Porcelain Skin

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Disguise

“I’m sorry. I have to get out of here,” I tell Trevor as the emotional thickness settling in the car becomes impossible. I throw open the passenger door and nearly stumble in my hurry to escape the memories.

“Emma, wait!” I hear Trevor yell, but his words are cut off as the door shuts behind me.

I walk quickly to the barn and climb, with unsteady legs, to the loft. I know Trevor is behind me. I heard his door shut and his footsteps crunching along the frozen earth seconds after my escape. I rush to the barn loft door and swing it open on rusty hinges. I take in a full breath and instantly regret it as the air turns the oxygen in my lungs to frozen particles. I cough to release the cold from my body.

I know I’m no longer alone when I hear Trevor making careful steps behind me. I don’t turn around. I can’t face him after reliving the horror of that day. I can’t let him see the brokenness in my eyes or the vulnerability etched into the lines of my brow. I can’t take it anymore.

I used to want pity. That was my whole purpose for targeting Trinity. I wanted her to pity me. I wanted her to understand how miserable I felt. And, I wanted someone to feel it with me. Now, all that pity serves as is a reminder. A reminder of what exactly it was that I wanted pity for in the first place. But I don’t want to remember.

I want someone to erase those memories like they would erase a chalkboard. The smudges of white powder would remain as proof that the event did occur, but there would be no connection. I would no longer be able to see the pictures that were once so clear and bold. The emotional bond would be severed, and the images would no longer be comprehensible.

When remembering that day, I want so badly to remember it as just a story—someone else’s story. A story that has no intimate ties to me whatsoever.

I need that. I need to stop remembering every single detail—the pumping of his blood as it seeped between my fingers, the smell of iron as death filtered through the air, liquid bubbling from his mouth as he tried to speak.

“Get out! Get out, get out, get out..."

The words echo through my mind, and I stiffen my spine in an attempt to ward them off. I rub my hands down my face forcefully, wishing to push all thoughts away. Everything. I don’t want to think about anything at all. I just want peace from the constant badgering of my over-talkative mind. It’s constantly trying to convince me that I’m someone that I’m not. That I’m strong. That I can overcome the grief that has crippled me for so many years. But I just can’t do it anymore. My shield is crumbling, and I don’t care.

“I’m a fraud,” I whisper hoarsely into the still, frigid air.

My words must give Trevor the confidence he needs to step closer because suddenly I can feel him at my back. He’s not touching me. He’s barely even breathing, but somehow I know he’s there. His presence is strong in the stillness of this old, rickety barn. I spin around to face him.

“I’m a fraud,” I say again with more power behind the words.

Trevor dips his brows in confusion but doesn’t say anything. What is there to say? He probably doesn’t even know what I’m talking about.

“I’ve been faking it for nearly two years,” I begin to explain.

Trevor watches me intently, warmth emanating from his gaze. He feels it; I can tell. The burden that I’ve unloaded on him; he feels it. But, though I’ve transferred some of the weight off of me, I don’t feel any lighter. My shoulders still sag with the memories that seem to be dancing with neon lights inside my head. I can’t avoid them.

“I’ve been hiding behind this stupid, false wall,” I say. “I pretend that I’m happy by making stupid jokes, and being friendly, but I don’t feel it. The only thing I feel is pain and I just can’t kill it. I want my emotions to die, but they won’t die. The only way to get by is to hide them. Disguise them.” I’m talking to the ground, but when Trevor still doesn’t respond I snap my attention up to him.

“I’m a fake.” I choke out softly, and as soon as the words fall from my lips I’m being enveloped in his strong, yet gentle, embrace.

“I’m sorry, Emma,” he sighs into my hair as his arms tighten around me and his fingers clutch at my coat. It’s as if he’s trying to grab a hold of all the pain surging through me and pull it out. “I never meant to cause you more pain. I’m such an idiot, and I’m so, so sorry.” He steps away from me and grabs onto both of my shoulders with strong hands.

“You don’t deserve any of what you went through,” he says. “I can’t even imagine the memories that haunt you. I had no idea.”

The guilt lacing the words tumbling out of his mouth is obvious, and it nearly has me feeling guilty. I don’t want him to feel bad just because I do. I place my hands on top of his hoping to offer some assurance.

“I had no idea. I’m so sorry for making it worse,” he continues. The gravelly tone of his voice is mesmerizing and I want to sink into its depths. “I never meant to hurt you. I just...” He rips his fingers through his hair as tenderness stains his words. “I just didn’t know how to act around you. I was supposed to hate you, but you were just so impossible to hate. I couldn’t get you out of my head, and it drove me crazy. It made me do and say some things that I never really meant.” He drops his hands from my shoulders.

“I said some horrible things hoping it would make them true,” he continues. “But it didn’t work.” He sounds angry now and the gruffness causes his voice to deepen. “I guess a part of me knew I shouldn’t like you, and I thought that pushing you away would remove those feelings, but....” He glances up at me now and I can feel my heart roaring like a crowd in a football stadium.

I look down, hoping that if I’m not looking at him my wild heart will calm.

“I can’t. I can’t remove them,” he whispers.

Something within me tightens into a warm ball of delight when I hear his words become rough as he strains against his own emotions. I pull my gaze away from the floor slowly and glance up at his face. His eyes are dry, but there’s sorrow and yearning pouring out with as much tangibility as actual tears. My hand involuntarily reaches for him, and I push a messy lock of hair away from my view of his eyes.

“I can’t either,” I whisper, causing a relaxed smile to lift his lips.

I glance past Trevor’s shoulder and out the open door of the barn, hoping to absorb the beauty painted across the sky. It’s breathtaking. Every evening is a new surprise, a glimpse of God’s artwork. And it’s flawless and real. Something that I’m not. I pull my eyes away from the sky and turn my attention to my boot-covered feet.

“I’m only truly genuine when I’m around you,” I whisper, suddenly feeling shy. “And my mom,” I add with a light chuckle.

I tilt my head sideways to peek up at Trevor, and I can see the humor dancing in his eyes as he watches me.

“Why?” he asks curiously.

“I don’t know.” I take a moment to think of how to properly answer his question. “You’re just so real, and you’ve witnessed me at my very lowest, and yet, you’re still here.” I wave my arms around me to indicate the fact that he’s standing with me in the chill of an old barn. “I feel like you’re the bridge that connects my past to my present.” I pause to gauge his reaction and I watch as his eyes narrow questioningly at me. “Contrary to what you might think, this is actually a good thing.”

“A good thing?” Trevor smirks.

“Yes.” I glance at the ceiling of the barn as I try to decide how to explain myself. “When I was fifteen I was miserable, and I felt that my only option was to wallow in that misery. I allowed bitterness and hatred to eat me alive. As I got older, I decided to just ignore those feelings. I would block out the negative by plastering on a smile, or hide my pain by getting wasted and dancing myself to exhaustion at random parties. I just didn’t realize that none of this was making me better. I was, instead, just pushing the horrors deeper inside of myself, and disguising them with fake happiness.

“Then you came along and it was like, no matter what I did, no matter how much I tried to smile and stay positive around you, you saw through it. Somehow you knew, and because of this, slowly my walls came down, and my true self was released. I was me. You made me feel free to be myself. Even though it wasn’t always pretty, I think it was extremely healing.”

I pull in an icy breath as I allow my own words to sink in. They’re all true. I’m who I want to be when I’m with Trevor. I’m not perfect. I’m not flawless. But I’m also not hiding behind a stupid facade of false contentment. I’m beautifully imperfect. Trevor did that. Trevor was the key that unlocked the darkness in me and coaxed it out of hiding.

Suddenly, I find a smile lighting up my face. I don’t feel like a new person. It’s not like I’ve had a sudden transformation and now my past is forgotten. It will never be forgotten. But it’s also no longer eating me alive. It still hurts, but I’m not dying.

Before I can contain myself, I find my arms wrapped around Trevor’s torso as I bury myself into his solid chest. My head is swimming with a mixture of grief and renewal. They continue to war with each other, and they might forever war with each other, but I’ve overcome the worst of it. I no longer want to shrivel up and die. I want to live.

I want to live.

I smile sheepishly up at Trevor as I pull away from him slightly. I nearly shiver like a taut string that’s been plucked when his rough hands glide up my back, keeping me from escaping him completely. As his left hand nears my neck he bends his knees slightly until he’s eye level with me.

“The scarf?”

He doesn’t have to elaborate for me to understand what he’s asking. I nod slowly as I try to hide from his penetrating gaze.

“Ever since that day, I can’t bare for anything, or anyone, to touch my neck. It just sends me over the edge.” I explain. “It’s the most horrifying mix of emotions, and I can’t control my reactions.”

“Have you ever tried?”

“Tried?”

“Yeah.” He pulls away from me slightly, the seriousness chiseled into his features is somewhat startling. “Have you ever tried to control it?”

“No,” I answer slowly, feeling my defenses weaken. Something about the way he’s looking at me has my stomach opening up and swallowing all the walls I’d built up over the years. Somehow I know where Trevor is headed with this and I’m not sure how to feel about it.

“Emma,” The single word escapes his mouth with a ragged softness. He smiles deviously at me. “Can I touch you?”

The question is so intimate, and yet there’s nothing sexual about it. I can’t pull my eyes away from him, which is bad because the sparks flittering between us are going to light one of us on fire. At this moment, I’m completely immune to the cold. The only thing I’m not immune to is the raw emotion radiating from Trevor’s gaze.

I nod slowly.

His eyes never leave my face as he cautiously trails his hand from my back to my shoulder, and then very carefully grazes his fingers across the base of my throat. My entire body stiffens, and I don’t breathe for several seconds as I await the panic to set it. I wait. And wait. But there’s nothing. Nothing.

Somewhere along the way, I must have closed my eyes in anticipation, but now that the moment has arrived, and I’m not ripping myself out of his grasp, I snap my eyes open wide to meet his. He must sense my shock because his fingers freeze in their perusal of my skin.

“What?” He sounds alarmed.

Suddenly, the memories from earlier, and the stress of reliving the events are too much, and I find laughter beginning to bubble out through my lips. Trevor stares at me as if I’ve completely lost it, which only adds to my demented display of emotional confusion.

“What are you laughing at?” Trevor asks hesitantly, but I can see one side of his mouth fighting the smile that’s tugging its way into action.

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” I sound hysterical as I wipe the tears from my eyes. My cheeks hurt and my belly aches from the force of emotions exploding out of me. “It’s just... it’s just that—” I’m working to keep my laughter from gushing out of me too vigorously.

“I don’t get it.” He smiles and simultaneously drops his hand from my neck.

Instantly, my skin yearns for his warmth, and before I can stop myself I’m verbalizing these very thoughts.

“Don’t,” I murmur as my expression fades from crazed to controlled in seconds.

“Don’t what?” he asks as he buries his bare fingers in the pockets of his jeans.

Instead of answering, I reach for his arm and gently pull his right hand from the warmth he’s buried it in. He watches my every movement with curiosity. I slide my fingers into his palm and uncurl his fist. Looking up to gauge his reaction, I bring his hand towards my neck again and hold it there until I know he won’t pull away. Something dances behind the depths of his eyes, and I don’t know if it’s pride or humor, or a mix of both. Maybe it’s pride that I’ve stepped out and taken the initiative to face my worst fear.

“I felt something,” I tell him softly. “But it wasn’t bad.”

It’s frustrating to me that I can’t pinpoint exactly how he’s feeling like he so often can with me. When I look at him, all I see is Trevor. Kindness, compassion, loyalty, strength, heartache—all rolled into one undeniably attractive man.

My breath hitches when I catch his gaze flicker to my lips briefly, and I’m all too aware of how heated this situation has grown. I’m pulled out of my dark memories and thrown into memories of passion and desire. The feel of his lips against mine. The taste of cinnamon as his scent became my own. I’m nearly desperate to relive that moment, and with the way he’s looking at me right now, I feel like it could be a possibility.

I’m surprised by my own boldness when I allow my eyes to trail down to his lips slowly; an obvious invitation. His fingers tighten slightly as they glide into my hair. The space between us is like a magnetic field pulling us together. I don’t allow my gaze to leave his mouth because I can’t. My strength to hide my desire has left me. The temptation to just crash my lips into his is overpowering, but I refrain from letting it take control.

My breathing becomes shallower as the icy, white puffs of air emanating from us begin to mingle. His lips touch mine in a whisper, and I’m ready to fully give into my desires, when suddenly Trevor stills, dropping his hand from where it’s tangled in my hair, and takes a deliberate step back.

“Wha...” I stumble at the sudden loss of connection. Trevor grabs my arms to steady me, and I glance up to see the pain written clearly in his features.

“I can’t.” He pinches the bridge of his nose as he closes his eyes. He groans deeply before snapping his eyes back open.

Normally, I would feel hurt by such a rejection, but somehow I can sense that the decision to deny me was as, if not more, painful for him than it was for me.

“You have no idea how badly I want to just forget everything. To just say ‘screw it’...” he pauses, and I watch the air visibly being released into the cold as he blows out a deep breath. “But I just can’t do that to Trinity. I just can’t.”

I offer him a small smile. I hate to admit it, but I get it. I don’t have siblings to compare his situation to, but I can imagine. The person I am today would never give into her own desires if she knew it’d be hurting someone else that she loves in the process. I am no longer the dark shadow of misery that used to torment the hallways of my high school. Time has changed me. It’s softened my once calloused heart.

It’s at this moment that I realize what needs to be done. It’s time for me to fulfill the promise I made to myself during Thanksgiving break. A promise that will test my strength like never before. It’s time that I make a little road trip down to Denver, Colorado. Trinity Nixon is in for a huge surprise.


After class on Thursday, I load my packed bags into the back of my car and buckle myself in. Switching the radio to my favorite Indie Pop station, I take off. There is no telling how this trip will end up, but it’s definitely long overdue. I’m not sure why I didn’t think this step was an essential part of the plan, but it most certainly is. How could I have assumed Trevor would just fold me up into his big man arms and never let me go when I had yet to even acknowledge my mistakes to the victim of my brutality: his sister.

I think a part of me figured that maybe she’d outgrown the damage I’d done. That maybe it was completely forgotten. I realized the silliness of this belief once it dawned on me that even Trevor wasn’t over it.

As I flip on my cruise control, the jitters start to set in with a mix of worry and anticipation. It’s ridiculous really, but a small part of me wonders if she will even remember who I am. I was a nobody in high school. Why would she put the effort into keeping mental documentation of my existence?

But then I realize the impact I had on her life and the psychotic state that Trevor confessed finding her in. Someone doesn’t just forget something like that. Most likely my words have been on repeat through her head since the day she met me. Maybe the intensity has weakened, but the echo will remain forever.

I clutch the steering wheel a little tighter as my anxiety levels fluctuate. What if she completely denies me? What if she leaves me standing alone outside her dorm room after slamming the door in my face? Now, there’s no denying that that would be excruciatingly painful to my pride, but there’s also no denying that she has every right to treat me with such disdain.

I’m just really hoping she doesn’t.

The song changes and I find myself belting my guts out in an attempt to forget where I’m headed. It works for about an hour and then I’m forced to stop singing or risk permanent damage to my vocal cords.

It’s nine o’clock by the time I realize that my eyes literally will not stay open any longer. I pull over at a rest stop and hop out for a quick stretch and some hearty vending machine snacks. I plop myself back into the driver’s seat and munch on Cheetos while staring at an empty Coke can as it rolls back and forth with the gentle nudges of the wind.

That’s when it hits me. What the heck am I doing? I didn’t tell anyone where I am, or where I’m going. Plus, this is most likely going to end up being a wasted trip. There’s no guarantee that she’s even going to give me the time of day.

I huff out an exasperated sigh as I twist the keys in the ignition and crank up the heat. I throw my empty chip bag in the passenger seat before kicking off my boots. As I rub heat into my frozen toes, my mind swirls with all the possibilities and none of them are good.


I’m startled awake by a high pitched scream. I jolt upright, immediately remembering the stupidity that landed me at this rest stop. Yep, I’m driving to Denver to face Trinity Nixon. I rub the sleep from my eyes as I glance out the window at a family of four. The little boy has rushed ahead of the rest of them, either in an attempt not to wet his pants or because he’s eager for whatever the vending machine can offer him.

The boy’s joyful screams have scared away any remaining sleep. Now that I’m much more awake, I throw the car in reverse and continue my journey.

I arrive in Denver at seven o’clock a.m. After nearly thirteen hours of driving, all I can focus on is finding a coffee shop. Once I’ve fueled myself with caffeine and my car with, well... fuel, I pull out my phone in search of directions to the Denver School of Nursing.

After a couple wrong turns, due to a very defective phone GPS, I arrive safe and sound at my destination. I unfold my limbs and crawl from the confines of my little car. The time has come. I leave my bag in the car—thinking that once she rejects me, I may not even need it—before making my way to the main building.

“Hello,” I greet the young man behind the counter. He peers up at me from where he’s lazily hunched over his phone. “Can I have the room number for Trinity Nixon?”

“Uh...” He types something quickly onto the computer screen and then mumbles the number to me while pointing in the general direction of her building. He then returns to whatever game he was previously playing on his phone.

That was surprisingly easy, and not at all reassuring for the people who attend this school. Is it always that easy to find someone’s room number? I could spout off anyone’s name and instantly be directed to their room—the place they sleep at night.

Seventeen minutes later, I’m hyperventilating in front of room 663. I lean my back against the wall beside her door and remind myself why exactly it was that I decided to do this. I send Lindsey a quick text to let her know where I am just in case I never return home. It begins vibrating as soon as I slip it into my pocket, but there’s no time for her lectures. This needs to be done before I can convince myself any further that it’s a bad idea. It’s already nine o’clock, and if I allow any more time to pass I may not be able to go through with it.

Taking a quick breath, I pound my fist against the door. I’m secretly hoping that no one will answer, and then I can tell myself ‘at least I tried’ before hightailing it back home. But of course, no such luck. The door swings open to reveal a chunky purple-haired chick wearing an old-school choker, one of those horrid black stretchy ones. I actually recall when I went through that phase and was so proud when I wore mine a whole year without removing it. I tremble at the thought now.

“Hi,” the choker-chick says as she pops her gum and tilts her head to the side. She’s surprisingly friendly, even if she is a little odd.

“Hi,” I respond, sending her a genuine smile. “Is Trinity here?”

“Yep. Come on in.” She twirls around, leaving the door open as an invitation for me to follow her.

Strange. She didn’t even ask who I was. What if I was a murderer, or a rapist, or something?... Ew. Maybe not the rapist one.

“Trin!” choker-chick hollers as her voice splits through the stillness of the empty room.

I hear a muffled response from a closed door on the other side. My insides squeeze against each other as my fingers attempt to ring themselves out. I swear I have no control over these things.

“Ya got company,” the purple-haired girl announces before turning back to face me with a frightening smile and an outstretched hand.

I eye it warily before realizing that she’s just being friendly.

“I’m Trish,” she says as I return her vigorous handshake.

“Emma,” I say, my eyes involuntarily drawn to her mouth again when she blows a large bubble. It pops, leaving a wispy piece stuck to her dry bottom lip. I’m debating over whether or not to tell her, when suddenly the door across the room swings open, and out emerges the one person I hoped never to see again.

“What did you—”

And then silence.

There she is. Trinity Nixon. Still blonde and beautiful. Not sure yet about the ‘bubbly’. She’s frozen in place, her eyes bulging as if she’s just witnessed a walrus stabbing a kitten to death with its tusks.

“Hi,” I murmur into the suddenly thick room. I swallow down my nerves and hope that I appear calm.

“Emma.” The word is nearly a whisper, and I’m shocked when there’s no venom seeping from her lips. “How are you?”

I nearly stumble backward by the force of those simple words. She wants to know how I am? Who the heck is this girl? She should be tearing my throat out with her bare hands, and yet she’s just standing there, watching me.

Curiosity dances in her soft gaze, but her posture lacks any animosity. I’m so confused that I can’t help but quirk a brow at her unexpected kindness. She still has yet to smile at me, but she also hasn’t tried lunging at me with a bottle of hairspray and a lighter.

“I’m good... and you?” I’m a tad breathless for reasons unknown to me, but at the moment I don’t care. I’m too focused on her strange reaction to even comprehend how odd I must look as I nearly pant with anxiety.

“Great.” She steps forward and sets her makeup bag down on a nearby table. “Uh, what are you doing here?” she questions, but her voice still lacks the bitterness I had prepared myself for.

“Actually,” I say, as I pull on a much-needed layer of courage, “do you have some time to talk?”

Trinity just eyes me suspiciously for a couple seconds before nodding slowly. “Sure.”


I’ve already had a strong cup of coffee today, but it doesn’t matter. My body is screaming for another dose, which is only frazzling my nerves further. Now I have caffeine and terror pumping through my veins.

Trinity is sitting calmly across from me as her fingers skim the edge of her Mocha Latte. I want so terribly to lift my eyes from where they’re glued to her fingers so that I can observe her, but I’m unexpectedly weak at the moment. Glancing into her knowing blue eyes will only worsen my anxiety.

“I’m sorry,” I suddenly blurt out and I’m already shaking my head at the insincerity in my tone. I wasn’t actually thinking about what I was saying before I said it. I was just so focused on getting it out, that I forgot to speak from the heart.

My eyes snap up to meet Trinity’s gaze, but she just continues to watch me. A small smile touches her lips, and I get the feeling that she’s purposely trying to make me squirm. She takes a small sip of her beverage while keeping her eyes trained on me. I know I need to snap out of it and do what I came here to do, or this will just continue to stretch out into the most uncomfortable encounter known to man.

I clear my throat. “I—”

“I know,” she says calmly, cutting me off. Her gaze falls from me and into her cup. “Trevor told me.”

“What?” I’m surprised by her willingness to talk. I lean back in my chair as my tense body relaxes slightly. “What did he tell you?”

“He told me you changed.” Her eyes find my own again and she smiles sadly. “I didn’t believe him. I put so much effort into trying to change you, and I kind of lost hope.”

“It’s true,” I whisper as my fingers play with each other in my lap.

“I know,” she repeats while smoothing out a wrinkled napkin laying next to her cup. “I knew the moment I saw you standing in my dorm room.”

I don’t know how to respond at first, so I don’t. I just watch her as she runs her fingers over the creases of her napkin.

“I never should have done what I did,” I say, shame coating each word. “No one should have had to endure what you did. I was horrible.” I reach across the table to wrap my hands around my lukewarm coffee. “If I could rewind time I would. I hate myself for what I put you through.” I pause. “I was such a bitter...” I let my words die off when her eyes lift to mine.

She’s already nodding slowly. “Trevor told me that too.”

“You guys sure talk a lot,” I laugh softly.

She lifts the edges of her lips into a grin.

“I should have just told Trevor to apologize for me,” I joke, “and then I wouldn’t have had to come all the way out here.” I’m laughing as I say this, and I’m relieved when I hear her join me.

“Believe me, it wouldn’t have had the same effect.” She takes a long sip from her cup. “I forgave you a long time ago, but this just solidifies my reason for forgiving you so quickly. I always knew that you chose to pick on me as a way of covering up your own grief. I just wish that I had known how to handle you back then.”

I’m shocked by her words. She regrets not being more kind to me? Gosh, these Nixon kids are so strange. How can they be so caring, compassionate, forgiving, and strong all at the same time? I’m lost for words for several beats, and then I’m shaking my head back and forth in stunned disbelief.

“Trinity, you’ll never know how sorry I am,” I finally stutter out. My emotions are running wild and taking control of my tongue. The words I start uttering are completely out of my control. “I think I was even sorry back then, but I just felt like every attempt I made at destroying your gentle personality just flew through you like air, and I needed that. I thought that maybe if I could just tear you up without you ever actually breaking then maybe my father’s suicide wasn’t my fault.”

“I don’t follow. What do you mean?” she stops me, and I glance at her confused expression before realizing that what I just said didn’t make any sense.

I laugh nervously. “Sorry.” I push my hair behind my shoulders and rest my elbows on the table. “For so long, I blamed myself for my father’s suicide. I thought that I was the one who pushed him too far. I hadn’t been respectful enough, or appreciative enough, or loving enough. I thought I was the one adding stress to his already stressful life. I thought that it was my fault that he broke. So I decided to test my theory,” I pause before meeting her interested gaze, “on you.”

She mimics my actions and leans forward, intrigued. I take this as my cue to go on.

“I thought that if it were possible to push and push and push without you ever actually breaking, then that couldn’t possibly have been why my father ended his life,” I explain further. “It would prove that he was just weak, and his decision had nothing to do with me.”

I cough to clear my emotion-covered throat. “The problem was... you were breaking, I just never knew it until it had gone too far.” I rub my temple to push away the memory of that day; the day I had discovered her reason for leaving. “When you left school, I immediately knew it was because of me. I had destroyed you, and in turn, it destroyed me. It proved that it was possible to push someone too far, which is what I instantly believed about my father. When you left, my guilt doubled. Now I had my father’s death on my hands, and your misery to live with.”

“That’s when you changed?” she guesses, and I nod softly, never taking my eyes off the caramel-colored liquid resting in the mug between my hands.

“Yeah,” I confirm. “At that moment I knew I would never be able to live with the guilt if something happened to you, and since my theory had been proven, I couldn’t risk destroying another person’s life. So I let go of my bitterness, and embraced my guilt.”

“You know it’s not your fault, right?” she asks me softly and my eyes snap to hers.

“Of course it’s my fault,” I argue. “Trevor told me everything about that day he found you. Y-y-you had scissors in your hand while your drunken self hacked away your perfect hair. A-and you lost... you lost...” My throat swallows itself in an attempt to close off the emotion that’s trying to force its way out. I can feel the muscles working to control themselves, but it’s no use. Instead, the guilt begins to pour from my eyes, and I instantly flick away the tears.

“Emma...” I hear the gentle murmur of Trinity’s steady voice. I peek out of my swollen eyes, wishing I could hide myself somewhere. “I meant your father,” she laughs gingerly. “His death wasn’t your fault.”

A relieved chuckle escapes my puffy lips, and I bury my face in my hands as I shake my head in embarrassed amusement.

“Oh,” I laugh airily as I drop my hands back down on the table.

“Emma, you should know that I’m doing okay now. Great, even,” she reassures. “I admit, I had some pretty negative memories of you for a very long time and a lot of bitterness. But the choices I made were just that—my choices.”

I’m wondering if Trinity and Trevor somehow rehearsed what they would say if ever put in this situation because their answers were nearly identical.

“You didn’t force me to sleep with anyone, or destroy my image, or disappoint my family. That was all me,” she says. “Now granted, you did kind of inspire the choices into motion, but overall, I don’t entirely blame you.” She pauses to look at me sternly. “I was sleeping around before you came into the picture, so that aspect of my destruction was completely on my own shoulders. You are not allowed to take the blame for that.”

I chuckle at her attempts to make me feel better. “You and your brother are a lot alike,” I say.

“How so?” She tilts her head to the side in question.

“I just... I’ve never met anyone as kind as the two of you,” I tell her. “You’re always trying to make everyone else feel better, even when they shouldn’t. I should feel like crap for what I did to you, but you keep trying to take away the guilt. Stop it!” I say with a smile, but my heart means it.

Trinity chuckles softly. “How ’bout this,” she compromises, “I’ll stop trying to make you feel better if you decide to drop this whole thing? We’re good now, and I never want to be reminded of those days again. Got it?”

Bold Trinity is someone I’ve never had the honor of meeting, but I like her. I guess some good did come from me trying to force her into having a backbone.

I nod once while fighting a smirk. “Got it.”

She eyes me for a moment because I know she can sense the question I have yet to ask.

“But...” I begin.

Her shoulders sag with a defeated sigh, but I can see the playfulness in her expression.

“Yes?” She groans, and I’m suddenly wondering if my next question is such a good idea, but I just need to know.

“Trevor, uh...” I rub the tip of my nose with my knuckles. “Trevor told me about the baby.”

I hear her suck in a sharp breath, forcing me to watch her reaction.

“I’m so sorry,” I mutter. “I drove you to act recklessly, and I feel completely responsible.”

“Okay, listen to me, Emma,” Trinity interrupts. “It’s silly for both of us to feel guilt for the same thing. Like I said before, I was already sleeping around. Getting pregnant was entirely my own stupid fault. I’m completely to blame for what happened there, and I may never fully forgive myself for my actions, but please rest assured that I have already fully forgiven you. I do not fault you in what happened to that child. You’re forgiven. You’re free. Now stop dwelling on things that can’t be changed and start living your life.”

She sounds fed up, and I decide to drop the subject.

“Now that we’re all good,” she smirks, leaning over the table and lowering her voice as if to tell me a secret, “how ’bout you tell me about you and my brother.”

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