Chapter 21

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“Have you ever wanted to let go?”  I wasn’t paying attention to the road ahead; my mind was free falling over the edge of the mountain, landing beneath the budding trees. There would be rocks at the bottom, sharp, crushing boulders.  But their presence only heightened my mental decent.

Lena had insisted we go shopping to stock up on Thursday-night wardrobes for the last two weeks of the semester.  We were on our way back to Frostburg, my trunk weighed down with purchases—most of them hers.  Fortunately she had made a generous donation to Goodwill so there was some vacant space in her closet, a void yearning to be filled.

“Of what, exactly?”

“The wheel.”  I loosened my grip a fraction, separating my palms from the leather stitching.

Out of the corner of my eye I observed Lena’s comical reaction.  First her eyes shot to me, judging my sanity.  Then she studied the road, warily taking in the steep drop to our right and large gap dividing the lanes of the highway.

“I don’t think that’s the best idea, Mer…”

“I’m not going to let go now,” I promised.  “It’s just that sometimes I want to.”

“Are you sure you don’t need me to drive?”

“No, no,” I assured her.  She still looked skeptical.  “I’m not suicidal, Lena.  I’m just curious.”  Curious about how it would feel to press on the gas and let the car fly for a few exhilarating seconds.  What would it be like to let go?  How would people feel when they heard of my fate?  Who would be affected?

“Curious,” she repeated carefully.  “How often are you curious?”

“Mostly during highway driving or when I pass steep inclines.”  It just so happened that we were driving west on I-68 over a mountain pass.

“Pull over,” she commanded.

“Why?”

“Because I’m driving.”

“No, you’re not.”  She had too many tickets and minor traffic accidents to be trusted at the wheel of my vehicle.  “I just sometimes want to step on the gas and fly over the edge.  Just to see how far I’d go, how many trees I’d clear.  Would I land on the other side of the median or nosedive into a spruce?”

“You would crash and we would both die horrible deaths.  And then I would hate you beyond forever.”

“Most likely.  But what if—”

“What if nothing!” she interrupted.  “You’re seriously messed up.”  Lena shook her head, placated that her life was not in immediate danger.

“I know.”

“And depressing.”

“So I’ve been told.  Maybe you should avoid me altogether.”

“I probably should but you’re there to even out my eternal optimism.”

There was no greater purpose in my life than to keep Lena’s feet on the ground—at least it felt that way.  “That’s exactly why God put me on this earth.”

“What would we do if, heaven forbid, I was as miserable as you one day?”

Like that would ever happen.  Lena had too much to smile about.  “I imagine our depressive forces would combine to become a black hole of despair, the likes of which no one has ever seen.”

“Why do I hang out with you?” she mused aloud.

I chuckled.  “Maybe you should stop.”

“That’s not likely.  After so many years you’ve become a habit.”

We drove a few more miles before she spoke again. “Maybe you should change the music on your iPod.”

Laura Marling’s haunting voice floated from my speakers.  “Why?  What does my music have to do with anything?”

“Because the music on there makes me want to commit suicide, and I’m an essentially happy person.  You have no chance if you continue listening to this depressing crap.”

“I like depressing music,” I defended.

“You can’t like depressing music—that’s an oxymoron or something.  You tolerate depressing music.”

I frowned.  “No, I tolerate you.”

“You sure are vicious today.”

I was vicious, and easily annoyed, and vaguely interested in crashing my car.  “I didn’t get much sleep last this past week.”

After we had gotten home last Thursday I had been awake for hours replaying the events of the night.  It irritated me further to know that I could attribute my lack of sleep to Remington’s cryptic comments.  He shouldn’t have had such a hold on me.

As if she could read my thoughts, Lena asked, “Whose fault is that?”
There was no way I was going to admit that Alec’s friend had kept me awake long after he was gone; Lena would have too much fun with that.

“Yours,” I accused.  After all, she had been the one to drag me out… again.  Ultimately, it was her fault I had even met the man.

“You really need to learn to take responsibility for your own actions.  It’s not like I held a gun to your head, did I?”

Instead of answering, I focused on not hitting the majority of Frostburg’s track team running along the side of the road.

“I hate driving by people who are running.”

“You’re in a sunny mood.”

“It’s your music.”

I pulled the plug on my iPod and turned the radio to the most upbeat station I could find just to pacify her.  “Why do you hate driving by people who are running?”

“Because they’re rubbing in my face what I should be doing.”

I snickered.  “You’ve never exercised a day in your life.”

“Exactly.  That’s why the reminder pisses me off so much.”

“Lena, what I meant was that you’ve never needed to exercise.  You have been blessed with a metabolism from the gods.”

She crossed her arms against my logic.  “And when that slows down?  What then?”

“Then you start exercising.”

“It will be too hard to break the habit of laziness.”

Surely her sour mood hadn’t stemmed from twenty minutes in a car with my playlist.  “Then I guess you’re screwed and destined to be a heifer,” I said, giving in to her pigheadedness.

“I know,” she agreed.  “With the way I eat I’m basically a fat girl in a model’s body.”

She was right about one thing: she had a model’s body.  “What did you do to deserve this curse?”

“That’s all I want to know.”

We made it to the parking lot next to our apartment before either of us spoke again.

“You know you’re ridiculous, right?”

She grinned.  “It’s the music.”

Maybe Lena had been right and my music was getting me down.  Or it could have been that seven days had passed since I had spoken to Holden.  Twice I had been prepared to call him but had talked myself out of the weakness.  The entire situation was childish.  Because I had questioned him about one inconsequential detail he had refused to speak to me for a week.  Silence had never led to a resolution before and it wasn’t going to start now.

“Holden still hasn’t called, has he?” Lena asked, her hands full of plastic shopping bags.  She had uncharacteristically kept her opinions on the situation to herself, for which I was grateful.

“Nope.”  All of my anger had dissipated by day three.  Perhaps he had been right, and I had been unnecessarily psychotic.

By day five I was annoyed.

Now I was livid; my emotions had gone full-circle.  If he had wanted to break up with me then I wish his intentions would have been clearer.  Had goodbye meant goodbye-until-I-feel-the-compulsion-to-talk-to-you-again or goodbye-for-good?

At this point that’s the only question that remained unanswered.

“You look worried, Mer.”

“I am worried,” I confessed, following her up the stairs and into my bedroom.

What did I want Holden to say?  Were there any words that could fix our broken relationship?

“He will miss you,” she said confidently.

“I know.”

Lena judged my reaction.  “Then what’s the real problem?”

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do when he does call.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked quietly.

“No.”  And it should have been.

“It should be, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.  That’s why I’m worried.”  My sentence was punctuated by a shrill ring.  I recognized the custom tone immediately.

“Good luck,” Lena offered and closed my door.

My heart attempted to escape from the confines of my chest when I answered.  “Hello?”

“Hey, Mer.”

“Hi.”  I waited for Holden to speak so I could gauge his mood.  Had this past week been as miserable for him as it had for me?

Thirty eternal seconds later it was obvious that he wasn’t going to start the conversation.

“It’s nice to know you’ve gotten over the whole silent treatment,” I dripped sarcastically.

“Oh, come on!”

His snarky remark opened the floodgates.

Come on?  Are you kidding me?  I should think that after five years together I would deserve more respect than nearly a week of non-contact.  You ignore pests, not someone you claim to love.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I’m not sure but at least that one sentence is an improvement on the silence.”

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“You should be,” I said.

“That’s all you have to say to me?” he asked, riled.

“Just be happy that it’s more than you have given me this past week.  I will not be treated like this.”

“Like what?”

I ignored the warning in his tone.  He may be mad right now, but I’d been seething for the better part of a week.  “Like I did something wrong when I called you out.”

“You’re blameless, like always.”

There had been times when I had been at fault but in this I was innocent. “Yes, I am.”

“So what’s going on with this?  With us?” he asked, seemingly indifferent to my answer.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted, deflated.  “I think winning—beating everyone else—has become more important than the prize itself.”

For five years I had been singularly focused on the prize, on Holden.  It had started with getting his attention then moved to getting an engagement ring and surviving our relationship.  My one-track mind hadn’t taken the time to determine if this had been the right track.

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m tired of fighting with you, of fighting for you.”

“So you don’t love me anymore?”

He had to ask the one question I no longer knew how to answer, to cut directly to the heart of the matter.  A few weeks back when I had asked him why we were still together I hadn’t really been questioning him, I had been asking myself.

“I don’t know.  I’m not saying that.”  Was I?  “I just think I need some time to figure out why I’m still with you.”

“If you can’t remember why then… I guess it sounds like you’ve already made your decision.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I admitted.

“So we’re done?” Holden asked once more for clarification.

Why did this ultimately come down to my decision?  He had been the one to put me in this life-altering position.  At the beginning of the semester I hadn’t thought this day would come and now it was here.  The end of a semester, the end of my relationship, and the end of the dreams I had held onto for five wasted years.

“For right now.”  Until I could think more clearly.

“Is there someone else?  Is that what this is about?” he shouted, angry at my betrayal.

“No,” I answered quickly, attempting to set him at ease.

“It’s him, isn’t it?  It’s that guy.”

“There is no one involved but you and I.”  Except maybe Eileen.

“Everything had been fine until he showed up, until you started going out to meet him every Thursday.”

“I can’t believe you’d imply something like that.”

“I don’t need to imply anything if it’s true,” he spat.

I ignored him.  After all, I knew I had done nothing wrong.  However, another part of his accusation had bothered me.  Had everything been fine between us?  In retrospect I could admit that it had been exactly that and nothing more.  But fine wasn’t good.  Fine didn’t last.

“I’m through arguing with you.  You’re going to believe what you want.”  And I no longer cared what that entailed.  “Like I said before, I need to figure some stuff out.”

And I needed to do it alone.

* * *

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