I stood at Jeremy’s window and knocked. I was numb. I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten over there in the dark. I wasn’t sure why I was here except I needed him. I needed him to look at the text messages I’d just gotten from some unknown number and tell me he saw them too. I wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating. Oh God, let me be hallucinating. Please. Please. Let me be hallucinating.
Jeremy’s window slid open. His sleepy face looked confused. As if he thought he were dreaming. “Eva? What’s wrong?” he asked, pushing the window all the way open and stepping out of it to stand in front of me.
I couldn’t talk. I just handed him the phone.
He looked down at it, confused, then looked back at me. “You’re scaring me, Eva. Is your daddy okay? Talk to me, girl.”
I shook my head. “It’s not my daddy,” I managed to croak out.
Jeremy slid his finger across the screen on my phone and the light from it lit up the small dark space outside where we stood.
“Holy shit,” he muttered, and slid his finger across it again. “Motherf**king bastard,” he swore. I knew he saw it too. I hadn’t been hallucinating after all. Oh God. I felt my knees give out. I curled up on the grass underneath me, pulling my legs up to tuck them under my chin. No, no no, not this. I can’t handle this. Not now, I can’t. I can’t.
“I got you, girl. Come here.” Jeremy was on the ground with me. He was pulling me against his chest. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to believe it, but I had to ask.
“Did you watch the video?” I asked in a low whisper.
He moved the phone, and I heard the sound of the noise in the background of the video. I knew what he was seeing. It was burned into my brain. Every moment of it would haunt me for the rest of my life.
“I’m going to kill him. I’m putting a bullet through that f**ker’s eyes.” Jeremy threw my phone from both of us, and he pulled me tighter against his chest.
“He was. . . he was. . .” I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t forget it.
Cage touching a girl’s bare chest, Cage so close to a nak*d girl’s face, he was about to kiss her. His chest was touching hers. Cage. . . Cage getting in a car with a girl dressed like a whore, and Cage kissing a girl. She was gorgeous. She was older. She wasn’t me. She was as beautiful as he was. Then he’d. . . he’d made out with her against a pool table. Then the picture of her in his bed with them both nak*d and all wrapped up together. Oh God, I was going to be sick.
I pushed away from Jeremy and threw up into the grass. I felt Jeremy take my hair and say soothing things to me, but they didn’t help. I kept throwing up until all I had was dry heaves.
“Come on, Eva. You gotta stop. Don’t think about it,” Jeremy begged.
My body was weak and spent. I sank back against him and closed my eyes. I had to forget what I’d seen. I had to block it out.
We sat there in the darkness while I whimpered, the images flashinh across my brain. I’d missed his calls earlier tonight because Daddy had gotten sick. It was an hour later when I’d finally been able to go back to my room. I had been tempted to call him, but I’d worried that he’d be asleep. But then an hour later, the unknown sender of the texts began sending them to me. With each horrific image, my heart was torn out of my chest and shattered. I would never be the same. Ever.
Jeremy stood and picked me up with him. I let him carry me because I couldn’t do anything else. He sat me inside his room and then crawled in behind me. He then picked me up again and laid me on his bed.
“You sleep here tonight. I’ll check on your dad and you.”
I shook my head. “Daddy’s okay. I gave him his medicine, and he’s in bed sleeping. Stay here with me for now. Don’t leave me alone.”
He looked torn, but then he crawled in behind me and pulled me against his chest.
“Sleep,” he whispered in my ear. But I didn’t. Not one wink. All night. Even after his breathing evened and slowed, I stared at the wall and wondered how this had happened. Those photos weren’t all in the same night. He wasn’t wearing the same thing in them. He wasn’t at the same place in all of them. How had he lied so easily to me? How had I believed him?
* * *
At some point before the sunrise, I must have dozed off, because my eyes flew open as I shot up in bed to see the sun pouring into Jeremy’s room. Looking around, I realized Jeremy was gone. In that brief moment I’d forgotten why I was here, but the memories came crashing down over me and my stomach rolled as each image played again in my head. I had to get out of there. I had to go somewhere. I had to do something. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t deal with this.
I stood up and noticed Jeremy’s phone lying beside me with a note in his scribble underneath it. I picked both up and read the letter.
Use my phone. I took yours. I don’t want you talking to that bastard or looking at those damn photos again. Call me if you need me. Your dad knows I’m gone and why. I spoke with him this morning but I didn’t give him the details just enough. He is at home waiting on you. Go curl up in your daddy’s lap and let him take care of you. He needs that. He’s worried about you. I’ll be back tonight late.
Where was he? Did he go to Tennessee? Surely not. I jumped up and looked for my shoes, then realized I’d walked over there barefoot. I didn’t want Elaine to find me in there. I’d call Jeremy when I got outside. Opening the window, I slipped out and headed for my house.
This wasn’t fair. I couldn’t worry about Daddy worrying about me. Didn’t Jeremy understand that? Dammit. I knew he meant well, but this wasn’t what I wanted him to do. I had needed someone last night, and he was all I had now to break down on. I stepped onto our property and looked up at the porch to see my daddy standing there, waiting for me. I started walking toward him and he stepped around the railing and down the steps. When he opened his arms to me, tears filled my eyes and blurred my vision. I managed to get to him without falling over something.
His big arms wrapped around me and held me to his chest as my first sob broke free.
Constant ringing was sending sharp pains through my head. I moaned and reached for a pillow to cover my ears. Instead I found hair. Lots of it. My eyes opened, and I turned to see a nak*d. . . Hayden in my bed. Jumping up, I backed away from the bed, and along with the pounding in my head, my chest was now beating wildly. What the fuck?
The ringing kept on. What the hell was that? My back touched the wall and my bare ass alerted me to the fact I was also nak*d. Holy f**king shit! What had I done? This was not right? I didn’t do this? I would never have done this? Not even dog drunk would have done this? But I didn’t remember. . . anything. Nothing. I walked back into the bar after calling Eva and got a beer. Then. . . I. . . drank it. And nothing. Shit. The ringing started again. Fuck me, what was that noise?
My phone. Shit. My phone. I grabbed my jeans and jerked them on, then I grabbed my phone. It was Eva. Oh, shit. . . It was Eva. I couldn’t answer it with. . . Oh, shit. I stepped out of the room and quickly answered. I had to figure this out. I had to find a way. Eva couldn’t know about this. What had I even done?
A used condom was lying on the floor in front of me. Shit. Shit. Shit.
The phone started ringing again. It was Eva again. I had to answer. What if she needed me?
“Hello,” I managed to croak out sounding like I felt.
“You need to run. Your ass may be bigger than me, but I can use a gun real damn good. So you’ve been warned. I’m coming after your motherf**king ass and I intend to put a bullet between your eyes.” Then the line ended. It had been Jeremy.
I stared at the phone in my hand and let his words register. He was coming here to kill me. That meant one thing. Somehow Eva knew. But what the f**k did she know? I didn’t even know? I didn’t remember shit. Someone had drugged my damn drink. I had been drinking for years and never had I been drugged. Never. Who the hell? I looked back at my bedroom and my blood boiled. That bitch in my bed.
I stalked back to my room and jerked my door open. Grabbing the sheet, I yanked it hard enough that the whore went flying across my room with a loud thud when she smacked her head against the wall. I wanted her to hurt. I wanted to strangle her. I fisted my hands at my sides to keep from beating her evil ass to a pulp.
She screamed and grabbed her head then started cursing.
“Get. Out!” I yelled.
She started to say something, but when her eyes saw the rage in mine, she snapped her mouth shut and slowly stood up. If she said one word—one f**king word—I was going to sling her ass across the damn apartment.
She reached for her clothes and started to put them on.
“No! Get. Out. Now!” I roared before slamming my fist through the wall.
She took off running. Holding her clothes in her hands tightly, she ran from my room and out the door of the apartment, slamming the door behind her. I dialed Eva’s number again.
“What, you sorry ass f**ker? Called to f**king explain now you’ve figured out that Eva knows! She don’t just know. She saw it. Your nak*d ass with another woman. All of it. Thanks to your friends there, a part of it was even videoed. You killed her. Just so you f**king know, the Eva we both knew is f**king dead. I had to look into her empty eyes as she threw up over and over again. I’m gonna f**king kill you!”
My stomach rolled. She had seen it? What the f**k had she seen? No. No. Oh God, no. I barely made it to the bathroom before I hit my knees and started throwing up last night’s beer. Something I hadn’t done since high school.
I reached for the phone as I sank back against the wall and leaned against it. “I was drugged.”
“Really? That might get your ass out of this if it wasn’t for all the pictures of your lying ass. You weren’t always wearing the same thing. You weren’t always at the same place. Grabbing tits at a party. Kissing some trashy bitch. Getting in a car on another day and driving off with the same bitch you were in bed with. What about the one you had her up against a pool table, doing everything but hav**g s*x with her, while onlookers cheered you on? You’re a sick motherfucker who had something you didn’t deserve. You lost that. She’s done. It’s over. You killed it.”
I’d been set up. This had all been set up.
“I need to talk to her. You can come after me and f**king blow my head off, but let me talk to her first. Let me explain. I can’t let her think I did this to her.”
“You step foot on that property and Wilson will put a bullet in you. That man’s sick. He doesn’t need this damn drama. His little girl is broken. He’s gonna want your blood. These are her last months with her father, you f**king a**hole. She’s making memories for the rest of her life. A life she will live without him. And you just f**ked her up. Royally f**ked her up. I’m coming after your ass to make sure you’re in a hospital and can’t get to her. I don’t want jail time, but I intend to make sure you can’t f**king walk.”
“I didn’t. . . None of this is real. It’s a setup. What you saw in the pictures, that wasn’t real—the shit from last night that I don’t remember. I was drugged, so what you saw last night was real. It just wasn’t me. I gotta talk to her, Jeremy.”
He paused and I waited. He had to give me a chance to explain this to her. She couldn’t think I’d done this. I was coming home. This shit wasn’t for me. I should never have come here. It was a huge mistake.
“She won’t see you. Her daddy will kill you. You broke her. Let her heal. Leave her f**king alone. This is the time she is supposed to be spending with her daddy. Not dealing with a broken heart over you. Stay your ass in Tennessee and leave her alone.”
“Because you’re a selfish bastard. That’s why you can’t. For once in your godforsaken life think about someone else. Someone other than what you want. Stay away. Let her come to you when she’s ready. If she’s ever ready.”
How was I supposed to do that? Was I being selfish? I wanted her to know the truth. She would want to know the truth. That wasn’t selfishness.
“Just let me talk to her on the phone. Tell me how I can talk to her. Please.”
Jeremy was quiet again. Then he let out a frustrated sigh. “Let me call her first. I don’t believe your lying ass, but this is her decision to make.”
“Thank you,” I replied, but he’d hung up. I sat on the floor of the bathroom and stared at my phone, willing it to ring again. After ten minutes a blocked number flashed on the screen.
“Baby, listen to me,” I said before she could say anything.
“No. You listen to me. I’m done. We’re done. You’re dead to me. Completely. I trusted you with my heart, and I realized that you were my biggest mistake. You will always be my biggest mistake. I trusted you. I should have known guys like you can’t be trusted. Good-bye, Cage York. Don’t come here again. Don’t come near me again. I don’t care what you have to say. I never want to hear your voice again. I never want to see your face again.” The line went dead.
The first sob caused my entire body to tremble. The ones that followed took my soul with them and left me void.