In Your Arms

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Chapter 10- Noah

It’s been two weeks since I came back from New York. Things have been going fairly well. Even though I received the news about Olivia’s new engagement, I haven’t bumped into her yet, thankfully. It’s 6am and I’m at my usual spot, waiting for Haven to go for our usual morning run.

I’ve been very careful not to cross any boundaries with her. But as time goes on, it seems she’s more willing to be open. She still has panic attacks, but not as often as the first time we met. When they do happen, I go straight to hug her and breath with her, making sure she knows she’s safe. Even though it happens, I make sure I don’t mention it. I think our time together has been helping her ease up a bit. She smiles around me now and doesn’t fight the urge anymore.

I see her walking towards me wearing the same black sweater she normally wears, leggings and grey running sneakers. Her long hair sways left and right with every step she takes towards me. I smile, handing her a bottle of water when she’s in front of me. A routine that has just naturally happened.

She takes it, smiling. “Always on time,” she opens the water bottle taking a couple of sips.

“You’re going to need to get a water bottle yourself one of these days.”

“Why? You always have it for me.” She flashes me her white pearly teeth and starts walking towards our usual running path. We go up a couple of blocks and then into the woods path. We start with running, but then usually end with walking and talking about some random topic, but never anything personal. After about 30 minutes of our morning run, we go to a slow jog and eventually start walking, following the path surrounded by trees.

“Haven, let’s go this way today.” She looks at me suspiciously. “Come on, just enjoy the adventure.”

“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She mutters following me off of the path.I know there is a nice pond that she would appreciate. She’s simple. She isn’t the bubbliest person, but she is great company. Her walls are always up, she’s always on guard. I haven’t even tried to ask her about her personal life. Here and there she has shared a few things, but nothing that allows me to ask questions. Even though I have so many.

We arrive to the pond, just 5 minutes off the path. It’s just how I remembered it, a small body of water with a wood deck leading over it. I look over at Haven. She is smiling to herself. I loved seeing her smile. I point over to the deck. “Let’s sit by the water.” Without saying anything she follows closely behind me. We both take a seat, side by side looking out at the water. I hear Haven sigh, when I look over at her, she has her eyes closed. I choose to not say anything and allow the peaceful silence to surround us. I decide to close my eyes along with her.

“I haven’t felt this much at peace in a long... long time.” I hear her say. I keep my eyes closed waiting for her to say more. She doesn’t. I crack one of my eyes open to take a peek at her. I see her, looking down at the water. I decide to take a chance and open both of my eyes. There are tears running down her face.

“Are you ok?” I look at her concerned. I don’t try to reach for her, even though I so badly want to. “Tell me, what’s on your mind?”

She avoids my eye contact, keeping her head down. I can sense her walls just fighting to come down, but she doesn’t budge. She wipes the tears from her face as her long ponytail lays idle against her back.

“What’s on my mind?” She huffs, shaking her head. I’m thinking about how different it is to live here than in New York?”

Drew was right. She came from New York.

“Did I hear that right?” I ask, hoping she’ll stay open. She looks at me with confusion. “You know I lived in New York too?”

“Really?” She wipes a tear.

“Oh yeah. Best 5 months of my life. I lived with my cousin Julian. We just went to bars, slept and ate. Had an occasional tourist day visiting museums, Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the usual.” As I ranted about my times of being in New York as Haven stared. I couldn’t decipher her look.

“I’ve never done any of those things,” She says, turning her focus back to the water. I look at her in surprise.

“Oh?” She nods but doesn’t add a comment. “How come?” She shrugs her shoulders, but I can see a small tear slip away. I want to reach over and cuddle her sadness away. I want so badly to know her brokenness and to tell her ‘I’m broken too.’

“I guess I just never got the chance.”

“Well, what did you do?” She looks at me giving me a sad smile. I look at her lip that was once cut and now a little scar replaces a scab that was just there a couple of days ago. The bruise around her eye was a yellow color, almost completely healed. I look into her eyes and see pain, hesitancy, even confusion. So, I decide to reassure her that she can tell me anything, it’s a safe space. Once again, she sighs.

“Uh, I was in a lot of extracurriculars when I went to high school. My family had money, so I never had to work. I was pretty much told what to do my whole life and when I wanted to do anything else, they’d manipulate me out of wanting to do it.” I see her tears start to well up in her eyes again. I scoot over a little closer to her, feeling her body heat radiating off of her

“Mind if I ask you something?” I ask, putting my head down, fearful of her response to come. She hesitates but she shakes her head. “So, who forced you to come down here, mom or dad?”

“Oh... uh... none.” She goes back to sitting down but shifts uncomfortably. “I came here on my own.′

“Ah, taking a stand. I like it.” I smile at her, but she doesn’t return it.

“Yeah, something like that.” With that she stands up, I get the hint knowing her walls went right back up. “Ready to head back?” I nod, smiling. Instead of getting up I hold up my hand gesturing for her to help me up. Without hesitation she reaches for my hand to help me. In a swift movement, I pull her down into the pond. By the time she comes up from the water, I jump in along with her. When we’re both above water, we’re just laughing like maniacs. I’ve never heard Haven laugh as hard as she was in this moment. It was a beautiful sound. Her true self peaked through. It was the first time she hasn’t sounded on edge or closed off. “Oh, you’re so dead!” She says, splashing water in my face. It quickly becomes a splash war.

Eventually we stop, wiping our faces from the dripping water and we look at one another. She looks at me, and for the first time since meeting her I see those green-hazel eyes sparkle. I step closer to her, closing in the gap between us. The baby hairs around her forehead stick to the side of her face. Without thinking I bring my hand up to her face, but before I could brush the hair back, she flinches away from me. The sparkle is replaced with fear, and she cowers her head down as if expecting a blow to her. I have no idea what to do, but before I know it, she’s climbing out of the pond, onto the deck and I try to follow her. She got a head start, running back to the wood path. I call after her. I feel panicked, not understanding what just happened. I continue to follow her, eventually just sprinting till I reach her and grab her arm to stop her from continuing to run away.

“Haven, stop!”

She darts her eyes away from mine. She starts to hyperventilate, the big indication that she’s about to have a panic attack. So, without thinking I bring her close to me, holding her head to my chest. I lower my head until my lips get close to her ear and whisper “It’s okay” over and over. This has been the trick to calm her during her attacks. Just like clockwork, her breathing calms and her crying calms. Finally, it’s quiet between us and I just stay holding her close to me. Once she squirms, I decide to let her go, even though everything in me is fighting to not let her go. She looks up at me with bloodshot eyes.

Before she could have a chance to say anything, I take her hand and decide to walk the path back to our meeting place. We remain hand in hand the whole 45 minutes there, without talking. Once we make it to our usual corner, I turn so that we are face to face.

“What a way to end our morning run, huh?” She scoffs letting my hand go, crossing her arms around her chest.

“Haven...”

“I don’t think we should keep doing this,” she blurts this out before I can finish my sentence. A sad feeling settles in me and I immediately shake my head no. “I think it’s best.”

“Well, I disagree. I think we should keep doing this.” She scoffs.

“That’s the thing Noah, what even is this?” She’s looking at me in disbelief.

“What do you mean? We meet, we run, we talk, we go home.” I sense her frustration. But why? Why did she want to end our morning runs? Why is she always on guard? “You have these panic attacks, and I don’t pressure you to tell me why. Have you realized they’ve slowly gone away? You smile way more than you did when I first met you. You know why, because this is helping, and you know it.”

“I’m sorry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I- I gotta go.” Before I can stop her, she runs back in the direction of her house. My hands go up to my hair, in frustration. I did it. I pushed her too far. I head back towards Ava’s house. The conversation replaying in my head. As much as I hate that Haven’s upset right now, I know what we’ve been avoiding for two weeks needed to come out eventually.

Once I see the house I head inside, to the apartment and then to the shower to wash the morning off. I can already tell any type of relationship with Haven is going to be a difficult one. I turn on the shower, stripping off my shorts, underwear and white t-shirt. I hop in letting the lukewarm water hit me. I hated that I barely know this girl and she has already integrated herself into my mind. It’s an ongoing battle between her and Olivia. I feel the water getting hotter against my skin, but I don’t mind it. I start to clean myself with the body wash. Once I finish, I hop out the shower, grabbing the grey towel that hung on the metal bar on the wall. I walk to my bedroom heading to the sliding mirror doors revealing my closet. I take out a pair of black boxers, blue jeans and a white t-shirt.

The interaction between Haven and I keeps replaying in my head. Why did she flinch when I lifted my hand to brush away her hair? I hate to think it, but something may have happened to her physically. I hear the voice in the back of my head telling me she may have been physically abused, but just thinking that boils my blood, so I push the thought away. It was my initial thought when I first saw her, but she said she was in a car accident. But to think someone would harm a woman, especially Haven, I just cannot rationalize in my mind how that is okay in another man’s mind.

Makes me think of Ava and Drew. Everyone hated him, thought he was no good. They believed he was going to be this bad influence on Ava and hurt her. Even I was skeptical of him, because of his past. It drove me crazy to think that anyone would hurt my little sister. He proved everyone wrong and as big of a guy he is and as small of a girl Ava is, he only chose to love her. Never once did he ever dare touch her or disrespect her.

Chills runs down my body. I want to shake off any thoughts of Haven being harmed. I just want to run to her house, know on her door and kiss her supple lips. I want her to know that I want to know every detail of her past and release from the things that holds her back. Coming back home was supposed to be my fresh star. Haven being around has made me realize I need to face the things I ran away from. I’ve been here for two weeks and have yet to see Kyle or Olivia.

Olivia is still on my mind. My pain is still very much there. I know I have to face my past, if I want to help Haven face hers. I can’t fill one’s cup if mine is empty. I take out my keys and walk to the garage, hopping onto Bessie. I back out the driveway. I decide to go to the person I know would give me the best non-bias advice.

********

I hop off the bike once I arrive at my mom’s house. My grandparents are in their usual spot on the porch swing. My grandfather holding his newspaper and my grandmother reading the bible. It was the most comforting sight to me. My grandmother looks up, smiling. I walk up the porch steps and my grandma gets up to embrace me. My grandfather follows suit.

“Hi grams, gramps. Is mama around?” I ask, looking into the screen door that showed a little of inside the house,

“Yeah, sweet pea, she’s right inside. Go on, I’ll be out here with your grandfather.” I smile down at my small grandmother.

“Alright, thanks grams,” I kiss her forehead and she turns around returning to her place on the swing next to my grandfather.

I head inside. The house was big. It brought so many memories of my Dad, when he was around. He died at war over seas. My mom has been the rock in the family. Raising Ava and me with the help of our grandparents. I go through the hall to the back, where the kitchen was filled with the scent of tonight’s dinner. I see my beautiful mom in her apron, washing some dishes. She senses me and turns around startled at my presence.

“Ah! Oh dear Lord, Noah! You frightened me.” I laugh, embracing my mom before taking a seat at one of the stools that sat under the kitchen island.

“Sorry mama, I wasn’t trying to.” She turns off the faucet, wiping her hands on her khaki apron that Ava had gotten her last year for Christmas.

“What’re you doing here?” She asks smiling. I know she’s happy to see me. Her piercing blue eyes remind me of Ava’s.

“Nothin’ just wanted to see you. Got the day off today from the bar, so thought I’d stop by.” She walks over to the fridge taking out a pitcher of iced tea. Without me asking, she sets it in front of me, along with a glass cup. I pour the iced tea, and take a sip. I love my mom’s homemade sweet tea. She always made this for Ava and I growing up. My mom circles around the counter taking a seat in the stool next to me.

“Alright,” she says placing her hand on my arm. “Tell me what’s on your mind Noah.”

I chuckle at the thought of my mom knowing exactly when I need to talk. I take another sip the tea and lace my fingers together. I take a deep breath and in the smallest voice I say, “Olivia.” My mom takes a deep breath in. Theres a small moment of silence that I know my mom is gifting me with, to prepare my mind and emotions for whatever she’s about to tell me.

“Well, what about Olivia, Noah?” I shrug my shoulders, keeping my head down. My mom waits for a response. She’s that kind of person. She doesn’t act out of emotions, but she makes sure to think before saying anything.

“Mama,” I start, as I lift my head to look at her, “I don’t know how to deal with this. You know, I envisioned our life together. Saw us having kids, me working with Drew or even opening my own shop. She was finishing up nursing school. Literally, our whole future was at our fingertips. I think back to asking her to marry me, to us planning and I just don’t understand. How could she do this to me? I did everything to love her. To make sure she never wanted for anything. I loved her, Mama.” I look away from my mom as I feel the emotion begin to rise in me. All of a sudden, my mom stands up and embraces me.

“Baby, I don’t have no answers to bring you peace, but the only way to get closure is to face Olivia. Let me tell you something, people in this life make mistakes every day, if we went around holding grudges, we’ll remain stuck in our pain unable to move forward in our lives-”

“I can’t forgive her right now mama.” I blurt out as I pull away from her embrace.

“I know, I know. I’m just saying you have to let go. You left home for five months and I let you disappear. Now that you’re back, it’s time to let go and rebuild. The first step to letting go, is facing every feeling you’ve been holding in. You’re going to have to face Olivia eventually.” My mom pats my hand, while rubbing my back.

I let every single one of her words settle. She’s right. I have to face Olivia. I have to let go of what we had and focus on starting over. I’m not scared to face her because of anything other than the fact that I don’t want to get angry. I’ve swallowed a lot of emotions in the last 5 months and two weeks. I’ve tried running away. Drinking. Sleeping with random girls. Even jogging with Haven to get my mind off of the inevitable that has to happen.

Without realizing, my mom is back at the sink washing the rest of the dishes. We continue the evening as though we didn’t have a deep conversation. She asks me if I want to stay for dinner and I gladly accept her offer. She serves me a plate of rice, chicken, and roasted potatoes. We eat together, making small talk. Her telling me about starting a Zumba class on Saturday mornings. Me telling her about co-managing at Drew’s bar. Eventually, I finish dinner and help my mom clean up. Once everything is done, I hug her goodbye, thank her for everything and promise to call her soon. I walk back outside and say goodbye to my grandparents.

The sun is still shining bright, but I know soon it’s going to set. I hop on Bessie and decide to ride to the wood entrance and head to the pond that I left with Haven earlier. Once I arrive, I park Bessie. I take the usual 10-minute route through the woods and then the extra 5 off the path to the pond and dock.

I see someone is already there. At the edge of the dock. For a moment I think it’s Olivia because we used to come here all the time. But I see the familiar long black hair flowing in the wind. She’s sitting cross-legged, soaking up the last of the sun. I smile to myself and walk the dock. When I’m close enough, Haven turns around a smiling as though she knew I’d be here.

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