He’s in his boxer shorts. I never even noticed he took off his clothes. My eyes travel up to his face and he’s got specks of blood on his right cheek, the one that was exposed to the cowardliness of my father. His eyes are heavy, keeping them focused on my pants as he slides them down my legs.

“I need you to step out of them, baby,” he says softly when he reaches my feet. I grasp his shoulders with my hands and take one foot out of my jeans, then the other. I keep my hands on his shoulders and my eyes trained to the blood splattered in his hair. I mechanically reach over and slip my fingers over a strand of his hair, then pull my hand up to inspect it. I slide the blood around between my fingertips, but it’s thick. It’s thicker than blood should be.

That’s because it’s not only my father’s blood that’s all over us.

I begin wiping my fingers across my stomach, frantically trying to get it off of me, but I’m just smearing it everywhere. My throat closes up and I can’t scream. It’s like the dreams I’ve had where something is so terrifying, I lose any ability to vocalize sound. Holder looks up and I want to scream and yell and cry, but the only thing I can do is widen my eyes and shake my head and continue to wipe my hands across my body. When he sees me panicking, he stands straight up and lifts me into his arms, then swiftly carries me to the shower. He sets me down at the opposite end of the showerhead, then steps in with me and turns the water on. He closes the shower curtain once the water is warm, then he turns to face me and grabs my wrists that are still attempting to wipe the redness away. He pulls me to him and turns us both to where I’m standing under the warm stream of water. When the water splashes me in the eyes, I gasp and suck in a huge breath of air.

He reaches down to the side of the tub and grabs the bar of soap, tearing off the soaked paper packaging. He leans out of the shower and pulls back in, holding a washcloth. My whole body is shaking now, even though the water is warm. He rubs soap and water into the washcloth, then presses it to my cheek.

“Shh,” he whispers, staring into my panic stricken eyes. “I’m getting it off of you, okay?”

He begins gently wiping my face and I squeeze my eyes shut and nod. I keep my eyes closed because I don’t want to see the blood-tinted washcloth when he pulls it away from my face. I wrap my arms around myself and remain as still as possible under his hand, aside from the tremors still wracking my body. It takes him several minutes of wiping the blood away from my face and arms and stomach. Once he finishes that task, he reaches behind my head and removes my ponytail holder.

“Look at me, Sky.” I open my eyes and he places his fingers lightly on my shoulder. “I’m going to take off your bra now, okay? I need to wash your hair and I don’t want to get anything on it.”

Get anything on it?

When I realize he’s referring to what’s more than likely embedded throughout my hair, I begin to panic again and pull the straps of my bra down, then just pull the bra over my head.

“Get it out,” I say quietly and quickly, leaning my head back into the water, attempting to saturate my hair by running my fingers through it under the stream. “Just get it off me.” My voice is more panicky now.

He grabs my wrists again and pulls them away from my hair, then wraps them around his waist.

“I’ll get it. Hold on to me and try to relax. I’ll do it.”

I press my head against his chest and tighten my hold around him. I can smell the shampoo as he pours it into his hands and brings the liquid to my hair, spreading it around with his fingertips. He scoots us a step closer until the water touches my head that is pressed into his shoulder. He massages and scrubs my hair, rinsing it repeatedly. I don’t even ask why he keeps rinsing it; I just let him rinse it as many times as he needs to.

Once he’s finished, he turns us around in the shower until he’s under the stream of water and he runs the shampoo through his own hair. I release my hold from around his waist and back away from him, not wanting to feel like there’s anything getting on me again. I look down at my stomach and hands and don’t see any traces of my father left on me. I look back up at Holder and he’s scrubbing his face and neck with a fresh washcloth. I stand there, watching him calmly wash away what happened to us no less than an hour ago.

When he’s finished, he opens his eyes and looks down at me with regret. “Baby, I need you to make sure I got it all, okay? I need you to wipe away anything I missed.”

He’s talking to me so calmly, like he’s trying not to break me. It’s his voice that makes me realize that’s exactly what he’s trying to avoid. He’s afraid I’m about to break, or crack, or flip-out.

I’m scared he might be right, so I take the washcloth out of his hands and force myself to be strong and inspect him. There’s still a small area of blood over his right ear, so I reach the washcloth up and wipe it away. I pull the washcloth back and look down at the last speck of blood left on the two of us, then I run it under the stream of water and watch as it washes away.

“It’s all gone,” I whisper. I’m not even sure I’m referring to the blood.

Holder takes the washcloth out of my hand and tosses it onto the edge of the tub. I look up at him, and his eyes are redder than before and I can’t tell if he’s crying, because the water is running down his face in the same pattern that tears would be if they were even there. It’s then, when all of the physical remnants of my past are washed away, that I’m reminded of Lesslie.

My heart breaks all over again, this time for Holder. A sob breaks out of me and I slap my hand over my mouth, but my shoulders continue to shake. He pulls me to his chest and presses his lips to my hair.

“Holder, I’m so sorry. Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” I’m crying and holding on to him, wishing his hopelessness was as easy to wash away as the blood. He’s holding me so tightly, I can barely breathe. But he needs this. He needs me to feel his pain right now, just like I need for him to feel mine.

I take every single word my father said today and attempt to cry them out of me. I don’t want to remember his face. I don’t want to remember his voice. I don’t want to remember how much I hate him and I especially don’t want to remember how much I loved him. There’s nothing like the guilt you feel when there’s room in your heart to love evil.

Holder moves one of his hands to the back of my head and presses my face into his shoulder. His cheek presses against the top of my head and I can hear him crying now. It’s quiet and he’s trying so hard to hold it in. He’s in so much pain because of what my father did to Lesslie, and I can’t help but place some of that blame on myself. If I had been around, he never would have touched Lesslie and she never would have suffered. If I never would have climbed into that car with Karen, Lesslie might still be alive today.

I curl my hands up behind Holder’s arms and grip his shoulders. I lift my cheek and turn my mouth toward his neck, kissing him softly. “I’m so sorry. He never would have touched her if I…”

Holder grips my arms and pushes me away from him with such force, my eyes widen and I flinch when he speaks. “Don’t you dare say that.” He releases his hold and swiftly brings his hands to my face, gripping me tightly. “I don’t ever want you to apologize for a single thing that man did. Do you hear me? It’s not your fault, Sky. Swear to me you will never let a thought like that consume you ever again.” His eyes are desperate and full of tears.

I nod. “I swear,” I say weakly.

He never looks away, searching my eyes for truth. His reaction has left my heart pounding, shocked at how quick he was to dismiss any fault I may have had. I wish he was just as quick to dismiss his own faults, but he isn’t.

I can’t take the look in his eyes, so I throw my arms around his neck and hug him. He tightens his grip around me and holds me with pained desperation. The truth about Lesslie and the reality of what we both just witnessed hits us both, and we cling to each other with everything we have. We’re both allowing everything to escape through the tears we’re crying in each other’s arms. He’s finished trying to be strong for me. The love he had for Lesslie and the anger he’s feeling over what happened to her are pouring out of him.

I know Lesslie would need him to feel her heartache, so I don’t even try to comfort him with words. We both cry for her now, because she had no one to cry for her then. I kiss the side of his head, my hands gripping his neck. Each time my lips touch him, he holds me just a little bit tighter. His lips meet my skin and soon we’re both attempting to kiss away every ounce of the heartache that neither one of us deserves. His lips become adamant as he kisses my neck harder and faster, desperately trying to find an escape. He pulls back and looks into my eyes, his shoulders rising and falling with every breath he’s attempting to find.

In one swift movement, he crashes his lips to mine with an intense urgency, gripping my hair and my back with his trembling hands. He pushes my back against the shower wall as he slides his hands down behind my thighs. I can feel the despair pouring out of him as he lifts me up and wraps my legs around his waist. He wants his pain to go away, and he needs me to help him. Just like I needed him last night.

I wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him against me, allowing him to consume me for a break from his heartache. I let him, because I need a break just as badly as he does right now. I want to forget about everything else.

I don’t want this to be our life tonight.

With his body pressing me into the wall of the shower, he uses his hands to grip the sides of my face, holding me still as our mouths anxiously search the other for any semblance of relief from our reality. I’m grasping his upper back with my arms as his mouth moves frenziedly down my neck.

“Tell me this is okay,” he says breathlessly against my skin. He lifts his face back to mine, nervously searching my eyes as he speaks. “Tell me it’s okay to want to be inside you right now…because after everything we’ve been through today, it feels wrong to need you like I do.”

I grip his hair with my hands and pull him closer, covering his mouth with mine, kissing him with such conviction that my words aren’t even needed. He groans and separates me from the shower wall, then walks out of the bathroom to the bed with me still wrapped around him. He’s not being gentle at all with the way he rips off the last two items of clothing between us and ravishes my mouth with his, but I honestly don’t know if my heart could take gentle right now.

He’s standing at the edge of the bed leaning over me, his mouth meshed to mine. He breaks apart momentarily to put a condom on, then he grabs my waist and pulls me to the edge of the bed with him. He lifts my leg behind the knee and brings it up to his side, then slides his hand underneath my arm and grips my shoulder. The moment his eyes fall back to mine, he pushes himself into me without a moment of hesitation. I gasp from the sudden force of him, shocked by the intense pleasure that takes over the momentary flash of pain. I wrap my arms around him and move with him as he grips my leg tighter, then covers my mouth with his. I close my eyes and let my head sink deeper into the mattress as we use our love to temporarily ease our hatred and despair.

Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance
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