Chapter 30 - Etched
"What about that one?"
I pointed at a cloud as it passed by with the wind.
"That one looks like a chicken leg."
River giggled against me but she wasn't wrong, it did look a lot like a chicken leg.
We'd been watching the clouds float by for almost an hour and I was fighting to keep my eyes open when heard the back sliding glass door open.
Taylor's voice came out strained and I knew it had everything to do with the way River was tucked into my side, her legs intertwined with mine.
She pushed up on one arm and I wanted to pull her back.
"Taylor what are you-?"
There wasn't enough time from River's half question to Taylor's right hand colliding with my jaw for me to dodge it.
He screamed as he fell onto me and threw another punch. I moved my head to the side and rolled over, pushing him off.
"What are you doing?"
River had her hands on his chest, trying to push him away when I got to my feet.
"I just heard about that dipshit, Novack and I walk into this guy with his hands on you."
He threw his arms up in my direction then grabbed her by her biceps, pulling her into his body like he was protecting her from something.
I was livid ten seconds ago, but the look on his face, so contoured with concern made me feel. . .
I wasn't sure what I felt toward him, but it was no longer anger.
"Taylor. . ."
River's voice was quiet like she was pleading with him to understand but I knew there wasn't a chance in hell that was happening. He might comprehend what was going on, but I doubted he would understand it.
He deadpanned as she pulled away from him.
"Beau's not doing anything that I don't want him to."
Her words came out quietly again and if I wouldn't have been staring at her so intently I would've missed the way she glanced down at the ground.
I resisted the urge to grab River's hand and tug her back to me. I knew there were no sides here but physically she was standing between us and it made me feel uneasy.
It was dumb and I knew it but I couldn't help feeling it.
Taylor finally looked away from her and in my direction.
"Sorry about your jaw, I thought you were-"
I had to interrupt him because I didn't want him to put his thoughts into words.
The fact that anyone thought I would ever touch her against her will was my worst fear.
I walked past them, straight into the house and River followed me.
"You should talk to him."
I told her as I turned to face her. I would've preferred him to just leave but I knew River wouldn't be satisfied with that.
She lifted her hand until it reached the spot on my jaw where Taylor's fist landed. I let her rub the pad of her thumb over it a few times and stopped myself from closing my eyes because I didn't want to miss the look on her face. She didn't say anything and I was amazed that she didn't have to. I could see everything in her eyes just the same way I could feel it through her fingertips.
She lifted up on her toes and pressed her lips to my jawline before turning to walk back outside.
I swung the refrigerator door open and grabbed a beer, unscrewing the top and tossing it in the trash. I sighed when the cool liquid hit my tongue.
I didn't factor this possibility into our six days. I figured if anything River could catch her bestie up to speed at school when she went back. I guess I should have known Taylor would require more than that.
I could hear them talking outside and as bad as I didn't want to eavesdrop, I did it anyway.
"Why didn't you tell me, River? I want to kill him, the thought of him touching you-"
"It's okay, I promise. I'm fine."
At first, I thought they were talking about me but with River's response, I knew they were talking about Novack. She was using the same reassuring voice that she used with Jackson. The one that would never work on me.
"I still want to strangle him."
River laughed, "Beau almost did."
"Well, I'm glad he was there."
I laughed myself.
You and me both, kid.
I had almost tuned their conversation out because it felt wrong for me to sit here and listen to them.
"Was it him? Was he the reason?"
My ears perked up again, this question was without a doubt about me and I was itching to hear her response.
I knew exactly what he was asking.
Was I the reason she never gave Taylor a real chance?
I needed to hear it.
My only regret was not being able to see the words leave her lips with my own eyes.
"Yeah, it's always been him."
River's voice was so light it could've floated away with the wind just like her clouds.
Taylor left a few minutes later. Giving me a nod as he passed through the kitchen. I waited for River to walk into the house, my fingers itching to touch her. She had no idea what she had done to me, I barely knew myself.
When she came inside she was folding the blanket back up in slow motion. Or at least it seemed that way to me.
"What is it?"
She asked when she noticed me staring at her.
I shook my head, she really had no idea.
I stepped toward her and watched her chest rise and fall as she took deep breathes and I let her scent flood into my space. Her eyes grew wild as they darted from mine to my lips.
We didn't speak, it wasn't necessary because what she wanted was written all over her face.
She wanted me to kiss her, she wanted me to press my lips to hers just as bad as I wanted to.
Her eyes brows lifted slightly and I saw the answer in her stare.
Her eyes were screaming the word at me.
It went against everything I knew for River to be able to communicate so much without any words at all. I realized that we had been doing that very thing since we first met. There were so many things that I wanted to say to her back then that I just couldn't, yet she still knew. And there were times when she would look at me with so much emotion behind her eyes that she might as well have been screaming at the top of her lungs, just like right now.
It was as if her soul had reached out and curled into mine. She was there, and she had made her mark. Etched into every corner, scribbled over every inch, and all in damn permanent marker.