Falling into You Read online

Page 13

“Let me go!” She growls.

  “No. ”

  “Let me f**king go, Colton. ” Her voice is tiny, scared, vulnerable, and vehement.

  “You let go. ”

  “Why?” A hitch in her voice.

  “Because holding on to it is killing you. ”

  “Good. ” She’s still struggling, thrashing against my hold.

  “‘There’s a shortage of perfect br**sts in this world. It would be a pity to ruin yours. ’”

  She stops thrashing and laughs. “Did you just quote The Princess Bride at me?”

  “Maybe. ”

  She laughs, and the laugh turns into a sob, quickly choked off.

  I sigh. “Fine. How ‘bout I start?” I really don’t want to do this. “When I came to New York, I was seventeen. I had five dollars in my pocket, a backpack full of clothes, a package of Ritz crackers, a can of Coke, and nothing else. I knew no one. I had a high school diploma, barely, and I knew I could fix any engine put in front of me. I spent the first day I got off the bus looking for a mechanic garage trying to find a job. No one would even let me apply. I hadn’t eaten in two days. I slept on a bench in Central Park that night, at least till the cops made me move. ”

  I have her interest, now. She’s still in my arms, staring up at me. I’m speaking to the ceiling, because her eyes are too piercing.

  “I nearly starved to death, to be honest. I knew nothing. I’d grown up privileged, you know my dad, how much my parents have. I’d never even had to make my own food, wash my own clothes. Suddenly, I’m alone in this insane city where no one gives a shit about anyone else. Dog eat dog, and all that. ”

  “How’d you survive?”

  “I got in a fight. ” I laugh. “I had a nice little spot to sleep beneath a bridge, and this old bum comes along and says it’s his spot and I have to move. Well, I hadn’t really slept in days, and I wasn’t about to move. So we fought. It was sloppy and nasty, since I was hungry and tired and scared and he was old and tough and hard, but I won. Turns out this guy was watching the whole thing. He came up to me after I won and asks if I wanted to make a quick hundred bucks. I didn’t even hesitate. He brings me to this old warehouse in a shitty part of I don’t even know where. A back alley in Long Island, maybe. He feeds me, gives me a cold beer. I was a new man after that. He brings me down into the basement of this warehouse where there’s a bunch of people in a circle, cheering and shit. I hear the sounds of a fight. ”

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  Nell gasps, and I can tell she knows where this is going.

  “Yeah. I won. The guy I fought was huge, but slow. I’d been in my share of trouble in high school, so I knew how to fight. This guy was just big and strong, no technique. I did three fights that night, all in a row. Took an awful beating in the last one, but I won. Made four hundred bucks, and that was how I started. Then I met Split. He was at one of the fights, and offered me job, sort of. Said he needed someone to be muscle for him, collecting debts, be scary. Well, I could do scary. So I went with Split and I…well, it wasn’t bare knuckle prize fighting. Intimidation, mostly. People owed him for favors, for drugs…I’d solve the problem. That’s how I met Split, how I ended up in the Five-One Bishops. ”

  “A gang?”

  “Yes, Nell. A gang. ” I sigh. “They were my family. My friends. They fed me, gave me a bed to sleep in. Gave me booze to drink and pot to smoke and girls to roll. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I’m not proud of some of the shit I did, but those guys, they were tight. Honorable, most of ‘em, in their own way. They’d never, ever betray me, no matter what. They’d back my play, no questions asked. Even now, years out of the game, living clean and honest, working for myself, if I called them, they’d come, and they wouldn’t flinch to do whatever I asked. ”

  “Like Split, today. ”

  I nod against her hair. “Exactly. ”

  “Tell me the truth, Colton. Where did he take Dan?”

  I shrug. “I honestly don’t know. I told him I didn’t want to know. I told Split I didn’t want a body on my conscience though, but I also didn’t want you to ever have to worry about Dan again. So forget him. ”

  A long silence, and I knew she was formulating a question. “Do you?”

  “Do I what?”

  “Have bodies on your conscience?”

  I don’t answer. “Does it matter?”

  “Yes. To me it does. ”

  “Yes. I do. ” I hesitate for a long moment. “You can’t understand that life, Nell. You just can’t. It was survival. ”

  “I guess I can get that. ”


  She sighs. “I don’t understand why you came here alone with no money. What about college? Why didn’t your parents help you? Do they know about how you survived?”

  I shake my head and examine my knuckles. “That’s a different conversation. ”

  “My turn?”

  “Yes,” I say. “Your turn. ”

  “You know the story, Colton. Kyle died. ”

  I growl low in my chest. “There’s more. ” I lift her wrist to trace the scars there. “That’s not enough to make you do this. ”

  She doesn’t answer for so long I wonder if she fell asleep. Eventually she speaks, and when she does it’s raw whisper. I barely breathe, not daring to interrupt.

  “We were up north. Your parent’s cabin. We’d been dating for over two years, and we were so excited to be taking a vacation together, like adults. Your parents and mine gave Kyle and I the talk about being careful, even though we’d been sleeping together for almost two years by that point. Until then it seemed to be don’t ask don’t tell, I guess. I don’t know. But we had a great time. Swimming, sitting by the fire, having sex. I…god…god…I can’t. ” She’s struggling so hard against her emotions. I comb my fingers through her hair and scratch her back. She continues, her voice tight, but a bit stronger. “Sunday, the last day, it was stormy. Rain so hard you couldn’t see shit, windy as hell. I mean, I’ve never seen wind like that, ever, before or since. Those huge pine trees around the cabin were bent nearly double. ”

  She pauses, panting as if exhausted, then continues in a much softer and more vulnerable voice. “A tree fell. It should have hit me…it almost did hit me. I saw it falling towards me, and I couldn’t move. Some of the nightmares, it’s that moment I see, over and over again, the tree coming for me. Those are the nice and easy nightmares. A split second before it hit me, Kyle knocked me out of the way. I mean, he straight up football tackled me. Knocked me flying. I landed on my arm. I don’t remember hitting the ground, but I remember coming to and feeling pain like a white wave, and seeing bones sticking out of my forearm, the whole bone bent almost at a ninety degree angle. ” I barely hear the next words. “I should have died. He saved me. It hit him instead. Broke him. Just…fucking shattered him. A branch broke and—and impaled him. I can still see the blood coming out of his mouth…bubbling on his lips like froth. His breath…it whistled. He—I watched him die. I didn’t even know the address of the house, and he, he told me the address as he died for the ambulance that wouldn’t get there until after he was dead. I ripped my fingernails off trying to move the damn tree. I broke my arm worse when I fell in the mud. That’s the worst dream-memory: lying in the mud, watching him die. Watch—watching the light go out of his eyes. His beautiful chocolate brown eyes. The last words he said were ‘I love you. ’”

  I don’t dare speak. She’s shaking so hard I’m worried it was almost a seizure. She’ll break soon.

  “The other thing I see, every goddamn night, is his shoe. We’d gone to dinner at that fancy Italian place. He had on his dress shoes. Black leather. Stupid little tassels on the front. I hated those shoes. When the tree hit him, it hit so hard his shoe was knocked clean off. I see that shoe, in the mud. Smeared with brown mud, like shit. I see that one stupid f**king shoe, with the tassels. ”

  I have to say it. She’s gonna get mad, but