Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 23

Elena


My skin burns. I don’t care that the water is extremely hot; I’m probably getting a second-degree burn. He’s still in there - in my mind - taking advantage of my limp body on that bed, but now, I am trying to scrub him away. To cleanse. I am sobbing and frantically scrubbing. Is this what it feels like to lose your mind?

Isaac.

That’s his name: Isaac. It’s constantly rotating in my head like a rerun. It’s as if he’s in there taunting, trying to force me into saying his name out loud. I will not give him the satisfaction. I know it’s not really him in there, but he may as well be.

What if I see him again? I’m not sure what I will do. Right now, I want to scream at him, throttle him, but I know that’s probably what he wants. I’m left with screaming at myself behind this curtain, with steam rolling throughout the bathroom, clouding my vision, and creating thick air. It helps, the steam, it’s giving me something else to concentrate on.

It’s starting to hurt. My skin has become raw. At least it’s not feeling cold like it was; I take that as a sign to rein in my hysterics and climb out of the tub. I came in here so abruptly that I didn’t bring a change of clothes with me, but I don’t care. Instead, I just put the same sweatpants and t-shirt on – it’s not like they are dirty – I didn’t do anything all day.

Tears are still falling from my face, a mixture of pain from the hot water, scrubbing, and humiliation for how I reacted in front of Mike. He must think that I’m crazy.

As soon as I open the door, a pair of bright green anxious, glossy eyes stare at me. Mike has his arms up resting on either side of the doorframe, he’s slightly panting, and his hair is all disheveled – more than normal. He’s leaning into the doorway without a shirt on, catching me off guard. Was he starting to go as crazy as I was?

“Pick one,” he stresses.

“Pick one what?” Sniffling, I erase away a couple of tears.

“A tattoo. I know you’re curious about them, and you need a distraction right now. Pick one; I will tell you about it,” he urges.

He isn’t wrong. I am very fascinated by the dark ink on his incredible body. There are so many that I want to ask him about. Only one?

“That one,” I say, pointing to his left hand, the one that I have been dying to ask him about for weeks.

Holding my gaze, he nods once then motions for me to follow him. Following closely, I see his back up close in the light for the first time; slashes? Burn marks? There are many scars... being lost in the pain this man must have endured, I nearly run into him when we stop in the kitchen; he hands me a mug.

“What’s this?” I ask.

“Warm milk. It will help the nerves,” he informs as I gratefully accept his sweet gesture. Still following him, hugging the mug close to my body, we sit on the couch. I frown at the sight of there being more than enough space between us.

“This,” he says, lifting his left hand with ‘Psalms 11:6’ printed on it, “is my least favorite.”

I take a sip. “Why did you get it then?” Why would someone get permanent ink of something they don’t like?

He lets out a sigh while rubbing the ink with his fingers. “Elena, I’m not a good person...”

“Yes, you are,” I cut him off. “You have a temper sometimes, but...”

“No, Elena, I’m not.” He is serious. I pinch my mouth shut to stay quiet and let him finish as the outside darkness begins to creep in through the windows.

Taking a deep breath, he rubs his hands together then looks at me. “I’m capable of some really bad things. If you knew about those things, you would be repulsed by me. This tattoo is a reminder. A reminder of all the evil I have placed on others to get to where I am now.”

Like in Lord of the Flies? The debate of symbolism between Mr. Sullivan and Mike swoops in my mind.

“Upon the wicked, He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.” He pauses, waiting for it to sink in.

“Hell, Elena. This verse is a reminder that I will be judged, and that judgment is Hell. I’ve accepted that. I deserve it.” His head drops.

I can’t help but feel awful for him. This man believes that he is so wicked that he’s damned to eternal fire. That his soul is evil, just like he said in class. It can’t be true; I spring for his arm to hold it tight in my hand.

“Mike, you are not evil.” He looks away. “Hey! Look at me,” I say softly. He drags his eyes back to mine. “You have a good heart. An evil person wouldn’t have saved me from...that.” I cringe. “He would have just let it happen. An evil person would not have taken care of me the way you did.” My other hand lifts the mug. “The way you are doing now. I don’t know what terrible things you may be capable of, but I refuse to believe that someone with a heart like yours would be damned to Hell.”

The look of pain in his eyes hurts me. I want to hold him close, to comfort him. He must be speechless because he opens his mouth like he wants to say something but then closes it again. Has no one ever believed in him? Has everyone just wanted to see the bad and not the good? I see the good. I see right through his rough exterior, through the ink, and straight into his heart, this man is capable of so much good, he just doesn’t know it exists. It breaks my heart.

Mike leans back into the couch and sighs. “What heart?” he mutters.

“You have a heart, Mike.” Why do I feel like he’s not convinced? Doubt is heavy in those beautiful eyes.

“Are you nervous about school tomorrow?” He changes the subject.

I take a sip and shake my head.

Turning his body to face mine, I try not to watch his tattoos move. “Hey, I’ve got your back, alright. If anyone gives you any trouble, I’ll beat the shit out of ’em,” he promises me.

A small smile spreads my lips apart. “I don’t think that will be necessary but thank you.” My sights are stuck on his inked skin. I want to trace every single one.

A few moments pass before he smirks. “You’re dying to ask about another one, aren’t you?” he teases.

I blush, knowing how transparent I am sometimes.

He grins. “It’s all good. People either love them or hate them. I get stares of judgment and stares like yours often,” Mike explains.

My vision zeros in on those lips. “Stares like mine? How do you mean?” I ask.

The dimple appears, suddenly I feel myself melt. “Like you want to touch them, trace them, and devour me,” his voice is hoarse.

“I don’t know about the devouring part.” I giggle, self-conscious because he’s right; he sees right through me, into my loud, obnoxious thumping heart and quivering core. My hands are sweating, but I tell myself that it’s just the warm mug.

A deep laugh leaves his lips. “I dunno, Kitten, your body is telling me something different.”

I smack him on the shoulder. “Shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He knows exactly what he’s talking about.

Raising his brow, he traps me in his amusement. “You aren’t denying the touching and tracing part, though.”

Not wanting to answer that, I change the subject. “W-what about that one?” I point to the multiple birds on the inner part of his right arm, flying upwards towards his bicep.

“I’m a free bird,” he smiles.

“Are you serious?” I laugh.

“Well, kinda.” He looks into the distance. “Birds can fly away from anything. Whenever I’m on my bike, I feel like I am flying, escaping.” Smiling back at him, I know exactly what he means; I remember my first bike ride...with him.

“And that one?” I point to the words across his bicep that I can now read, ‘Live Free or Die Hard.’ “Please don’t tell me that’s from the Die-Hard movies?” I groan.

He looks playfully offended. “Hey, these words are heavy and have real meaning.” I like talking to him like this; it’s making me forget about...

“What is this?” I ask, pointing at a tiny solid black design on the inner part of his elbow.

He looks to where I pointed. “The North Star.”

“It’s different than all the others you have...”

“...Yeah.” I can tell he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

“What about this one.” Feeling daring, I reach out to touch his bare chest tracing the wings behind the horns of the tattoo. I feel my face fall from tracing a mangled scar similar to my dad’s from getting a bullet.

How did this happen? What is it from?

Despite what Mike had said earlier about being damned, I see him more as an angel, a protector. Looking up at him, I notice that his bright green eyes have darkened some, my breath catches in my throat. My body is telling me to react, but I’m not sure what to do.

The darn dimple re-appears as he reveals that crooked smile once more. “I knew you couldn’t resist. You needed to touch me.”

I nestle back into my seat, embarrassed about having such a desire to touch him, to linger, and the fact that he was right. Putting the space between us again, my chest clenches at the separation.

He lowers his head with a sigh. “I was wondering when you’d ask about that one.”

“My dad has a similar one, it’s a little different though, but just as...dark. I’ve asked him what it meant, but all he ever said was that it was a dare from a time when he was on spring break.” I huff, taking a sip of the warm sweet milk. I never believed him, but he never gave me any other information.

He chuckles. “Mine isn’t from a” he positions his fingers into air quote position, ”dare. I’m apart of something...different.”

My brows furrow. “What do you mean?”

“I’m...a part of a brotherhood –”

I cut him off. “You mean a gang? Mike!” I gasp. “Are you in a gang?” He better not be in a gang.

“We like to think of ourselves as a club – not a gang,” he says. That doesn’t help my nerves at all. Some of it makes sense, though. I can see it: he and his buddies riding around for fun. That’s all they do, right?

“What do you do in this...” I swallow. “Club... anything illegal?“.

He waves his hand in the air to dismiss my worried thoughts. “We just ride around together...” he says. I feel the tension in my back and neck begin to ease. “But, that’s enough questions for one night.” He winks, and my heart flutters. I love it when he winks at me - it makes me feel special.

“Are you gonna be alright, Kitten?” he asks. Any hint of playfulness has left.

The affection that I see in this man’s eyes has my mind muddled. The only thought is wondering why he came over here in the first place.

“Yeah, I think I’ll be alright.” I smile at him, as long as you’re here.

Taking me by surprise, he slaps a large hand on my crossed bare ankles and rubs his thumb there. “Good,” he says. With his gaze on me, I have to ask him now. I need to know; will he tell me?

“Do you want to talk about what just happened? When you slammed the bathroom door in my face?” He asks solemnly.

I shake my head; I don’t want to think about anything other than Mike right now...

“Mike?” I hate how my voice shakes when I’m so nervous. “Why did you stop by?”

Keeping his eyes locked on mine, he removes his hand from my ankles and rests the arm on the back of the couch. His other hand reaches for the mug that is tight in my grasp, and with our hands almost interlocking over the cup, he slowly takes it from my hand. Sparks ignite throughout my body from his touch. I can’t help the way my chest is rising and falling at a rapid speed in anticipation of what he might do.

With the mug in his hand now, he leans into me. His weight bears down on the arm that rests on the back of the couch - he’s nearly on top of me; he stretches for the end table. I hear a light clink behind me from the mug before his hand moves to the armrest behind my shoulder. He has me boxed in at the end of this couch. He is so close.

The smell of pine and spice is strong as it seeps into my senses. My heart is going a million beats per second. His bright emerald eyes have changed to a dark heated sea green with our faces being a breath apart; I can feel the heat radiating from his bare skin, and I want to be lost in all of it.

His voice is low as his brow arches. “Why do you think, Kitten?” Our gaze collides, I feel paralyzed.

I really don’t know. Will I finally have my first kiss? Is he going to back away, be rude, and disappear again? If he is doing this just to be cruel, I don’t think my heart will be able to take it. He’s not doing this to be cruel, is he? He does have good in him...

“I saw Dan’s car.” He gives me a playful smile with a wink.

I gasp, roll my eyes, and lightly smack his cheek as he snickers. My heart thrums for the possibility that what he said may not be the only reason.

Removing his hand from behind me, he uses his thumb to caress my bottom lip; he gazes from my eyes to my mouth. I can’t help the whimper that escapes. He has such an effect on me. I am under his spell, and I welcome it.

“Have you ever been kissed before?” The whisper brushes against my lips, his hooded eyes are searching to my depths.

As he brings his fingers to my ear, he slowly tucks my hair behind it, exposing the rest of my face. His fingers take their time trailing down to my neck; his palm cups the side of my face as he strokes the underline of my jaw with the pad of his thumb. My whole body feels like it’s on fire. There’s fluttering in my lower belly.

“No,” I breathe, locking my eyes on his soft, inviting pink lips, wanting nothing more than for them to be on mine.

To my despise, he slowly removes himself from me. He’s pulling away. Again. I wheeze out a depressed and frustrated sigh as he takes back his seat.

He inhales, then exhales. “I’m sorry, Elena.”

“What?” I’m feeling kind of hurt now. This is the second time we almost kissed, and it’s the second time he deliberately pulls away. At least he doesn’t seem angry this time. He’s more...disappointed?

“I can’t, Elena...I’m sorry.” He stands up to grab his shirt that’s on the table and slides it on while I’m trying to hold myself together on the corner of this couch, which may as well be a cliff.

“Why not?” I ask, dreading the truth that he may just not like me like that after all.

The thudding of his boots rings in my ears as he walks back over to me. He kneels before the couch to face me directly. Taking my hands in his, he brings them up to his lips, then kisses the inside of both my wrists, leaving tingles in their place.

“Not tonight.” I want to ask when? But then he stands up to lean over me and places the familiar, lingering, adoring kiss on my forehead. Leaving me in a daze, he walks to the door and asks, “Do you want me to take you to school tomorrow?”

All I can do is nod as he closes the door behind him.

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