“You’re safe.” I shut my eyes and attempt to kill the anger at her mother. How the hell does Echo turn it off? How can she wake like this, totally shattered, then hours later contemplate talking to her, listening to the bitch’s messages? “I swear to you, you’re safe.”
And as far as I’m concerned, Echo’s going to stay that way.
I comb my fingers through her hair, massage her back and make that shushing noise that calms her. When her sobs are less intense, I begin to sing. More whisper than song. Right in her ear. The same song as the night we first kissed.
Echo relaxes in my arms, and I sing it through, one more time. A little for her, but more for me. I don’t know how to protect her from the demons in her mind. How do I fight something that can’t be seen?
When I finish, there’s silence. I strain to hear anything, but the land around us says nothing. No cars, no planes, no jacked-up people yelling into the night.
“I’m tired of living in the past,” Echo whispers. “I don’t want to go back.”
“Then no more past,” I answer. “Only the future. We’re going to get our degrees, we’re going to get married and we’ll never look back.”
“We were fine after graduation and before the sand dunes. Before we talked about heading home. Everything was perfect.”
My neck stiffens. “Tonight was perfect.”
Echo raises her head, and it’s damn hard to meet her eyes. If I spot regret there, I’ll lose my shit. I blink when I notice the smile playing at her lips and how she shyly glances away.
Fuck me. Heaven in the middle of hell, but how else would Echo and I do this? She fell asleep after and so did I—tangled in each other’s arms. This is it. This is the moment of truth of the after and so far, I like what I see.
Her cheeks flood red, and when she takes in our lack of clothes, her eyes widen. “Oh.”
I choke down a laugh. Hoping to help her modesty, I lay her down, draw up a cover and prop my head on my fist. “You okay?”
“I heard you in my dream telling me to come back. No one else has been there before.”
Damn straight she heard me. “See, we’re kicking your past’s ass already.”
The right side of Echo’s mouth strains up but then tugs down. “Was it okay for you?”
We’ve moved away from night terrors. “Perfect.”
“I’m not good at it.”
“Echo…” I sigh. There’s no right way to explain this. “What happened tonight was special because I did it with you.”
She messes with the cuticles of her nails. Damn it, I can’t get the girl to stop thinking. I wish I could crawl into her mind and hear what she’s mulling over, but then again, it’s probably better if I remain ignorant.
“It’s sort of weird,” she says.
I place my hands over hers to stop her assault on her nails. “What’s weird?”
She shrugs, not able to meet my gaze. “I’m not a virgin anymore.”
Pain strikes my chest. Don’t regret it. Please don’t. “Are you okay with that?”
“Yeah.” Echo’s green eyes drift to mine. “It’s…I…uh…read this article once that said when you have sex with someone it releases these chemicals in your brain, and it makes you more attached.”
Could explain my fresh need to kill her mom. “Okay.”
“And I already loved you…”
I run a hand over my face. Is this the buildup before she pushes me over the edge? “Yeah?”
Echo fidgets with the end of the blanket. “Well…my virginity was mine to give. I mean, how many times have I heard over and over again that there’s only one shot at this. That there’s no take backs. That once I give it, it’s gone.”
And now she regrets it. I rub my eyes as I don’t like the wetness in them. I don’t like the way my muscles tense. I fucking love her and would stand in front of a goddamned train to protect her, and she regrets the best damned night of my life.
“I guess I’m saying,” she continues, “now that it doesn’t belong to me anymore…well…I’m glad I gave it to you. So in a weird way, my virginity is yours now. That’s something you’ll always have and…I sort of like the idea that it belongs to you.”
My head shoots up, and my heart stops beating. “What did you say?”
She bites her bottom lip. “If I’m going to be closer to someone, I’m glad it’s you. I’m glad you’re the one I gave this part of myself to.”
My mouth pops open, but no words escape. The burning wetness that was there because I thought she was going to break my heart still hovers in my eyes, but now it’s there because entire parts of me are being reborn. Parts of my soul that I thought would be dead forever.
“It’s heavy if you think about it.” She yawns. It’s an hour before dawn, too early for either of us to be awake.
“How?” I don’t care about the heaviness. I’ll take it if this is how it feels to be loved by her. I gather Echo into my arms, and she rests her head on my pillow.
“Like it gives you a power.”
“What type of power is that?” My eyelids close.
She yawns again and her words are slurred through her exhaustion. “So now that I gave you this special gift, isn’t your job to take care of it?”
Taking care of her—I can do that. “I’m going to spend my whole life making you happy.”
“You better.” Echo jerks then resettles.
She does this—falls asleep then floats into barely awake. There’s a brief few seconds where I can ask her anything, and the truth tumbles out of her mouth. I’m a dick for taking advantage of it, but I never claimed to be the good guy. “What will make you happy, Echo?”
“You,” she mumbles groggily.
Not enough. “What else? What will make you happy?”
“Staying here.” Her voice trails off toward the end. “I don’t want to go home. Ever.”
The smile on my face fades as I stare at Echo now asleep in my arms. I think of what she said when she calmed down from her night terror: I’m tired of living in the past…I don’t want to go back… We were fine after graduation and before the sand dunes. Before we talked about heading back. Everything was perfect.
She tried to tell me, several ways, but I assumed something else and cut her off. It’s like someone’s rammed a knife into my gut.