Bring me home, p.1

Bring Me Home, page 1

 part  #3 of  Shattered Hearts Series

 

Bring Me Home
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Bring Me Home


  For my readers.

  Chapter One

  Claire

  In the last five weeks, I’ve read the letter I received from my mother’s rapist twice; the first time was before I knew who the letter was from and the second time I read it to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Yes, my mother’s rapist sent me a letter. Yes, that is how I refer to my father. This doesn’t change the fact that, for five weeks, I’ve been carrying my father’s letter around with me everywhere I go.

  Even now, as I stroll across the driveway toward my old home, the letter is folded and tucked into the bottom of my purse. As I approach the door, I still get an urge to knock, even though such niceties are no longer necessary. Jackie, the best foster mother a girl could ask for, gave me a house key two weeks ago.

  This is my home.

  I open the door slowly, still slightly afraid that I’m going to run into Chris, though I planned this visit for a Thursday evening instead of a weekend because I knew he wouldn’t be here. I step inside and close the door softly before I make my way to the kitchen. Dropping my purse on the breakfast bar, I immediately head for the fridge to grab a bottle of water. As I close the refrigerator door, someone clears their throat behind me.

  Turning around, I find Rachel standing on the other side of the breakfast bar. Her dark hair is pulled up into a messy ponytail, but she still manages to look perfectly pulled together. She never blinks as we stare at each other for a moment.

  “Chris said you weren’t going to my birthday party next week,” she says, and her glare softens a little.

  Rachel can be abrasive and she sometimes takes the phrase “honesty is the best policy” to the extreme, but she’s also intensely emotional and sensitive. She used to play piano with Chris’s band occasionally, but she just writes music now. She plays beautifully and actually taught me a couple of songs when Chris and I were still together.

  “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to hang out with you guys right now.”

  I don’t tell her that my therapist actually encouraged me to go to the party when I told him Chris had invited me. I don’t want to be one of those people who constantly says stuff like, “My shrink doesn’t think it’s a good idea.” The problem is, I catch myself thinking these kinds of things all day long. My therapist is adamant that I shouldn’t shut out the people I love in my attempt to get my head straight, but I’m terrified that everyone is secretly judging me for what I did to Chris.

  Rachel and I were never best friends. It was always understood that Jake was her best friend and Chris was mine. Sometimes we got along great and sometimes we tolerated each other. I don’t feel obligated to go to her birthday party, but the hurt look on her face makes me feel like I may be becoming too detached in my quest to find myself.

  “I know you think you’re doing what’s best for you,” Rachel says, “but Chris is right, you need—” Jackie walks in and Rachel immediately stops speaking.

  Jackie looks radiant as ever; her short, dark hair and makeup are impeccable. As I watch my foster mother approach me for a hug, I can’t help but hope that she will find someone to share her life with. She’s always putting everyone else’s needs before her own.

  She holds her arms open and beckons me. “Bring it home.”

  I wrap my arms around her curvy waist and nestle my face into her shoulder. Closing my eyes, I inhale the crisp, floral scent of her perfume. This is the scent I’ve come to associate with love. Just the idea of having Jackie back in my life again makes my throat ache.

  I haven’t called Jackie “Mom” since the first and only time I did so five weeks ago. I have this stupid idea that if I say it too often, it will lose some of its impact. When I told my therapist, Dr. Goldberg, that I was still having trouble calling her Mom, he asked if I felt guilty for loving Jackie as if she were my mother. I didn’t have an answer for that.

  I let go of Jackie and she looks me over for a moment, taking in my baby blue UNC hoodie and faded skinny jeans with the hole in the right knee. I’m not wearing a whole lot of makeup today and my blonde hair is pulled into a messy ponytail that doesn’t look purposely messy like Rachel’s.

  “You look beautiful,” she says with a smile. “Are you ready to go?”

  “Go where? I thought we were having dinner at home tonight.”

  I turn to Rachel and she’s trying not to smile. “We’re taking you out.”

  Jackie raises her eyebrows. “Is that okay? I know it’s a school night for you, but we’ve been dying to take you to this new restaurant downtown. It’s classy and the waiters are gorgeous. Rachel and I have gone to ogle them three times since they opened up a few weeks ago.”

  The idea that Jackie and Rachel have been hanging out without me makes me a little jealous. But right now I’m more suspicious of this change of plans. Jackie isn’t shy when it comes to men, so ogling waiters sounds like something she would find entertaining. She chooses to stay single because she insists serious relationships are more trouble than they’re worth at her age. I’ve always had a strong suspicion that she avoids relationships because she’s afraid of being devastated the way she was when Chris’s father left.

  “I’m not dressed to go out to a classy restaurant. Anyway, why are you two so eager to take me out tonight?” I ask as I open my bottle of water and take a long swig.

  Jackie and Rachel glance at each other before Rachel replies. “It was my idea. I wanted to take you out to ask you something.”

  “Okay, now I’m even more confused. Why don’t you just ask me now?”

  Rachel sighs, looking slightly annoyed that I don’t want to play along with this suspenseful dinner date she has planned for the three of us. “Claire, you know I don’t have a whole lot of girlfriends. And I haven’t spoken to my sister in three years. You’re the closest thing I have to a sister.”

  A sister.

  My eyes dart toward my purse on the breakfast bar. I’ve only read that letter twice, but I remember every single word.

  Claire,

  You may not recognize my name. Your mother did a good job of protecting you from her past. Henry Wilkins at Northstar Bank contacted me recently. He informed me that you refused the trust fund your mother set up for you before her death. I hope you will reconsider your position on this, as that money is rightfully yours.

  I also hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for my transgressions and that you won’t hold my past against your half-sister. Nichelle just turned seventeen last week and she’s very eager to meet you.

  I hope this letter finds you well.

  Your father,

  Phil

  Rachel rounds the breakfast bar toward Jackie and me then holds out her hand. I spot the giant rock on her finger right away and I’m instantly reminded of the two rings sitting on top of my bedside table in the dorm.

  “Jake and I are getting married. I was hoping you’d be my maid of honor.”

  I try not to let her see the panic I’m feeling inside. The idea of being Rachel’s maid of honor scares the shit out of me. Ninety percent of the time, Rachel is awesome, but it’s that ten percent that makes me want to run screaming out of this house.

  “Congratulations,” I say as I reach out to give her a hug. I let go quickly and she eyes me, awaiting my answer. “Are you sure you want me to be your maid of honor? I’m so busy with school right now and it’s not like I live around the corner. I don’t know if I’ll be much help to you.”

  “It’s not going to be a huge wedding,” she says, and her lips curl into a giddy smile. “We’ve been together too long for this to be a huge deal. We’re getting married in Vegas on New Year’s Eve. I just don’t want to stand up there alone while Jake has his two best friends next to him. My sister won’t be coming and since you and
Chris broke up, the only girls I’ve had around are Tristan’s skanks.” She looks down as she speaks the next three words. “I’ve missed you.”

  “New Year’s Eve is in seven weeks.”

  “You’ll be on break, won’t you?”

  Before I can reply, my phone starts ringing in my purse. I pull it out and see Chris’s name. I’m tempted to let it ring, but answering it will give me some time to think of an appropriate response to Rachel’s request.

  “Hello?”

  “Claire, is Rachel there?”

  He sounds annoyed and impatient, as if he’s in a hurry.

  “Yeah, she’s right here.”

  “Give her the phone, please.”

  I hold the phone out to Rachel and she looks confused. “It’s Chris. He wants to talk to you.”

  She rolls her eyes as she takes the phone from me. “What?” She purses her lips as she listens. “I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I forgot my phone at home.” She starts tapping her foot as she listens some more. “Whatever, Chris. It’s my wedding and I can do whatever the fuck I want.”

  She hands me the phone and I can hear the distant sound of Chris’s voice coming through the speaker as I hold it at arm’s length. Rachel turns on her heel and marches out of the kitchen. I slowly bring the phone to my ear.

  “Chris?”

  “Don’t listen to her. You don’t have to be in her wedding. It’s not your problem that she can’t maintain a single female relationship.”

  “It’s fine. I’ll be on break.”

  “No, it’s not fine. I know you’re trying to get yourself figured out. Don’t let her guilt you into doing anything for her if you’re not ready.”

  “Chris, I swear I’m fine.”

  I’m not really fine. In the last three months, I’ve learned that my mother committed suicide; my father raped my mother and contributed to a trust fund in my name; Chris learned I gave up our daughter for adoption without his knowledge; and five weeks ago I was given two rings, one from each of the two most important men in my life. I am definitely not fine, but I’m better than I was five weeks ago and I should be even better in seven weeks—I hope.

  “Shit. I wish I would have known she was going to ambush you. I wouldn’t have left.”

  I don’t say anything because I’m actually glad he’s not here. I’ve only seen Chris once since the night I found out that Abigail’s parents don’t want us in her life; the night I lost her for the second time.

  “I’m fine. Are you on your way home?”

  He’s silent for a moment. “Xander and I have one more conference call in a few minutes then I’ll be on my way. Are you going to be there?”

  “No. I’m going out to dinner with your mom then I’m heading back to the dorm.”

  The silence between us is filled with all the things we haven’t said to each other since the night I rejected his marriage proposal five weeks ago.

  “Are you coming over for Thanksgiving next week?”

  There’s a note of desperation in his voice that makes me want to forget my Thanksgiving plans to be with him. “I can’t. I already promised Senia I’d go to her parents’ house.”

  I want to add that I will definitely be there for Christmas next month, but December 25th seems so far away and insignificant right now.

  “Tell Senia I said hi.”

  “I will.”

  There’s a brief pause where I feel like both of us are holding our breath, trying not to blurt out something we’ll regret.

  “Have fun at dinner. I guess we’ll talk later.”

  I end the call and finally notice Jackie. She’s staring at me with that knowing look; the look of a mother who, without a single word spoken, can see and feel her child’s pain. I bite my lip as I try not to let her see what is so plainly obvious.

  Chapter Two

  Adam

  You never know you’re making a mistake until it’s too late. Sometimes we know we’re taking a risk, but we always hope for the best. We hope that our mistakes will be forgiven, or at least forgotten. We hope that our mistakes will teach us something. Sometimes, unfortunately, mistakes are just mistakes that can’t be undone or forgotten.

  I got the feeling that Claire was hiding something from me when I took her to the UNC vs. North Carolina State football game two weeks ago. We’ve spoken on the phone a few times a week since the night I surprised her at Cora’s, but our conversations are short and weighed down by this feeling that we’re both holding back. I want to ask her when she’s going to talk about the ring I gave her and I’m sure there are things she wants to talk to me about, but instead we speak as if we haven’t explored the depths of each other physically and emotionally. Like we’re strangers.

  We met at the stadium two weeks ago in Raleigh, like some kind of fucking blind date or casual lunch with a friend. The walk across the parking lot and through the stadium to our seats was excruciatingly silent. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell a joke to break the ice. Something has shifted between us and it’s more than just the stench of the sweaty guy seated in front of us.

  The whole time we were waiting for the game to begin, I just wanted to reach across and grab her hand, to touch her skin.

  “Dr. Goldberg talked to me about his kids the other day,” she said as she tapped her foot nervously. “I think he was trying to make me feel comfortable, but I kept thinking about how he was trying to make me feel comfortable and that made me feel uncomfortable.”

  “You sound like a nut.”

  “Yeah, that’s kind of why I’m in therapy.”

  She flashes me a weak smile and I have to look away. “How was your Halloween?”

  Small talk?

  She turns her head to glare at me. “Really?”

  I shrug because I don’t really know what else to do at this point. This friendly “date” is not going the way I had planned.

  “Why are we doing this?” I ask. “I mean, what the fuck are we doing here?”

  She stares at her hands in her lap. “I don’t know,” she whispers. “Because I’m fucked up. Because most days I’m hanging on by a thread and I don’t want that thread to snap.”

  She bites her lip and I finally reach across and grab her hand. The snack peddler arrives at our row and she immediately lets go. I order us both a hot dog. As soon as he’s gone, she breathes a deep sigh and takes a tiny nibble from her food.

  “You can talk to me, Claire. That’s what I’m here for.”

  “Have you talked to your dad?”

  She doesn’t want to talk. Fine.

  “I told you not to worry about my dad. He’ll get over me quitting eventually.”

  “But what about your trust fund. How much did these tickets cost?”

  “It’s just money. It’s not going to make me happy. Being with you is what makes me happy.”

  A painful nervousness settles in my stomach as I speak these words, as if saying this aloud has made me doubt whether it’s actually true. Claire does make me happy, usually. But I’m definitely not happy right now.

  She’s silent as I stare at the hot dog she’s barely touched. Our last meal together was pizza, shared just moments before she admitted to having sex with Chris while I was in Hawaii. Claire and I were broken up at the time, which was the main factor in my decision to forgive her. I fucked up letting her go. And as sick as it makes me to admit it, I know she would never have been with Chris if I hadn’t broken up with her. I’m the one who pushed her away.

  But I’m determined to fix the mess I made. I just wish the mess inside Claire’s head were something I could repair. The only person who can fix that is Claire, but now I’m torn between giving her the space she needs to do that and the fear that I’ll lose her again if I give her too much space.

  “I work with a woman named Maddie,” I begin. “She told me that her husband comes home every night and turns on ESPN for three hours, then they eat a late dinner, shower, and go to sleep. That’s been their routine for almost twenty years
.”

  She looks up at me with interest. I haven’t really spoken to Claire about my new job yet. I’ve been avoiding her questions every time she asks me about it. I don’t want to tell her that I hate this new job. Greg Wyatt, the president of Wyatt & Jones Architects, promised me the same level position I held while working with my dad at Parker Construction. I didn’t expect to get a lead architect position, but they’ve had me doing entry-level drafting that any asshole fresh out of college or technical school can do.

  “I asked Maddie if she thinks the routine is what keeps her and her husband together,” I continue. “She told me that what keeps them together is the fact that during the three hours he watches ESPN she’s shopping online.”

  Claire squints at me. “Where are you going with this?”

  “What I’m trying to tell you is that familiarity is good, it’s comfortable, but sometimes we can get too comfortable. Sometimes, we make stupid decisions because we get complacent.”

  “Adam, are you saying I’ve made stupid decisions or are you trying to tell me that you broke up with me because you got complacent?”

  “I’m trying to tell you that sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone to find true happiness.”

  She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath through her nose. I know that look. She wants to meditate. She used to do this a lot when we first started dating, before I found out about Abigail.

  “I feel like we’ve both taken ten steps back since I went to Hawaii. I just want you to know that I’m ready to move forward.”

  “I’m not ready. I’m nowhere near ready. Do you know what Dr. Goldberg diagnosed me with? Besides depression, I’ve been suffering from PTSD for the past five months. I need you to please give me some time to get my head straight. Please.”

  A man stops at our row and eyeballs the seats to my right before he scoots past us with two large cups of beer. He spills a little on Claire’s jeans and I try not to get annoyed.

  “I’m so sorry. I’ll get you some napkins,” he says as he moves back toward the aisle.

  “It’s fine,” Claire insists, throwing her hand up to stop him. “Really, I’m fine. Go ahead and sit down. The game’s starting soon.”

  The man smiles at her and I feel a tremor of jealousy reverberating through my chest. He steals a few more glances at her before he sits two seats away from me. I don’t notice Claire staring at me until I tear my eyes away from him.

  “Are you mad because he spilled a little beer on my leg?”

  “I’m just worried about you.”

  She shakes her head because she knows I’m lying.

  “Fine. Yes, I can’t stand the way he was looking at you.”

  She reaches under her seat to grab her purse. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

  “You’re leaving?”

  My phone vibrates in my pocket as she slides her purse over her shoulder. “Wait a sec. I have to get this in case it’s Greg.”

  I pull my phone out of my pocket and the name flashing on the screen makes my heart stop: Lindsay Harris.

  Fuck.

  I glance at Claire to see if she noticed the name and she’s looking right at my screen. I hit the ignore button and tuck the phone back into my pocket, but it’s too late. Why did I have to add her name back into my address book after she called me yesterday? Claire knows Lindsay is my ex, though she doesn’t know about the drama I went through with Lindsay in Hawaii. She doesn’t know that, for one excruciating week, I thought I might be the father of Lindsay’s newborn baby, until the paternity test proved otherwise.

  “I’m leaving,” she declares as she stands up.

  “Claire, you don’t have to go.”

 
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