talking about how amazing your mom and dad have been to him as their adoptive parents, but could you imagine losing your mom after knowing her love for almost nine years? It’s too much to take.”
Her words broke my heart. I turned away so she couldn’t see the pained expression on my face, and headed for the front doors.
“Hey, what did I say?”
She knew me too well.
“Rae?” She ran up to me and grabbed my shoulder.
“I’m a childhood cancer survivor. I go in for scans every six months to make sure I’m still cancer free.” I shrugged at her. “So, when you said that, I just pictured my little boy reaching up for my hand, and it not being there.”
“No.” She pinched my cheek. “No way. That’s not going to happen.”
“I hope not.” I forced a half smile. “But, Elaina? I am absolutely terrified.”
“Oh, sweet cheeks, we all are.” She laughed at the thought. “Nobody ever knows if they’re really doing the right thing, but I’ll be damned if we aren’t all doing our best.”
“Click, click, boom.” I held my hand out for a fist boom.
“Pull the trigger, boom-boom.”
I smiled. “That was the most insensitive cheer.”
“I don’t know. Dad really hated, ‘touchdown, watch me hit the ground.’”
“How were we never cancelled?” I giggled.
“Because I won the PSACC four years in a row with my stunts. The only cancelling they could do was automatically passing me through each grade so that I made it to graduation day.” She froze as she sat in the driver’s seat. “Do you think they did that? Rae, I was so bad at math I used to cry for hours at the kitchen table. So how did I all of a sudden start acing senior math?”
“That is the same year you became a heavy smoker,” I pointed out. “Maybe it was the weed.”
“Yes, girl.” She smacked her palm on my knee. “MJ comes through for another win!”
“Are you having the time of your life?” I asked as she sped down the hill, hardly looking at the road as she fidgeted with her radio controls.
She smiled, locks of her curls falling in front of her face, and her peach lip gloss catching flecks of the sun. “I am the best I’ve ever been.”
We were on our third pressure test for our staff, with a packed Friday night. Every reservation was filled, all of the staff showed up, the bars were open, the music was playing, candles were burning, and I couldn’t outrun this overwhelming feeling of impending doom.
“How are you?” Amy asked, holding onto my arm as I stood at the table where she sat with Emmet, Nicole, and Baby Emma.
I stared at a table where two younger women sat, noticing that they were staring at Elaina as she made her rounds to talk to the guests.
“I am fine,” I answered.
“Don’t spend too much time up on your feet,” Nicole warned me. “Whenever I did I had to go home and ice them to control the swelling.”
“They’d get huge,” Emmet said, giving me a nod. “If you ladies need help with anything, just come get me. I do this for a living, something you all seem to have forgotten considering that you never consulted me once.”
“Did they hurt your feelings?” Nicole pinched his cheek. “Did they bruise your big man ego by not needing you?”
“A little bit. I know they can do it themselves but I wouldn’t mind if they pretended to need me.”
I smiled as my eyes landed on Robby and Chase standing at the bar, appearing to have a heated debate. I felt Elaina grab onto my elbow as she watched the same scene. The two of us hurried forward to break up whatever argument they were having.
“Nah, dude, after I’ve told somebody to get glasses cleaned, you’re not gonna come through and holler at her to be on the floor. I’ll knock you out the next time,” Robby warned.
“Why not right now?” Chase gave him a cocky smile.
“Hey gentlemen, you have a bar to run. Are you going to run it or cause a scene?”
“Ask the dude who just screamed at a bar back like a maniac in front of everyone sitting at the bar,” Robby said, gesturing his hand towards Chase. “At least I pulled him to the side of the bar.”
“We are packed. She should be backing the bartenders on the floor.”
“She is!” Robby boomed. “How do you think they’re going to get the customers drinks without clean glasses, Chase? This isn’t a bottles only service.”
“I’ll clean the glasses!” Elaina chirped. “Just shut up and do your jobs, huh? I will get the glasses cleaned.”
“What is this dude’s problem?” Robby asked me, as Chase followed Elaina to the bar sink, whispering in her ear the same way Robby was snapping in mine.
“He’s Elaina’s…something? I don’t know if they’re dating or if they’re not. She tried to tell me that it was over but I woke up with him in my kitchen, so I don’t know. He has a problem with your brother. I don’t know if he knows that you’re Thaden’s brother and he’s just trying to give you hell. I don’t know, but ignore it. I swear the trash is going to take itself out at some point.”
“I am going to kick his ass if he keeps talking to people the way he’s talking to ‘em.”
“I’d love to see it. First row ticket, please.” I squeezed Robby’s shoulder. “You’re finding your flow. Just keep it up, dude.”
I went back to the table with Nicole, Emmet, and Amy just as Shoney approached. With the perfect smile on her face, she asked, “How are you, folks? Rae, can I get you something?”
“A turkey club and an orange juice sounds great,” I said with a nod. “Thank you, Shoney.”
“Absolutely, sweetheart. What about everyone else?”
“Another refill,” Amy said. “My son is going to have to carry me home tonight.”
“Wonderful,” Emmet muttered at his mother.
“I did it for you, plenty, kid. And you were bigger than me by the time you were three.”
“There’s Eden and Jaycee,” Nicole said, waving at the youngest Pacer sister as she entered the dining room.
“Oh my gosh.” Jaycee ran up and wrapped her arms around my neck. “You and Laney did amazing. This place is stunning.”
I opened my mouth to respond to her, but before I could make a sound there was a crack, followed by broken glass and the sound of a slap. The whole dining room and bar area fell silent as everyone looked around to see what happened.
My eyes landed on Elaina as she stood up on the bar countertop.
“You dumb motherfucker!” A female voice broke out through the silence, crippled with pain. My eyes landed on Natalie, the wedding planner, standing up with her hand pressed to her cheek and blood leaking out of her nose.
I stood up to see Oliver smirking at her, as Elaina and Shoney both hurried in Natalie’s direction to be of assistance.
People slowly began resuming their meals as I too rushed over to the scene.
“Hey, hey, hey.” Shoney grabbed the sides of Natalie’s face as she broke down into tears. “Come with me.”
“Over here!” Chase ordered, waving Natalie and Shoney in his direction. “I have ice.”
“What are you doing, Oliver?” Elaina exclaimed. “You’re really going to make me call the police on you on opening night, huh? I don’t even have to do it. I can see at least five people already on the phone.”
He smirked as he cut off a chunk of his steak and shoved it into his mouth. “I am the police, Elaina.”
“Dude, this isn’t fucking Harbor. This is Pacer Hill. My fucking hill and if you pull something like that with anyone in front of me again, you won’t drive off of it.”
“Is that a threat?” Oliver asked her.
“Are you willing to gamble on it?”
He stood up, smiling at her as he shoved his hands into the front pockets of his faded skinny jeans. “You may have gotten hotter and lost some of that weight, but you still have that attitude. Like you’re better than everyone else because Grandma died and left you a bunch of money. Some shit doesn’t change, does it babe?”
He went in to kiss her cheek, but she rammed her shoulder into him, causing him to stumble backwards.
“She fell into her car window?” I asked Elaina with an eyebrow raised.
“I didn’t buy it from the beginning, but I also didn’t know that’s the asshat he’s dating. I can’t blame her.” She hugged herself as she watched Oliver leave. “He’s so charming, until the first time you piss him off. It’s a shit show from there. He is an animal.”
Elaina and I went into the kitchen to check on Natalie.
“He was my ride,” she sobbed.
“We have room at our place.” Elaina squeezed her shoulder. “Four, actually, and it’s just a walk right up the hill. It might be nice for you to take a breather.”
“Or you could use a guest room. We only booked eight of them for the night.”
Elaina shook her head at me. “I’m sorry. I can treat my home like a charity, but not this place. It’s a pay to stay only kind of joint.”
“It’s fine.” Natalie smiled as she held a washcloth filled with ice against her nose. “I am fine. I’ll call my dad to pick me up or something.”
“Maybe a hospital?” Chase suggested. “Your nose is gushing. You need to get it looked at. He might have broken it.”
“I can get Nick,” I said, as I went to push the door open.
“No.” Natalie gave me a serious look. “I can handle it.”
“Mmm.” Elaina nodded. “I thought I could too until he almost killed me, but I guess you have to learn on your own. I did.” She looked at Chase and me. “Let’s leave her to it and get back to work.”
“That was a little cold,” Chase said as we followed Elaina out of the kitchen.
“I’ll comp her bill and see her out okay, but I’m not going to try to save somebody who doesn’t admit she needs the saving, Chase. I have problems of my own, like you. You’re a huge problem for me.”
He smiled at her. “I wasn’t a huge problem last night. Or was I?”
“You two are sick,” I grumbled.
Elaina watched me for a moment, a concerned look on her face. “Are you good, Rae?”
“No,” I answered, giving her a sad smile.
“What do you need?”
“This is something that you can’t fix.”
I found Jenna’s diary when I was helping Stella clean out her apartment. I never opened it. I placed it in a box of her valuables that stayed stored in my closet. Something felt wrong about invading her privacy, even if she was no longer living.
I also didn’t want to read the words. Seeing her dead was enough. I didn’t need to read about her misery to add to my own resentment. I was already pissed that she chose death. Out of all of the options she had in life, why was stopping her heart even on the list? She was smart, amazing at writing poetry, a talented painter, and she made an art out of speaking to people. She was beautiful, so much so that she had a girlfriend who practically fell to her feet whenever Jenna walked into a room. She also had a group of guys that fell for her in high school, and spent their young adult years following her around to see what she was getting into. She was never alone. How does somebody with all of these things going for her see no way out of her pain? I went to therapy, read books, and listened to plenty of podcasts on the topic, but no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t make sense to me that my sister, one of my favorite people in the world, ended her own life and took herself away from me. I spent so much of my time wondering if the answer was in the diary.
But that’s not why I opened it that night.
I had came home from spending time with the staff at the hotel to find an empty house. I didn’t know where Elaina wandered off to, and I passed by Eli working on our house on my way inside.
While I was in the black bathroom, taking a bath and taking advantage of Elaina’s amazing sound system, Jenna’s song to me filled the room. I hadn’t listened to it since before she died. I didn’t even realize it was still on my playlist. It sent me into a sobbing fit.
I just needed to feel close to her.
I lit candles in my room and cuddled up with my pillows as I opened the journal.
‘I am not a miserable person. I swear that I’m happy with my life. There’s some things I would change, but nothing that I would give up, and I think that says a lot.’
‘I got the keys to my art shop today!”
‘Showed up to see Rae off to homecoming. It is criminal that my little sister doesn’t realize how beautiful she is, but at least Eli does. I see it in the way he’s always reaching out for her hand. All of the time. I want to love somebody that much, but they’ve been at each other’s side their whole lives. Their love is so different. So unique. From ‘peanut butter and jellies on Georgie’s front porch’ to ‘blunts in the carriage house’ different.’
‘Thaden, Nicole, Robby…They’re my family. I love them like my own siblings. So, why do I feel this shame when I am looking at them?’
‘Just when you think you moved past something, it creeps up on you in the dark of the night and you can’t breathe.’
‘I honestly don’t remember anything this man is writing me about. Arthur Lake has gotten my address and he keeps talking about how sorry he is for what happened in the shed. What happened in the shed? I remember going in there with him when I was younger, but I don’t remember anything else. Did I block it out? I was like five, so that could be. Now I feel like I should write him back and ask him what he is referring to, but do I really want to be pen pals with a murderer?’
‘The gardener. He was the gardener.’
I slammed the journal shut and threw it across the room letting out an enraged scream.
It wasn’t enough.
I stood up and started tearing apart my room. I slammed a picture frame on the ground, threw a stack of books into the wall, knocked over my whole nightstand, and just screamed. I screamed until I couldn’t scream anymore, and then I cried, because it still wasn’t enough.
Written by Ava McClure
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most interesting but painful story.very well written,dear!!,🌺
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