Nocte (Page 20)

Nocte (The Nocte Trilogy #1)(20)
Author: Courtney Cole

Oh my God.  I’m a menace to society.  I know it was just a raccoon, but it had a life, and then it came into contact with me, and now it’s dead.

“We should go,” I say quietly, pushing away from the table and heading for the door without waiting for him to respond.  He does follow me, though, and when we reach the car, he turns to look at me in confusion.

“Did I do something?”

“Of course not,” I tell him tiredly.  “Nothing at all.  I should just be getting back.  I’m sure my brother is wondering where I am.”

I haven’t left him alone this long in forever.

I drive this time, because I’ve got to be normal.  I’ve got to put what happened this morning out of my head.  You fall off a horse, you get back on.  Your mom dies in a crash, you have to drive again.

When we’re sitting in front of the funeral home, I kill the ignition, and Dare hops out, grabbing eight bags of groceries while I carry four.

“You don’t have to cart these in,” I tell him as we tumble in through the back door.  He doesn’t reply, he just heads straight to the kitchen, as though it’s his house, as though he’s been there before.

Curiously, I follow him, watching him begin to unload the items, putting the milk in the fridge and going straight to where the sugar belongs, sliding it into place.

“How do you know where everything goes?” I ask stupidly, watching him put the bread away. “You don’t seem the type to know your way around any kitchen, much less mine.”  He pauses, lifting his eyebrow.

“It says Bread Box,” he points.

I flush.

“And the rest is common sense,” he adds, opening the cabinet above the stove and putting away the salt.

Still.  He moves around with such familiarity.

I’m… imagining things, I decide.  Of course I am.

When everything is done, Dare leans back against the counter.  “Today was fun,” he tells me, his eyes gleaming, his body stretched out.

I nod.  “Thank you for taking me to town.”

He smiles.

“Anytime.”

He starts for the door, then pauses and turns.  “I mean that,” he adds.  “I’d like to do that again.  Go have a soda with you, I mean.”

He’s so beautiful as he stands bathed in the sunlight in my doorway.  I gulp hard, trying to swallow the guilty lump in my throat. With everything that I am, or ever will be, I want to say yes.

But I can’t.

“I…uh….”  I don’t deserve to. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to. My brother needs me.”

I turn around, because my eyes are watery and hot, and I’m ridiculous and I don’t want Dare to see me cry again.

Dare’s voice comes from right behind me, six inches away.

“Calla, look at me.”

I stare pointedly at the walnut cabinets, trying not to let the hot tears spill, because as much as I’m trying to hold them in, the tears keep welling up.

One escapes, slipping down my cheek.

Dare pulls me around, then drops his hand, staring me in the eye.  He’s so intent, so serious.  He wipes my tear away with a thumb.

“You deserve to have a life, too,” he tells me, his voice even.  “You can take care of Finn and still take care of you.”

I don’t deserve it.

“You don’t understand,” I start to say, then decide I’d sound crazy if I tried to explain.

“You can’t say that, because you don’t know me,” I say instead, my voice harsh and stilted.

Dare runs a hand through his hair and his eyes glint like obsidian.  “I guess not.”

And then he abruptly turns and walks out, his shoulders wide as he strides across my lawn, away from me.

Something bothers me as I wipe off the counters, and it isn’t until I flip off the lights and walk into the Great Room that I realize what it is.

He acts like I disappointed him.

I don’t know why.

12

DUODECIM

Calla

I haven’t seen Dare in days, which is strange since he lives here now.  But not so strange, considering that I’ve somehow disappointed him.

I’ve heard his motorcycle roar to life in the mornings, then I hear him come back home late at night, but I haven’t personally seen him for seventy-two long hours.

“I wonder where he goes every day?” Finn muses at breakfast, as we hear his bike roar down the mountain.  My father shrugs.

“Don’t know.  It doesn’t matter to me. He paid for three months of rent in advance, so as far as I’m concerned, he’s not my business until September.”

Three months in advance?  That’s interesting.  I chew my biscuit as I consider that.  Is that how long he’s staying?

I feel Finn watching me, waiting for a reaction, but I don’t give him one.  For some reason, I don’t want to let him know how much time I spend musing about Dare DuBray, how I’ve laid in bed for three nights, obsessing about his voice and what it might be like if it was whispering into my ear in the dark.

“Want to do something today?” Finn asks, after taking a swig of orange juice.  I shrug.

“Sure. Like what?”

He eyes me over his glass.  “Maybe we could go to the cemetery?”

And just like that, it feels like he stomped on my solar plexus, squeezing out every last vestige of oxygen from it.

“Why would we do that today?” I manage to ask around the constricted muscle. Our father is unusually silent as he watches our interaction.

Finn levels his gaze at me.  “Because we haven’t been there yet.  I don’t want mom to think we’ve forgotten.”

Dad makes a choking sound and picks up his plate (which incidentally is one of a set of 16 perfectly matched china plates from their wedding) before rushing away to the kitchen, and I glare at my brother.

“Mom’s dead. She’s doesn’t think anything.”

Finn’s gaze doesn’t falter.  “You don’t know that.  You have no idea what she sees or doesn’t see.  Now, do you want to go visit her today?”

There’s a stern tone to his voice, something firm and judgmental.  I swallow hard because I’m so not ready for that.

“I can’t…yet,” I finally tell him quietly.  His blue eyes soften although he doesn’t look away.

“I don’t think it’ll get easier with time,” he answers.  I shake my head.