Falling into You Read online
“And you learn to love someone else?” I ask, because I have to know.
He sits up and now we’re facing each other, cross-legged. “I don’t know about that. ” His eyes are vulnerable, letting me in. “I’m working on it, though. I’ll let you know. ”
He means me.
“How do you compete with a ghost, Colton?” I whisper the question into a long silence.
He shrugs. “I don’t know. You don’t. You just understand that there’s a part of you that you can’t give away, because it belongs to a dead person. I don’t know. ”
“Can we do this? You and me? You with your ghost of India, me with mine of Kyle?”
He takes my hands, rubs my knuckles with his thumbs. “All we can do is try, do our best. Give as much as we have to give, one day at a time. One breath at a time. ”
“I don’t know how to do this. I’m scared. ” I’m unable to look at him, unable to meet his eyes.
He does the thing with his fingers on my chin, tilting my face to his. Except this time, he does it and leans in, and his lips brush mine. “I don’t either, and so am I. But if we want to live, to not be half-ghosts ourselves, stuck loving the memory of someone who’s gone, then we have to try. ” He kisses me again. “We understand each other, Nelly. We’ve both lost someone we love. We both have scars and regrets and anger. We can do this together. ”
I breathe through the fear, the trembling, the desire to escape. “I like it when you call me Nelly. No one has ever called me that before. ”
He just smiles and holds me closer.
Chapter 10: Silencing the Ghosts
A month later
Things returned to something like normal, except Colton would come over and hang out. Things reverted to a less physical stage, although I felt just as much attraction to him, if not more, and I felt his eyes on me frequently. We kissed a few times, but we seemed to have put an unspoken hold on physical affection. I’m not sure why this is. I’m not sure if I like it. I want him. I need his touch.
I attend classes at NYU, I run, I work my shifts as a cocktail waitress, and I play music. And I see Colton, but not nearly enough. Above all, I try not to freak out about my impending acceptance or rejection to the college of performing arts. In all the craziness of meeting Colton in the park and the subsequent events, I managed to actually forget the letter is coming.
The letter comes, finally, brought in along with all my other mail by Colton. I’m sitting on my kitchen counter, feet on a chair, practicing a song when Colton knocks on my door, entering even as he knocks. He hands me the stack of envelopes, which I sort through. The letter from NYU is on the bottom, of course. When I get it, my heart starts pounding and I drop all the other mail.
“What is it?” Colton asks, seeing my reaction.
“I applied to the college of performing arts at the university. It’s not a guaranteed acceptance thing, and this letter tells me if I got in or not. ” I slide my finger under the flap and pull the single sheet of paper out. At which point my courage fails me and I wig out, flapping my hands and shrieking like a teenager. “I can’t look! You read it to me,” I say, handing it to him.
Colton takes it, glances at it, then hands it back. “No, it’s yours. You read it. ” There’s an odd expression on his face which I can’t interpret.
“I’m too nervous,” I say. “Please? Read it to me?”
“You should read it yourself, Nelly-baby. It won’t be the same as you reading the acceptance yourself. ”
“You don’t know I got in,” I say, shoving it at him, curious and irritated now. “Please? Please read it to me?” I shouldn’t push this, I know. I can see by the hardening of his features that this is an issue. A button. But now I have it in my teeth and I’m not letting go.
“No, Nell. I’m not reading it to you. It’s your acceptance letter, not mine. ” He turns away, digging a fist into his pocket and rattling loose change.
He’s staring out the window, his shoulders hunched, his jaw tensed.
“Come on, Colton. What’s the big deal? I want to share this moment with you. ”
He whirls on me, eyes hot and pained and angry. “You want to know the big deal? I can’t f**king read! Okay? That’s the big deal. I can’t f**king read. ” He turns back to the window, fists curled at his sides.
I’m stunned. “Wha-what? You can’t read? Like…at all? How—how is that possible?” I approach him from behind and tentatively, gingerly, lay a hand on his shoulder.
His muscular shoulder is a rock beneath my hand. He doesn’t turn when he speaks, and his voice is pitched so low I have to strain to hear him.
“I’m dyslexic. Like, severely. I can read, but really, really bad, and it takes me f**king forever to get through even the simplest sentences. A goddamned first-grader can read better than me, okay? If I sit in an absolutely silent room with no distractions and focus really hard for an hour or two, I might be able to puzzle out one full article in a newspaper, which is written at a fifth-grade level or some shit. ”
So much clicks into place now. “That’s part of why you’re here, in New York, isn’t it? Part of the issue with your parents. ”
He bobs his head twice, a short, sharp jerk of acknowledgement. “Yeah. It’s been a problem my whole life. Back when I was a kid, shit was less figured out than it is now. Nowadays, you got all sorts of resources for ‘learning disabled’ kids like me,” he uses air quotes around the phrase. “They got IEDs and learning labs and tutors and all sorts of nifty shit. When I was a kid, in a rural district like where we grew up, I didn’t have none of that. They just thought I was stupid. So did my parents. They had me tested and stuff, but dyslexia wasn’t a huge thing on people’s radar, or whatever, so they didn’t know what to look for and I didn’t know how to explain what my deal was. ”
“All I really know about dyslexia is that it’s got something to do with difficulty reading. ” I rub my hand in circles on his granite shoulder
He nods, and finally turns to me. I swallow hard and decide to push past the barrier between us. I close in against him, push my body flush with his, slide my hands up underneath his arms and clutch his back. I tilt my head up to look at him, resting my chin on his chest. His scent and his heat and his hardness intoxicate me, a heady rush of need bolting through me.
“Yeah, basically, but it’s more than that,” he says. “It’s…nothing written down makes any sense to me. Letters, numbers, sentences, math equations…everything. I can do a shitload of fairly advanced math in my head, I’ve got a good vocabulary, I understand grammar, but it all has to be orally communicated to me. Tell me a word, what it means, and it’s mine. Explain a mathematical idea to me, I got it, no f**king problem. Write it down? Nothing. It’s like things just jumble up, rearrange into nonsense. I look at this paper here,” he taps the page in my hand with a forefinger, “and I see the letters. I know the alphabet, I can technically read, I can do ‘run spot run’. But when I look at the paper, I swear it’s all bullshit, just letters that make no sense. I have to focus on each letter at a time, each word, sound it out, figure it out. And then I have to go back and put the sentence all together and the paragraph and the page, and that usually means I have to work it all out all over again. It’s f**king laborious as all hell. ”
“All the songs you write, the lyrics—”
“All in here. ” He taps his head. “I compose the lyrics, the music, everything, in my head. ”
I’m stunned. “You don’t have any of it written down anywhere?”
He laughs, a harsh cough. “No, baby. Not being able to read is bad enough. I can’t write for shit either. It’s just as hard. Harder, actually, because I start out writing what’s in my head, but other shit comes out, like random gibberish. ”
“So you just have it all memorized?”
He shrugs. “It’s just how I am. I have a great memory, and musically, I have one of those p