Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 21

Elena


I scan the fridge for something cold to drink and thank my lucky stars that, though it took some convincing, I was able to talk my dad into letting me stay home all week last week. Thanksgiving was on Thursday, so I only missed three days of classes. I had to show him that I was, in fact, ahead on my schoolwork; I worked ahead from those days where he had to bring me to school at the crack of dawn.

Grabbing myself a glass of juice, I walk towards the couch and sigh as I pass my Cell Biology book. I’ve been milking this as long as I could, tomorrow I’ll have to return to school. I’m going to see Declan, and I’m not sure I want to; maybe I can switch literature classes. The thought has crossed my mind, but then I think that Declan really didn’t have anything to do with it, not really. It’s not like he was the one who drugged and dragged me up the stairs. I remember him begging them to let me go. He tried to stop it, so can I really be mad at him?

As I sit on the couch, my eyes fall onto Mike’s house. When I saw him last Monday to give him his gift basket, he looked so ruggedly handsome covered in grease. I couldn’t help myself from kissing him on the cheek; that may have been a stupid move. It took a lot of courage for me to be able to do that...

Not only was he incredibly good-looking in his mechanic uniform, but I also just wanted to thank him for everything he did for me.

My eyes roll as I turn and stare at our entertainment center’s movie section - I think that maybe I watch too many romance movies. In the movies, whenever a guy does something for a girl – like save her - the girl generally thanks her hero by kissing his cheek. I facepalm myself. I watch too many movies.

I sneak a peek over at his house once more and realize that I haven’t seen a whole lot of him this past week. I’m guessing he spent time with his family since it was Thanksgiving... which reminds me that I have only ever seen him around that house. Where are his parents? Does he have any siblings? What is his family like?

My phone vibrates as I study the house’s blue siding; picking it up from the end table, I see Declan’s name. He’s been calling me every day since last Sunday. I haven’t talked to him; I’m avoiding him. Do I want to hear what he has to say? I’m punishing him when I’m not sure if he even did anything wrong. Going against my better judgment, I place my juice glass on a coaster and answer the call.

He sounds flabbergasted that I answered. If I’ve been ignored all week, I guess I would be a little surprised too. “Elena?”

“Yeah,” I say flatly.

“Elena, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you-”

I cut him off, “I know.”

“I just wanted to see if you were okay...are you... okay?” He sounds worried. Feeling bad for treating him the way that I have, I let my guard down a little.

“Yeah, I’m okay. If Mike hadn’t have gotten me out of there when he did, I’m not so sure I would be okay right now ...” I could have left Mike’s name out, but a part of me wanted to rub it in. Declan was my date, and he couldn’t defend me the way I hoped he would have.

“I am so sorry, Elena. I am so, so sorry. I wish there were something more that I could have done.”

I let out a quiet sigh. “Yeah, I know.”

“Can we grab coffee or something today? I would really like to have this conversation face to face. I just feel so bad and wanted to see that you’re okay before school tomorrow.” He sounds genuine.

I guess it wouldn’t be bad to meet him, but I don’t feel like going anywhere, not if he must pick me up. My dad had to go to work, and I don’t want to bother Mike for a ride...

“I can make coffee here, so you can come over. Will that be okay?” I say with uncertainty.

“Is your dad home?” I’m not sure why that would matter.

“... No.”

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll be over shortly, is that alright?” I hear him grab his keys.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll put the coffee pot on.”

The sound of the water filtering through the coffee grounds as it spills into the coffee pot is the only sound in this whole house. Biting the inside of my cheek while staring out the front window from the kitchen, I can’t help but feel queasy; will he be honest with me? I don’t remember a whole lot from that night, but cold blue irises haunt me every time I close my eyes. I wonder if Declan will tell me who it was. He introduced us...didn’t he? That was his house. He must know who that man was since he invited him.

Because you’re a Cochran, it still doesn’t make sense. What does being a ‘Cochran’ have anything to do with it? Did that guy think I was someone else? Does he know how many Cochrans are out there? There are so many-I know because I’ve looked-our phone book in Detroit listed at least thirty-five in Michigan alone.

Headlights appear in my driveway from Declan’s black Dodge Charger. Watching him exit his car and walking up to the door, I suddenly want to hide. I’m not sure I can do this.

“Hey...” he says when I open the door. His nose and eyes are bruised; there’s white tape over the bridge of his nose. It looks like it’s in the process of healing with all the different shades of yellows and blues.

“Uh...hey, what happened to your nose?” When did that happen?

Pulling his hand up to his nose, he starts to explain. “Oh...uhm, I kind of got punched in the face.” He shrugs, trying to step inside – I let him. He doesn’t seem to want to share what happened to his face.

As he takes a seat at the table, I find two mugs and pour the coffee. Giving one to him, I take the seat on the opposite side.

Just as I’m about to stare into the steaming black liquid, searching for strength and wisdom to guide me through this conversation, he says, “I’m a coward, Elena.” My eyes dart from the coffee to his eyes – I didn’t expect that.

“I didn’t know what to do. Those guys, it’s more complicated than you think. If I tried to stop them, who knows what they would have done to me – I know that’s selfish! That’s why it makes me a coward.” He lowers his voice and adds, “Mike was right about that.”

Did Mike call him a coward? When did Mike and Declan see each other?

“Elena, I am so sorry. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I really hope that you will forgive me someday; maybe we can be friends.”

I’m not so sure about how quickly I should forgive him, so to divert, I ask, “Who were they? Those men? Why didn’t you call the cops?”

Cradling the mug with his fingers tighter, he takes a deep breath. “Someone did call the cops. They arrived soon after Mike drove away with you...it wasn’t me,” he utters. “It should have, but someone called the cops on Mike actually, for being an obnoxious disturbance. Drake, I believe, is his name, is a football player at our school...” He pauses while I ponder over his words.

“But those guys...Elena, they are capable of so many bad things, that’s why I didn’t call the cops. To be honest, I’m surprised that Mike got you out of there in one piece.” He clears his throat. “After he carried you out, there was a group of them that started their way up the stairs – you have no idea how relieved I was that you got out of there before they all showed up.”

Things could have been much worse. Declan was obviously so scared of my attacker that he didn’t want to call the cops...

“What things are they capable of, Declan?” I don’t lose eye contact while constricting my mug as if it’s a magical token that will keep me connected to the reality that is my life.

“To be honest, I’m not sure, but I know it’s bad. I know they do a lot of illegal things; I know they torture people sometimes – which is what I worried they’d do to me if I tried to stop them or if they thought that I called the cops.” He shivers. “I don’t want to know what will happen to Drake, of course, they may let him go unharmed because he called them on Mike, not on them...”

He shuffles in the seat and continues. “Elena, there was no way I would have been able to stop those guys on my own, and it’s not like anyone else would have helped me at the time given their reputation. There are rules at those kinds of parties, and they... are in charge. I did not think that anything like that would happen to you. They haven’t done anything like that in a long time...I thought that kind of thing was over with.”

I stay silent. “Everyone fears them – rightfully so. They would have done something worse to you if I attempted to intervene. Those guys probably would have made me watch.”

A shudder runs through me as I grip my hot mug tighter, hoping its warmth will take the awful thoughts of what they may be capable of away.

“I’m so sorry, Elena – you wanted to know.” He reaches out to touch my hand; I don’t pull away. “If I knew that I could have gotten you out of there without more harm being inflicted on either of us – I would have. I am so sorry, Elena.” Pulling his hand back to look deep into his black steaming coffee, he says, “If you never want to speak to me again...I’ll understand.”

“Instead, you were just going to let them do God knows what to me, to save your own ass.” I don’t hide my disdain.

“Elena.” His eyes go dark, and his voice drops. “They would have beaten you; they would have been rough on you. It would have been so much worse for you. Trust me.”

Silence lingers before I ask, “If they are so bad, why did you invite them to your party?” I must know how he knows them; I need some names...

“It’s complicated. We...” he shuffles uncomfortably in his chair before he continues. “We...Uhm...” He hides his face in his hands, then drops them to look at me. “I hope you know that what I’m about to say doesn’t mean that it has any reflection on me – I’m not like him, I swear it.”

I nod my head slowly, waiting to get the answer out of him. “Isaac...he’s –” he starts to say.

My body stiffens, blood drains from my face to collect in the pit of my stomach, initiating the feeling of nausea. I thought knowing the name would somehow make me feel more empowered because that would mean I have leverage. I could finally tell my dad; he could arrest him. But there is no empowerment. All it does is bring back the rest of his face and those cold hands. I remember him now. I remember...

The front door swings open, and panic washes right through me.

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