I moved, but it was too late. The bullet hit.
“I’m sorry, baby,” I whispered.
Her expression had turned from fear to shock before her body dropped to the floor.
* * *
They took him away today…
Willow says I’m free.
Freedom means possibilities of happiness.
So why does freedom feel so empty?
Is it wrong to miss him? Is it sick? Is it twisted?
I think it’s all of those things and more.
“Seeing you like this is hard. You don’t look the same. You don’t feel the same… and I have a feeling when you wake up, you won’t be the same.”
I touched the hand lying casually on the bedsheet.
“Is that true?”
The silence was louder than the shrillest scream.
“I only wished I could have saved you. I realize now there are more people who have hurt you than people you have hurt.”
I laid my head in his lap, and for the first time, I didn’t feel shame for my tears. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since Keiran took a bullet for me.
The fear I felt the last ten years was nothing compared to the utter desolation that brought me to my knees seconds before he fell. It didn’t seem real until his blood soaked through his shirt. I’d attempted to stop it, but it only covered my fingers.
I didn’t feel Dash’s hands grab me, but when I felt the distance between me and my tormentor, my enemy, and my love, as it grew, I started to fight. All I could think was that he needed me. How he would die if I didn’t help. How I would die if he didn’t survive.
Dash was forced to toss me over his shoulder to get me to safety. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but when Keiran was shot, a gunfight had erupted around us. I didn’t know who had died or who lived, including Keiran.
Outside, Willow and Sheldon had been waiting to take me away. As Willow drove us away¸ I stared at his blood on my hands. I remember wondering how long it would be before I stopped seeing it there. Was that how he saw himself? Was it why he was so tortured?
I fell asleep wondering about the eight-year-old boy who grew up in a nightmare.
* * *
“But, Mama, why do you have to go? Can’t only daddy go?”
“Oh, no! My little girl doesn’t love me anymore!” He held his chest and dropped to his knee in front of me.
“Oh, Daddy, don’t be silly. Of course, I love you.”
“You like Mommy better than me?”
He looked as if he would cry, and I frowned when I thought I really hurt him. “Don’t cry, Daddy. Mommy’s a girl so I can play with her. Girl’s aren’t supposed to play with boys.”
He laughed, kissed my cheek, and ruffled my hair, messing up the pigtails my mother had done that morning. “Just remember that, baby and Daddy will live a long time.”
“Can’t you both stay? Oh! I know! I can come with you.” I picked up my book bag and started for the car.
Daddy laughed and scooped me up, sandwiching me between him and Mommy.
“Sweetheart, we would love to stay with you, but we have a very special trip, and it’s no place for you.”
“Is it bad?”
A look I didn’t understand passed between them before they both looked toward the pretty house that belonged to my aunt. She was my mother’s sister and really nice. I always wished for a little sister to play with, and every birthday, I wished even harder. Sometimes, they were too busy to play with me, and I got lonely.
“Come on, Lake. It’s time for Mommy and Daddy to go.” I hung tighter around my daddy’s neck, not wanting them to leave.
“Daddy, don’t leave,” I cried. He desperately tried to wipe away my tears, but they fell fast and hard. This wasn’t the first time they had left me, but this time felt different. It felt wrong.
My aunt had to pry me away from them, and when she finally held me, I buried my head in her shoulder and wailed.
Even through my cries, I could still hear my aunt whisper, “Be careful.”
* * *
One of my favorite memories was the way my dad would rub my hair and sing me out of a nightmare when I was a child. Sometimes, our memories were so vivid they would begin to look and feel real.
Somewhere far away a male voice whispered and soothed, and I felt myself relax into sleep. I curled closer to the softness against my cheek and smiled from the comfort of him rubbing my hair. I missed this.
“How long has she been asleep?”
“I don’t know. I woke up about an hour ago and she was here.” I frowned as the voices became clearer, and the familiarity was unlike how I remembered by father’s voice, but then… it had been a long time.
So who was the other voice? It sounded familiar, too.
“Are you sure you want to do this, man?”
“I can’t take the risk again. It was a mistake.”
My head shot up from the bed when I finally recognized who the voice belonged to.
Keiran is awake.
“Keiran?” He was sitting up against the pillows watching me. A day’s worth of stubble covered his lower face and his features looked worn.
I moved forward to hug him, but the cold look that grew in his eyes stopped me. “Is… is everything okay?”
“What are you doing here?”
“You—you were shot. I wanted to be here when you woke up.”