Chapter 1 (Finley)
Whoever said that little secrets grow into big lies could have used me for their poster child. But my troubles weren’t grains of sand to begin with, they were the whole beach.
I reached for the fifth of honey-whiskey and took a swig, savoring the feel of it rushing through my bloodstream. Although it warmed my insides it wasn’t enough to dull the pain.
I kept dark, unforgiveable secrets.
The kind that if people knew they’d shun you for and you knew you deserved it.
I lied to save face, more than once. Taking a bigger draw off the bottle, I felt the desired head change.
I’d lie again if the situation called for it. I took another hefty chug when at last the ache in my heart dulled.
Since arriving in Hilton Head three days ago, I’d begun to feel claustrophobic. There were no open fields on the island. It was a beautiful mix of moss covered live oaks, palms and some tropical plants I couldn’t name. They were everywhere, the trees, preserving the islands natural appeal while providing shade. But it was flat. Nothing a Kentucky girl like me was used to.
Leaning back in the wicker chair, I balanced on its legs, digging my chipped pink toenails in the cream-colored balcony rails. Most people would be thrilled to be on an island. I stared at the wall of the building across from me. If I wasn’t such a damned mess, I would be.
Maybe, if the view was better. Looking up, all I could see was the faint outline of a tree, the edge of the roof, and a deep purple sky with parking lot lights glowing from either side of it. From where I sat life was dark no matter how I looked at it.
“What a view,” I grumbled, before taking another sip.
I missed the rolling fields of wild sycamores and maples, their spring-green leaves shivering in the breeze. I longed for the woodsy scent of wild cedars, sunlight filtering through their branches casting shadows over the bluegrass. I missed the horses galloping across fields kicking up their heels. I even missed the option of sweet or un-sweet tea, or the choice of oatmeal or grits. But I didn’t miss the asshole I’d left behind.
Somewhere below me a dog was barking, one of those yapping things. A cat hissed like someone pulled its tail. I let the chair legs slam against the wood floor and peeked between the rails. “Here kitty, kitty,” I giggled, “kitty, kitty.”
“Finley, who’re you talking to?” My aunt opened the sliding door, the light catching the three beauty marks on her left cheek. They were like a little constellation, but of what I don’t know. Only four years older than me, with her spiky blonde hair and fuck-me eye makeup, she didn’t even look related to Mom.
Alexa seemed calmer than I remembered her, though. I guess life could put out the fire in anyone, or someone would just put it out for you. But I didn’t see Alexa letting a guy take her to her darkest place. Not like I had. She was too brave for that.
“Nobody Lex, jus’ a cat in the alley.” I raised my bottle to her in salute and her blue eyes widened at the sight of it. “Want a sip?”
“Dammit Finley, you just got here!” Alexa reached for the bottle but I pulled it back to my chest, cradled it and sniffed the strong honey-alcohol mix. Alexa swiped for it again, the poetry tattoo on her forearm blurry in my drunken haze. “Don’t tell me it was a mistake bringing you here. You’re seventeen, I could go to jail! Fuck, you’ll end up in worse trouble than you’ve already been in and your mom will never let me see you again!”
“It can’t get any worse, Lex.” I took another mouthful before allowing her to slip the bottle from my fingers. I pressed my face against the balcony rails as she disappeared into the condo.
I should be in prison. My crime was unforgiveable. Maybe that’s why such a horrific act was legal. Because I’d done it, I had to live with it, and it was killing me.
Alexa returned, her pink striped maxi dress ruffling in the warm night breeze as she stepped through the doors, and took a seat beside me. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I want my bottle back.”
“You don’t want to be hung over when you start camp tomorrow. Leo will expect you to work hard and give your all.” She reached out a slender hand to my shoulder.
I shrugged her off.
“I’m broken, Alexa. There’s no place for me and there’s no fixing it.” I closed my eyes. “This hurt, it’s never going away.”
His voice was a terrible sound. One smooth talking, patronizing, manipulative noise I could never forget.I will find you, anywhere you go. I have eyes everywhere. You won’t know. Not when, not who, not where. Not unless I want you to. I own you.
My stomach rolled and I thought for a second I might lose my liquor. Then I wanted another sip, wishing I was completely sloshed. In some ways he was right, in a lot of ways he was, because I couldn’t forget what brought me here. He’d scarred me for life. And I’d let it happen. Even with six hundred miles between us, I feared it still may not be far enough.
“It’ll get better Fin, you’ll see.” Alexa tried to rub my back, but I stood up quickly. The sudden movement caused my head to spin. I stumbled backward into the rail, righted myself, turned and wove my way to the front door. “Where are you going?”
Ignoring her, I staggered into the access stairwell, half stumbling down the two flights to the landing. I didn’t stop until I reached the sidewalk. There, I struggled to open the gate to the road that led to the beach. It was locked with a keypad. I stepped back to read the sign that had the day’s code on it.
“How dumb is it to post a key to a lock for everyone to see? It’s pointless!” Five, four, three. I staggered to the gate and fumbled with the lock.
My world swam amid a curtain of alcohol, the numbers blurring in and out of focus. When it wouldn’t open on my fifth try, I turned and slid my back down the gate, staring at the oyster shell wall just twenty feet away.
I was a fuck up, one whose family couldn’t stand her anymore. Even my friends had scattered like fleas under the assault of bug spray. Only there had never been many fleas to begin with. Heat rose behind my eyes. I couldn’t stand me either.
My blood was deliciously numb and my extremities wonderfully tingling, but there was a knife in my gut that I kept pulling out only to jab in deeper. If I could remove it, I would. So far, however, I’d only been capable of enduring it.
I climbed to my feet and struggled with the blurry numbers on the gate again, finally getting it open.
“Finley!” Alexa shrieked from behind me.
In a rush to escape her, I stumbled past the sidewalk, right off the curb. Tripping over my own feet, I fell in the path of an oncoming car. My eyes locked on the blinding gold-white lights.
It should be like this.
I closed my eyes, awaiting the rapidly approaching vehicle.I’d earned it.