Crossroads

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Chapter 24

Lincoln

“I have to ignore the demons’ claws on my soul, have to ignore this pit of darkness, of suffering and utter anguish that’s screaming for me, inviting me in.”

PAST

As I look into this stranger’s eyes I realize something.

I value my life.

Because the way he’s looking at me, the rage that’s rolling off of him, his eyes shooting daggers that are literally ready to kill me, makes me fear for my life. And I don’t remember the last time I felt this. The last time I felt like my life meant something, like I meant something…

“I’m not going to ask again, Dr. Grey,” the bull of a man that still seems somewhat familiar speaks again, and I see it in his eyes that he’s serious. I don’t know if I’m being kidnapped or whatever the hell is happening here, but I do know that if I don’t do as he says I will likely risk my life. I’m no fighter, I’m not buff or anywhere near trained to take on someone like him. I’m a simple surgeon, fragile but skilled hands are the only thing I can account for.

And so I just nod my head as I step inside this expensive as hell car and lower myself on the sleek leather seats. A man about my age sits behind the wheel, wearing sunglasses and looking straight ahead, he really could be a statue with how rigid he looks.

The door slams behind me and soon enough the green-eyed man takes a seat next to me, the roaring engine beneath us announcing our departure.

“Who are you?” I can’t help but ask the man, who now turns, his back resting against the window as he faces me. “That’s not important,” he simply states. “What’s important is that you stay away from Mia Esperanza.”

And the second the words leave his mouth do I know who he is. I suddenly understand why he looked and sounded so goddamn familiar. I’ve heard his voice in Mia’s kitchen and I see her mother’s features on his face. The picture of her I hung on Mia’s living room wall echoes through my mind as I look at this threatening man in front of me. Her mother looked so kind, while this man certainly is anything but…

“Why would I do that?”

I’m surprised I find any courage to speak to him, really. Because I can’t deny that I’m fucking scared, that I’m pulling at my fingers in an attempt to ground myself in this fucked-up situation, the weight of it all crashing down on me.

“You’re destroying her life, that’s why.” His words make me widen my eyes. Does he know something I don’t? Have I been fooling myself by thinking Mia wanted this as much as I do?

“I don’t… I don’t know what you mean,” I stammer out the words, sounding like a scared kid. God, this guy is intimidating.

And it seems like he knows it, too, because the way he’s looking at me now tells me he’s fully aware of the effect he has. There’s almost a smirk on his face when he shakes his head and mutters under his breath, “Fuck, you’re pathetic… What does she even want with you?”

He’s not wrong, really. I’ve asked myself that question numerous times, and probably forever will.

“You know, when George told me she’d lived with a guy for months now, I didn’t believe him at first. But then I started surveilling her apartment, and I kept seeing you there, I kept seeing you walking in and out of there like you owned the fucking place, I mean, really?” he scoffs.

I study him closely for a second, trying to figure him out. He looks worn out, exhausted, and somehow sad, too. I notice the roughed up knuckles, scars from what I can only guess were fights running down his fingers.

“But you know, I thought, why would my sister hide this from all of us?” He obviously doesn’t care anymore if I know who he is or not. “But then,” he laughs, “Then I followed you, and I saw how she dropped you off at this therapists’ place, and I realized. You’re a fucking charity case,” another laugh echoes through the car, and I can’t help but stare at him, his words thundering through my mind.

Because in a matter of minutes he managed to rip open this chest of insecurities, the one I thought I stored away deep, deep inside of me.

“Of course,” he suddenly continues, obviously unaware of the effect his words have on me, “Of course the psychology student would take in the depressed man who tried to kill himself out of pure shame and guilt. You’re the perfect lab rat.”

As much as his insinuation hurts, I don’t believe it. I just can’t believe Mia would see me as an experiment… Would she?

But what gets me, even more, is the fact that he knows all that. The only people who know about me are Mia and my therapist, and I’m pretty sure none of them would willingly share that information with anyone.

And he must notice the surprised expression on my face because he suddenly shakes his head, rolling his eyes as a sigh leaving his throat. “I think you underestimate how much my family can find out if they want to. You have no idea who you’re messing with, here.”

I have a fair idea that he’s right about that. I can only imagine what they can do if they manage to get into medical records without batting an eyelid.

This whole situation is absurd. What on earth is he trying to achieve, and how? And more importantly, why?

“You said I ruin her life. How?” And again, no idea how I even manage to ask that question, but I do.

Max, I think his name was, just scoffs and looks at me like I just asked him the most ridiculous thing ever. “You really asking me that?” But I just keep staring at him, honestly not knowing what else to do. Because one thing is clear: This conversation will not end well, either way.

“Did you know she took a break from her studies because of you? She literally put her life on hold to take care of your pathetic ass. She stopped seeing our grandfather because of you. She even neglected her friends, just because you couldn’t handle your own fucking business. I mean, what the hell?!”

I don’t even have time to process this information before he says the thing that literally makes my heart stop for a second.

“I can’t believe she had a crush on you of all people, back then...” he mutters under his breath, but I hear his words loud and clear. And they smash into me like a giant boulder falling from fucking Mount Everest.

“What?” I whisper my question, my heart now suddenly thundering in my chest. It can’t be. This is a misunderstanding, surely.

“Honestly, it’s not my place to tell you about this shit,” he says as if he didn’t just invade my personal life and medical records, “but you better listen to me, carefully.”

The car suddenly stops, and with a quick glance out the window, I realize we’re at Mia’s apartment, parking right in front of the main entrance. For a second it calms my heart, thinking he surely can’t do shit here, in the middle of the street, but then I wonder just how much influence this family holds. I wouldn’t be surprised if they literally got away with murder…

“You will go upstairs, pack your shit, and get the fuck out of there. You will leave my sister alone, you will leave my whole bloody family alone. Understood?”

“Why would I do that?” The question leaves my mouth before he even properly finishes his sentence. Because out of all the big fucking words he spoke today, I can’t find the one reason to actually leave her.

“Funny you would ask that,” he scratches his chin before looking back at me, “You know, I wondered. What can I offer a man who certainly has nothing left to lose? I mean, look at you. You hit rock bottom, you’re living off of someone else’s money, you’re living in someone else’s apartment, you’re even wearing my brother’s clothes, for fucks sake…”

I can’t help but swallow at his words. They’re all true, really, I literally cannot deny a word he just said.

“But you know, I thought, what could it be? The one thing that convinces him? And then I realized. The only thing you have right now is her. Quite literally, might I add…”

And again, I can’t help but stare at him. Because I have no fucking clue where he’s going with this, how this would change my mind.

“You love her. That’s your weakness.”

His words smash right into my heart, with an unexplored force, a force that knocks the air out of my lungs for more than just a second. I never considered loving Mia as a weakness. All she ever portrayed for me was strength, passion, and devotion.

“I mean think about it. Who are you without her? No one, absolutely no one. And who is she with you? A lost cause. Because you take her life away. Your influence pulls her away from her friends and family. You don’t even know her outside of that goddamn apartment, haven’t seen her around our family. I mean fucking hell, no wonder she never told us about you or brought you with her to the family dinners, she’s probably ashamed of you. I’m surprised she survived life with you for so long already.”

My mind is racing a hundred miles per hour as I try to make sense of his words. Because once again, I can’t really fight him on them. And I realize that I don’t know half as much about Mia as I thought I did. She obviously hid more from me than I expected. She obviously didn’t trust me enough to let me in completely, to show me the life she lived before me. And what the hell did he mean she had a crush on me?

“If you love her, let her go. She deserves better than this, and you fucking know that.”

His words make me focus back on him, and for once he actually looks sincere, not just utterly pissed off. “Look, for all it’s worth, I’m sorry for the shit that happened to you. Life’s tough,” he says it as if he knows what he’s talking about, a sudden emotion running across his face that I can’t quite place, “But Mia doesn’t need this right now, she doesn’t need another weight on her shoulder, she doesn’t need to be pulled down. And honestly, that’s all you do.”

I look at him for a moment, try to read him, try to make sense of all of this. He basically hasn’t said a thing that wasn’t true, apart from that crush thing I have no recollection of. All he offered was the truth, harsh but real. And I feel my heart break at the realization of that. Because I have known it from the start. I knew I shouldn’t have pursued her. I knew she was too good for me, but I was selfish and didn’t make enough of an effort to actually figure out what’s going on in her life.

“Don’t take her life away, man.”

And with that, I know what I have to do. I have to ignore the demons’ claws on my soul, have to ignore this pit of darkness, of suffering, and utter anguish that’s screaming for me, inviting me in.

Because I already know it will swallow me whole when I leave the light of my life when I return to the shadows, to face my fate.

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