Take Me On (Page 25)

Take Me On (Pushing the Limits #4)(25)
Author: Katie McGarry

Chapter 18

West

I’m used to people talking, saying words aloud to prove they know more than me, that they’re better than me. But they’re just words. Syllables strung together between breaths to fill uncomfortable silences.

Meaningless words.

Haley, on the other hand, speaks volumes with a touch. The way her hand clutches mine, it rips out my heart and tosses it onto a platter.

This moment, it’s too raw. It’s too real. And the instinct is to snatch my hand back and slam the door shut on the sharing, but the other part of me—the part that feels as if my remaining sanity is a gift on the verge of being returned—it clings to her.

I knot my fingers with Haley’s and turn my head so I’m focusing out the driver’s-side window—away from her. If I look at Haley, I’m terrified of what I might say, what I might feel. And f**k me, I’ve already said too much.

If she understands this, being without a home, will she understand the rejection? Will she understand the devastation that everything you have ever loved doesn’t love you in return? And because I can’t face those fears, I’m unable to face Haley.

She squeezes once and it’s like her voice caresses my mind: I’m here. I get it.

I squeeze back.

Seconds pass into moments. Moments into minutes. No words. No meaningless conversation. No eye contact. Just our hands combined.

My throat swells. Haley’s the only string holding me together.

“West,” she says as if we’re lighting a candle for a loved one in a church.

“Yeah.” My voice is cracked, gritty. Don’t say it, Haley. Don’t say you have to go.

“I have a curfew I need to meet.” Yet her fingers wrap tighter around mine.

“Okay.” I should release my grip, but it’s hard. I never realized I could lose everything. Now I don’t want to lose anything, especially her. Not even for a short period of time.

Haley loosens her hold and I withdraw my hand, placing it in my lap. I thought I felt alone and isolated when I tried to sleep in the darkness of my car, but the cold exhaustion left behind when Haley removed her hand indicates I had no idea what lonely was.

The door cracks open and cold air rushes into the SUV.

“Tell me if you run out of places to stay,” she says and then the door shuts behind her.

With her pack slung over her shoulder, Haley shoves her hands in her pockets and slowly idles to the front door. I want to stay and see if she looks my way before she goes into the house, but I don’t because what if she doesn’t?

Chapter 19

Haley

West is homeless. I sort of crave to crawl onto his lap, bury my head in his shoulder and weep for him because when you’re the one going through something so horrible, it’s too difficult to cry for yourself. Sometimes I wonder if the agony inside would disappear if someone would shed the tears for me. I’m not sure I could survive expressing all the pain.

My heart one million percent aches for West and that creates problems. I’m attracted to him, I hurt for him and, overall, I like him and I need additional complications like I need a hole in my head.

Staring at the television, my uncle sits on his La-Z-Boy throne in the living room. He’s below a man, who’s below a man, which makes him the lowest man at an exterminator company. From six in the morning until three in the afternoon, he kills things for a living. The things everyone else cringes to touch.

I slip off my sneakers and line them neatly near the front door and hang my backpack on one of the many hooks. Feeling like a wallflower geisha, I lower my head and position myself next to my uncle’s chair. I learned once in Sunday school that wishing someone dead, wishing for the murder of someone, is as sinful as committing the act. Standing here, I have the same thought every day: when I die I’m heading straight to hell.

While staying focused on the television, he talks at me. “Where’s Jax and Kaden?”

In the cramped living room, my younger sister lies belly-flat against the floor and colors a picture of a house: two stories, blue shutters, rosebushes near the front door. The sun is shining and a family of stick figures smile. It’s our old house. It’s what we used to be. “At the gym.”

He knows this, but he enjoys asking. He enjoys knowing I’ll answer.

“Why aren’t you at work?”

“It’s Monday. I’m off.” He knows this, too. I’m a waitress, like my mom. Except I work at the pizza place for bad tips and she works double shifts at the Roadhouse for slightly better bad tips. She works so much that I never see her anymore. Ever.

My uncle avoids looking at me. It’s a reminder I’m not worth being looked at. He drinks from the frosted can of Coke. Alcohol, he says, is the devil.

If I didn’t believe he was Satan incarnate, he could be considered a handsome man even in his blue work uniform and with the stench of pesticide-death rolling off him. He’s my father’s half brother and a thirty-eight-year-old carbon copy of Jax: whitish-blond hair, blue eyes and sturdy build.

It’s the half part that has made the difference between my father and him. The difference between me living in this prison for a few months and Jax living here his entire life.

My uncle finishes the Coke and extends the can to me. “Cut up the vegetables and start the meat and get me another.”

Dad steps out of the bedroom and I catch his tired eyes. Tell him to say please. Tell him I’m not his slave. Instead, Dad glances down. When we moved in I promised him and my mother I’d keep my mouth shut and do what I was told.

I made a promise.

A promise my pride prefers not to keep. I’m not a slave. I’m not. Being poor, being homeless, being a girl doesn’t make me less.

“I think I told you to do something, girl,” says my uncle.

“Haley,” Dad barely mutters. I flinch like I did when Conner rammed his fist into my gut. With too much anger, I snatch the can out of The Dictator’s hand and stomp into the kitchen. I breeze past Dad, not once meeting his eyes.

The burner on the stove pings when I slam the pot against it and a few magnets bounce to the ground when I throw the refrigerator door open.

“Don’t let him get to you.” Dad picks up the magnets and snaps them back on the door. He speaks in a hushed tone because we’re not allowed to have opinions in this house. No one is allowed to think in this house. “It’s how Paul handles things.”

I want to scream at Dad to find a job. To save us. But I don’t. That wouldn’t be fair of me and life hasn’t been fair to him. A black forest of bitterness festers inside me and other words flow out instead. “You’re okay with how he talks to me?”