“You held me that night like a father is supposed to hold his daughter. And you sang to me. I remember you used to sing a song to me about your ray of hope.” I wipe the tears out of my eyes and keep looking up at him. “Before my mother died…before you had to deal with that heartache …you didn’t always do those things to me, did you?”

He shakes his head and touches my face with his hand. “No, Hope. I loved you so much. I still do. I loved you and your mother more than life itself, but when she died...the best parts of me died right along with her.”

I fist my hands, recoiling slightly to the feel of his fingertips on my cheek. I push through, though, and somehow keep myself calm. “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” I say firmly. And I am sorry for him. I remember how much he loved my mother, and regardless of how he dealt with his grief, I can find it in me to wish he never had to experience her loss.

“I know you loved her. I remember. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to find it in my heart to forgive you for what you did. I don’t know why whatever is inside of you is so different than what’s inside other people…to the point that you would allow yourself to do what you did to me. But despite the things you did to me, I know you love me. And as hard as it is to admit…I once loved you, too. I loved all the good parts of you.”

I stand up and take a step back, still looking into his eyes. “I know you aren’t all bad. I know that. But if you love me like you say you do…if you loved my mother at all…then you’ll do whatever you can to help me heal. You owe me that much. All I want is for you to be honest so I can leave here with some semblance of peace. That’s all I’m here for, okay? I just want peace.”

He’s sobbing now, nodding his head into his hands. I walk back to the couch and Holder wraps his arm tightly around me, still kneeling down next to me. Tremors are still wracking my body, so I wrap my arms around myself. Holder can feel what this is doing to me, so he slides his fingers down my arm until he finds my pinky, then wraps his around it. It’s an extremely small gesture, but he couldn’t have done anything more perfect to fill me with the sense of security that I need from him right now.

My father sighs heavily, then drops his hands. “When I first started drinking…it was only once. I did something to my little sister…but it was only one time.” He looks back up at me and his eyes are still full of shame. “It was years before I met your mother.”

My heart breaks at his brutal honesty, but it breaks even more that he somehow thinks it’s okay that it only happened once. I swallow the lump in my throat and continue my questions. “What about after me? Have you done it to anyone else since I was taken?”

His eyes dart back to the floor and the guilt in his demeanor is like a punch straight to my gut. I gasp, holding back the tears. “Who? How many?”

He shakes his head slightly. “There was just one more. I stopped drinking a few years ago and haven’t touched anyone since.” He looks back up at me, his eyes desperate and hopeful. “I swear. There were only three and they were at the lowest points of my life. When I’m sober, I’m able to control my urges. That’s why I don’t drink anymore.”

“Who was she?” I ask, wanting him to have to face the truth for just a few more minutes before I walk out of his life forever.

He nudges his head to the right. “She lived in the house next door. They moved when she was around ten, so I don’t know what happened to her. It was years ago, Hope. I haven’t done it in years and that’s the truth. I swear.”

My heart suddenly weighs a thousand pounds. The grip around my arm is gone and I look up to see Holder falling apart right before my eyes.

His face contorts into an unbearable amount of agony and he turns away from me, pulling his hands through his hair. “Les,” he whispers painfully. “Oh God, no.” He presses his head into the doorframe, tightly gripping the back of his neck with both hands. I immediately stand and walk to him, placing my hands on his shoulders, fearing that he’s about to explode. He begins to shake and he’s crying, not even making a sound. I don’t know what to say or what to do. He just keeps saying “no” over and over, shaking his head. My heart is breaking for him, but I have no clue how to help him right now. I understand what he means by thinking everything he says to me is the wrong thing, because there’s absolutely nothing I could say to him right now that could help. Instead, I press my head against him and he turns slightly, cradling me in his arm.

The way his chest is heaving, I can feel him trying to keep his anger at bay. His breaths begin to come in sharp spurts as he attempts to calm himself. I grip him tighter, hoping to be able to keep him from unleashing his anger. As much as I want him to…as much as I want him to physically retaliate against my father for what he did to Les and me, I fear that in this moment, Holder is full of too much hate to find it in himself to stop.

He releases his hold and brings his hands up to my shoulders, pushing me away from him. The look in his eyes is so dark; it immediately sends me into defense mode. I step between him and my father, not knowing what else I can do to keep him from attacking, but it’s as though I’m not even here. When Holder looks at me, he looks straight through me. I can hear my father stand up behind me and I watch as Holder’s eyes follow him. I spin around, prepared to tell my father to get the hell out of the living room, when Holder grips my arms and shoves me out of the way.

I trip and fall to the floor, watching in slow motion as my father reaches behind the couch and spins around, holding a gun in his hand, pointing it directly at Holder. I can’t speak. I can’t scream. I can’t move. I can’t even close my eyes. I’m forced to watch.

My father pulls his radio to his mouth, holding the gun firmly in his hand with a lifeless expression. He presses the button and never takes his eyes off of Holder while he speaks into it. “Officer down at thirty-five twenty-two Oak Street.”

My eyes immediately dart to Holder, then back to my father. The radio drops from his hands and onto the floor in front of me. I pull myself up, still unable to scream. My father’s defeated eyes fall on mine as he slowly turns the gun. “I’m so sorry, Princess.”

The sound explodes, filling the entire room. It’s so loud. I squeeze my eyes shut and cover my ears, not sure where the sound is even coming from. It’s a high-pitched noise, like a scream. It sounds like a girl screaming.

It’s me.

I’m screaming.

I open my eyes and see my father’s lifeless body just feet in front of me. Holder’s hand clamps over my mouth and he lifts me up, pulling me out the front door. He’s not even trying to carry me. My heels are dragging in the grass and he’s holding on to my mouth with one hand and my waist with his other arm. When we reach the car, he keeps his hand clamped tight, muffling my scream. My eyes are wide and I’m shaking my head out of denial, expecting the last minute to just go away if I refuse to believe it.

“Stop. I need you to stop screaming. Right now.”

I nod vigorously, somehow silencing the involuntary sound coming from my mouth. I’m trying to breathe and I can hear the air being sucked in and out of my nose in quick spurts. My chest is heaving and when I notice the blood splattered across the side of Holder’s face, I try not to scream again.

“Do you hear that?” Holder says. “Those are sirens, Sky. They’ll be here in less than a minute. I’m removing my hand and I need you to get in the car and be as calm as you can because we need to get out of here.”

I nod again and he removes his hand from my mouth, then shoves me inside the car. He runs around to his side and quickly climbs in, then cranks the car and pulls onto the road. We round the corner just as two police cars turn the corner at the opposite end of the road behind us. We drive away and I drop my head between my knees, attempting to catch a breath. I don’t even think about what just happened. I can’t. It didn’t happen. It couldn’t have. I focus on the fact that this is all a horrible nightmare, and I just breathe. I breathe just to make sure I’m still alive, because this sure as hell doesn’t feel like life.

Monday, October 29th, 2012 5:29 p.m.

We both move through the hotel room door like zombies. I don’t even remember getting from the car into the hotel. When he reaches the bed, Holder sits and removes his shoes. I’ve only made it a few feet, paused where the entryway meets the room. My hands are at my sides and my head is tilted. I’m staring at the window across the room. The curtain panels are open, revealing nothing but a gloomy view of the brick building just feet away from the hotel. Just a solid wall of brick with no visible windows or doors. Just brick.

Looking out the window at the brick wall is how I feel when I view my own life. I try to look to the future, but I can’t see past this moment. I have no idea what’s going to happen, who I’ll live with, what will happen to Karen, if I’ll report what just happened. I can’t even venture a guess. It’s nothing but a solid wall between this moment and the next, without so much as a clue sprawled across it in spray paint.

For the past seventeen years, my life has been nothing but a brick wall separating the first few years from the rest. A solid block, separating my life as Sky from my life as Hope. I’ve heard about people somehow blocking out traumatic memories, but I always thought that maybe it was more of a choice. I literally, for the past thirteen years, have not had a single clue as to who I used to be. I know I was barely five when I was taken from that life, but even then I would assume I would have a few memories. I guess the moment I pulled away with Karen, I somehow made a conscious decision, at that young of an age, to never recall those memories. Once Karen began telling me stories of my “adoption,” it must have been easier for my mind to grasp the harmless lies than to remember my ugly truth.

I know I couldn’t explain at the time what my father was doing to me, because I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I hated it. When you aren’t sure what it is you hate or why you even hate it, it’s hard to hold on to the details...you just hold on to the feelings. I know I’ve never really been all that curious to delve up information about my past. I’ve never really been that curious to find out who my father was or why he “put me up for adoption.” Now I know it’s because somewhere in my mind, I still harbored hatred and fear for that man, so it was just easier to erect the brick wall and never look back.

I still do harbor hatred and fear for him, and he can’t even touch me anymore. I still hate him, and I’m still scared to death of him and I’m still devastated that he’s dead. I hate him for instilling awful things in my memory and somehow making me grieve for him in the midst of all the awful. I don’t want to grieve his loss. I want to rejoice in it, but it’s just not in me.

My jacket is being removed. I look away from the brick wall taunting me from outside the window and turn my head around to see Holder standing behind me. He lays my jacket across a chair, then takes off my blood-splattered shirt. A raw sadness consumes me, realizing I’m genetically linked to the lifeless blood now covering my clothes and face. Holder walks around to my front and reaches down to the button on my jeans and unbuttons them.

Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance
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