My forehead wrinkles, and a burst of worry overtakes me. What demons did Mrs. Collins dredge up?
“I’ve tried to let go of the past,” I tell him. “But it’s like running laps and being shocked I finish where I started.”
A car rips into the parking lot, and the beams of the headlights flash over us as they turn toward the main entrance of the hotel.
“If your mom said she was sorry, you’d forgive her,” Noah says as a statement.
As the prospect of actually forgiving her sinks in, I snuggle closer to Noah. The newly found memories of my mother lying beside me while blood flowed from the cuts on my arms torture my mind. Noah tightens his hold as if he could squeeze out the nightmares.
“I think I want to forgive her,” I answer. “But I’m scared to.”
“Because she’s selfish. Mom has always done what she wants, never thinking about anyone else. It’s like after I saw her in the cemetery, my entire view of the life we shared together got distorted. If I forgive her, doesn’t that imply I’ll have a relationship with her again? And if that happens, does that mean I have to trust her again? Does that mean I have to put up with her selfish crap because she said she was sorry? But if I don’t forgive her, will I always be bitter? I’m exhausted of being bitter.”
I’m sick of feeling alone.
I’ve got Noah, but will we work? Are we a forever type of thing?
An invisible vise clenches around my heart, and I can’t comprehend anything associated with Noah leaving. He drew me plans for a house—our house. We made love. This is forever now. Noah would have never made love to me if we weren’t a forever thing, but there’s this doubt. This lingering doubt that Mrs. Collins said I’m not facing.
My mom is blood family, and family is that segment of my life that’s supposed to stick with me. If that’s the logic I should follow, shouldn’t I be wavering toward having more family in my life rather than less?
If I’m going to continue to be so starkly honest, raw to the point that the truth rubs like sandpaper against my soul, then I’ll admit the last fear. “Is having bad family better than having no family?”
Noah dips his head so that his cheek is against mine, practically shielding me from the world with his entire body.
“I don’t know, Echo,” he whispers. “I don’t know.”
Through the rim of light outlining the drapes of the hotel’s window, I can decipher Isaiah as he rolls to a sitting position and places his feet on the floor. Like he does most mornings, he pops his neck to the side—a release of the pressure that builds inside him day after day.
Echo flips in her sleep, and I shift along with her. For the first time on our trip, she took sleeping pills, and she slept like the dead. The stillness of her body throughout the night would jerk me awake. Each time a wave of horror thundered through me, thinking that she had left.
Is having bad family better than having no family? Echo’s question has circled my mind. I asked about her mom in an attempt to understand my mom’s family, but I only upset Echo.
I’m a goddamned selfish bastard.
Swamped in guilt, I press the balls of my hands onto my forehead. Echo said her mom was selfish, but I’m just as bad. I never once thought about Echo sleeping in a room with two other people and the fear she must possess over having a night terror in front of them. Echo hates relying on the pills, and I drove her to them.
Just fuck me.
The dim light from the clock radio shines against Isaiah’s double row of earrings, and he jacks his thumb in the direction of the bathroom. We’ve been living together in cramped quarters for over a year and have memorized each other’s rhythms. “You want the shower?”
“It’s yours,” I mumble. “I’m going to grab Echo some coffee. You want anything?”
Beth launches a pillow at me, and I catch it in midair before it can hit Echo. “For you two to shut up and go back to bed.”
“We’re good,” Isaiah answers, ignoring Beth. Like a predator in the jungle, he moves across the hotel room, not making a sound. My best friend can be easygoing on the outside, but he’s damn lethal if pushed.
Light seeps from under the closed door of the bathroom, and Isaiah starts the shower.
I throw the pillow back at Beth and smile when it smacks her head. “One day, Noah, I’m going to kick your ass.”
“Bring it, Beth,” I mutter, knowing she can hear the tease in my voice.
I glance down, startled to find Echo staring up at me. Her hands are tucked under her cheek and from the soft glow of light, I detect an unfamiliar glaze in her eyes.
“Go back to sleep.” I caress her cheek, hoping she’ll shut her eyes with the downward motion. “You don’t have anywhere to be.”
Echo’s eyes drift closed but then snap back open. This is why she doesn’t like the pills. She said it’s hard for her to wake up and stay awake. “Don’t leave me here alone.”
I chuckle then lean down to brush my lips to hers. Echo responds, but not with the fierceness I’m used to. Her kiss is soft and groggy, and she’s damn sexy as she wraps her body once again around mine to settle into another round of sleep.
A part of me goes hard as steel while other parts soften. It’s been over twenty-four hours since I loved Echo properly, and my body is begging to do it again. Under the covers, I stroke my hand along her spine and continue until my palm curves around her ass. The waiting to be physical again is creating a friction between us that’s close to becoming electric.
“You are so bad,” she whispers, more asleep than awake.
“I’m just getting started, baby.”
“I’m gagging over here,” says Beth.
“I hear showers help,” Echo says to me, with a soft laugh that plays over my skin. “Cold ones.”
Damn, I’m being ganged up on. “Beth and Isaiah are only with us for a few more days, Echo, and then you’re mine.”
That siren smile I love so much briefly graces her lips, but then her eyes twitch beneath her closed lids, her breathing becomes rhythmic and her forehead relaxes. She’s fallen into a dream. Not a nightmare. A normal, every night dream.
Grateful, I say a prayer to the God that had forsaken me years ago and kiss the top of Echo’s head. Normal isn’t something Echo and I take for granted.
When I’m sure she’s out again, I untangle myself, throw on a shirt and shoes and grab her car keys. Isaiah opens the door to the bathroom, and steam pours out. He sports a pair of jeans and no shirt.