Igniting the Wild Sparks, Book 3

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Chapter 31

“Isn’t he cute?” I ask, staring at the baby in my arms and grinning until I feel like my face will break.

The nurse smiles at me. “Very cute. Do you have a name for him?”

My smile falls as anxiety fills me. “No. I have some ideas, but I can’t decide by myself.”

She puts her hand on her hip. “Where is Daddy?”

Looking at the surrounding curtain, I reply, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him yet. The baby came fast. I made phone calls, but he’s not returning them. I’m worried.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. Just a typical man.” She laughs and checks the computer next to my bed.

I proudly smile. “Not him. He’s not the typical man.” I look down at our baby and whisper, “Your daddy is special.”

I hear the nurse chuckle as I watch my sleeping son. Stepping away from the computer, she pats my leg. “I’ll be right back.” I hear the door shut as she leaves, and I sit in contented silence with my baby. Our baby. He’s perfect. He even looks like him.

The curtain flutters as the door opens, and I hear footsteps entering the room. I can tell it’s him from the way he purposely walks.

He pulls the curtain open, and the hooks metallically scrape along the track. The sun from the window catches his hair, lighting it up.

I whisper to the baby, “There’s Daddy.” He walks over to the side of the bed and peers down into the bundled blanket. I glance up at him and say, “He has your nose.”

Finn pulls his lips doubtfully to the side. “So you say.”

I look back down to our baby. “You don’t think so?”

“I think it’s someone else’s nose.”

I curiously regard him. “Whose?”

“The real father’s.”

You are his father, Finn. I’ve told you that.”

He holds onto the bedrail and leans down to me. His dark eyes flash, and his voice is a switchblade. “And like I told you before, you’re only trying to trap me.”

“No!” I loudly whisper. “I would never do that! He wasn’t planned, but we made him together!”

“Like shit, we did. Surgery was supposed to prevent this… problem.” He glances down at the baby with resentment. “But someone knocked up.”

“Yes, you!”

Glaring at me, he shakes his head. “Huh-uh. You’re a whore. You’ll fuck anyone.”

I tearfully plead, “Stop it!”

Finn rolls his eyes. “Okay. It’s mine. Whatever. I’ll see it your way this time.” He suddenly looks up and stands as a huge man stalks into the room. The burly man walks over, roughly takes my baby from my arms, dumps him into the clear plastic bed, and speedily wheels him out of the room.

In shock, I hear the baby wail down the hall, and reaching out for him in vain, I scream, “No!”

Finn tears a piece of tape from a roll, and before I can dodge him, he slaps it over my mouth. He huskily taunts, “You said it’s mine. So I will get rid of the damn thing.” He grabs my wrists and holds them down against the bed. “Now, you will get that surgery.” He lets go of one of my wrists to unbuckle his belt. “But first, spread your legs for me. Just like you always do.”

I try to scream, but I can’t.

I try to thrash, but I’m pinned.

All I’m able to do is cry, the tears spilling down my face and over the tape. My baby is gone, and his father is destroying me.

Someone in the distance says, “It’s okay. Calm down. I’m here.”

I feel hands on me, holding me so I can’t move. “No!” I cry.

“Babe, you’ll rip out your stitches.” A warm, recognizable voice drifts into my mind, and I stop moving. Slowly, I try opening my heavy eyelids, seeing Val’s smiling face coming into view. Feeling stiff, I gingerly look around, but there’s no baby. My hand goes to my stomach, and it feels bloated and tender.

“There you are,” Val whispers. “Do you need some ice chips? I know your throat must hurt. The nurse said we could give you some until the doctor examines you.” I attempt to talk, but she’s right, my throat is sore and dry, so I nod, which makes my head hurt. Val uses a plastic spoon to chip out some ice from a cup on the table to feed them to me, quenching my parched throat. “Better?”

I throatily reply, “Yes. Thanks.”

She chips more ice. “Your dad is downstairs in the cafeteria.”

“What?” I petulantly shake my head, making it ache. He knows why I’m here, then. I’m sure he’s super proud of me.

“You just had major surgery. He wanted to be here.”

I stare at her in confusion, my mind foggy from the medication and heartbreak. “Major? I thought it wasn’t?”

She looks into the cup as she digs more ice. “The doctor will explain it to you.”

A nurse enters my room, dragging the curtain open as she brightly smiles. “Good morning, Miss. Beckett. I’m Liz. I want to take your vitals, and then I’ll get Dr. Raddison.” My gyno is here?

Val sets the cup down on the table. “I’ll be back, babe.”

Liz asks, “How’s the pain on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst?” Mental? One million.

Expressionless, I reply, “I don’t know. Fifteen.”

“Okay. I’ll give you more pain medication.” Make it a .45.

As she types on the computer, I blurt out, “I lost my baby.”

She sympathetically glances over at me. “I know, honey. I’m so sorry.”

I bow my head. “It was my ex-boyfriend’s. He’s gone. He wants nothing to do with me.” Why in the hell did I say anything? I sound like a psycho ex-girlfriend.

“Oh, honey. That’s terrible. Men suck.”

“He said it wasn’t his, and he took a job in Baltimore so he could get as far from me as possible.” I just can’t shut my mouth!

“Well, you had a special kind of jerk. Didn’t you?”

I scrunch the blanket under my fingers. “I didn’t think so at first. He was my everything.”

“He won’t even visit you in the hospital?”

“No.”

“Well, you’ll find your Prince Charming.”

“I don’t want anyone.” Not anymore.

The door opens, and I look up. The curtains flutter, and Rod appears from behind them, holding some flowers, appearing hesitant when he sees me with a nurse.

Liz shoots him a dirty look. “Oh. Is he the one who got you into this situation?”

Rod gapes at her before he waves his hands and the vase in the air. “I swear to God I didn’t touch her!”

I weakly smile, yet not feeling like smiling ever again. “No. He’s my friend.”

Liz touches my shoulder. “Okay. I was ready to whoop him upside the head for you.”

I mutter, “Thanks. I’ll let you know if I still need you to do that.” Rod frowns at me. I want to laugh, but my heart isn’t into it.

“Got it. I’ll get your doctor.” She gives Rod an undecided look before she leaves.

He returns her sour look as she walks past him. When she’s gone, he clears his throat before taking a restrained step towards me, as if he thinks I do believe he’s responsible for putting me in here. He says, “Hey. I just left for a little while. I didn’t think you’d wake up so soon.”

Gone. Like…

I suspiciously ask, “How long have you been here?”

“I stayed the night.” He nods to the corner of the room. “I slept in that chair.”

“You did? Why?”

Rod sets down the vase and puts his hands in his pockets. “I won’t leave you alone.”

I mumble, “You’re sweet.” He truly is. I wish I could be a better friend and gush over him for it, but I can’t.

He smirks as only Rod can. “Nah. No biggie. My sheets at home are dirty, probably crab-infested, and I didn’t get to wash them.”

Unexpectedly, I giggle, and it’s the most painful laugh ever. The pulling of my tight skin feels like an animal gnawing on me. I yelp and gasp, holding the bandaged area of my stomach.

He regretfully cringes at my reaction. “Damn it. I’m sorry. I’ll shut up.”

“You might have to,” I wheeze, holding onto the bedrail with my other hand. “Shit. That really hurts.”

The curtains ripple as the door opens again. My graying brunette, bearded doctor kindly smiles at me. “Hadley, good morning,” Dr. Raddison greets me.

“Hi.”

He notices Rod and asks, “Is it okay if I check your incision now, or do you want some privacy?”

“It’s okay. He’s with me.”

Dr. Raddison turns to Rod. “You must be Hadley’s boyfriend?”

Before Rod can respond, I say, “He is.” I give Rod a quick look, desperately imploring with my eyes for him to go along. It’s one thing to pour my sorrows out to a nurse I’ll never see again, but to tell my gynecologist that my longtime boyfriend impregnated me and then hit the road, I can’t. It’s humiliating.

Rod’s brown eyes briefly meet mine. Looking away from me, he takes his hand out of his pocket and holds it over me for Dr. Raddison. “Greg. Nice to meet you.” My heart swells for Greg Rodwell as he shakes my doctor’s hand. It’s not the first time he’s pretended to be my boyfriend. He’s the best.

“Likewise.” He lets go of Rod’s hand and looks at me. “Are you having a lot of pain?”

“Yes.”

Dr. Raddison turns to wash his hands in the sink near my bed. Over his shoulder, he says, “Because of how serious your situation had become, they planned an emergency laparoscopy since it’s less invasive. However, your fallopian tube ruptured before surgery. Therefore, it turned into an emergency laparotomy, which is a much larger incision, similar to a cesarean section, only higher. They had to stop the bleeding before you lost too much blood.”

He dries his hands and returning to my bedside, he moves the blanket, along with my gown to look at my bandages. I immediately glance at Rod, and he promptly looks at the curtain. At least I’m wearing underwear this time.

Dr. Raddison says, “I saw in your chart that a softball hit you in the stomach. Is that this bruise?”

“Yes,” I answer and then ask, “Ruptured? Is that why I blacked out?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Painful?”

“That would be a thousand on the scale.” He moves my gown back down, and I repeat, “Ruptured? Does that mean what I think it does?”

He nods. “They had to remove your right fallopian tube. I’m sorry.”

I swallow and whisper, “I can’t have children?” I blink away the tears. Why does it matter now?

“You can, but it may take longer for you to get pregnant since you only have one fallopian tube. Your left ovary might not release an egg every month.”

“Oh.”

“There’s also a higher risk of you having another ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage. The risk isn’t as high as if you still had the affected tube, but there is still an elevated risk.”

“Oh,” I say again. I don’t know what else to say.

“I would need to monitor you closely when you try for another pregnancy.” I nod say nothing. “I don’t want you trying again for at least three months, though. Give your body time to heal. On that note, no intercourse for four weeks.” He glances at Rod, and I’m horrified. I look back down to my blanket, not wanting to see Rod’s expression.

I clear my throat. “Why didn’t I notice I was pregnant? I had symptoms, I guess, with tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, but what else should’ve tipped me off?”

I look up as he explains, “Your fluctuating hormones may have had you moodier than normal. Your breasts may have been tender. Your sex drive also may have changed.” Wow. No kidding. I attacked him. I was so in need of it, or as he told Ricky, She wanted fucked. Mortifying.

“I know I messed up with my period, but an ectopic brings some pain, doesn’t it?”

Dr. Raddison leans back against the wall. “Well, you were ten-weeks pregnant, which means you conceived eight weeks ago. You should’ve had some cramps or pain, but with your injury also being on the right side, I think the bruising masked the pain somewhat. Did you have pain with intercourse?”

Embarrassed, I fleetingly peer up at Rod, but he doesn’t laugh or say anything. He only stands stoically with his arms crossed. I look back to Dr. Raddison. “Um, come to think of it, the last couple times, yes.” After decorating for Morgan’s shower, when I assaulted Finn, I was in pain. Our last time at the hotel hurt. Only, I didn’t know it was our… last time.

He says, “That’s a big red flag.”

“Oh. I thought it was because of the bruise. When the ball hit me, the pain radiated all over my stomach and sometimes down to my groin. I just assumed it was from that. I’m so dumb.”

“No. I can see how you missed it. Who hit you with the softball?”

I glance at Rod, who grimaces.

“Nice boyfriend,” my doctor jokes with a laugh.

“I didn’t mean to,” he grumbles. Poor Rod.

“I had a CAT scan of my stomach. How come that didn’t pick it up?”

“CT scans are broader in their imaging. Something hidden and small like an ectopic would be tough to find if that isn’t what is investigated. Ultrasound is best, but even they miss them.”

“So, if I had alcohol since I didn’t know I was pregnant, that didn’t affect it?”

“No. You did nothing to cause this.”

“Is there anything I can’t do now because I only have one tube?”

“Could you throw webs and swing from building to building?”

I narrow my eyes. “No.”

“Then, no. It might take you longer to conceive. If, after some time, you still can’t get pregnant, we can look into fertility drugs or IVF, if need be.”

I scowl and shake my head. “I’m not worried about that. I’m not getting pregnant anytime soon.”

“I see that you had an appointment with me this week, and you wanted to go back on the Pill? Do you still want them?” What’s the point now? I’m not spreading my legs.

“Not right now. I’m good.” I’ve got to stop saying that. I sound like...

“Okay. Let my office know, and I can give you a prescription if you change your mind.” He steps away from the wall. “You can try to eat, but only a little at a time until you’re sure you can hold it down. Get plenty of rest and no work for four to six weeks. I’ll sign any FMLA papers you have for me.”

“Thanks.” He leaves, and I dully try to understand what all he told me.

Rod says, “Well, sweetheart, that was informative.”

I snap my eyes to him. “Don’t call me that.” I give him a meaningful look, and he takes the hint. Sighing, I whisper, “Thanks for stepping up for me. I didn’t want my doctor to know I was pregnant and dumped.”

He moves closer to me and holds onto the bedrail. “It’s not your fault. That bastard had other…” He stops and fluffs up his hair, looking away from me.

“Priorities? Ambitions? I know. Other things more important than me. That’s probably why he really didn’t want to marry me. He didn’t want anything holding him back.”

Rod puts his hands on his hips and sighs. “I’d say that’s not true, but honestly, I don’t know. I thought I somewhat knew the guy.”

“I thought I knew him better than anyone else.” I blink away the tears forming and whisper, “He was my best friend.”

“I’m sorry, Hadley. I really am. I… I wish I could do something for you.”

The door slowly opens, and we both look. From behind the short wall next to the door, a ragged voice asks, “Can I come in?”

“Dad!” He peeks his head around the edge of the wall, and just the sight of him has me crying. He comes over and gently puts his arms around me, letting me sob in his arms as he kisses the top of my head. Dad whispers into my hair, “Pumpkin pie, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m so stupid, Dad.”

“Shh. No, you’re not.” I know my dad is almost as hurt as I am.

“Tell Jared I’ll still be there for him next month.” Shit. How much does Jared know? I don’t want my brother to know any of my humiliation.

“Don’t worry about that right now.”

“Finn’s gone, Dad. He moved to Baltimore. He didn’t want to stay and work it out, or at least try to. He said the baby wasn’t his. I would never cheat like he did! I didn’t want anyone else!”

“I know.” I feel him lift his head from mine, and I see Rod mouthing something to him. My dad nods against my head and says, “We’re here for you.”

Clinging to him, I cry, “He got me pregnant, cheated on me, and left!” I breathe hard and gasp, “God, it hurts so much!”

He says, “Hadley, you have staples in your stomach. Shh.”

“My heart hurts more.” He sighs over my head, and Rod looks out the window. I must be one pathetic sight.

Dad asked me if I told Bethany, but I said no. She’ll be here in a couple of weeks. No need to worry her when I’m on the mend.

Val told my coworkers I was in the hospital for an appendectomy. I was grateful she didn’t lay it all out to them.

I forced Rod to go to the game on Saturday. He said it was weird with Drake there, but he found Drake to be a real fun guy, or a mushroom, so they seemed to hit it off. Rod said everyone has questions about the change in the coaching staff. Rod only told them our coach transferred. Betsy and Shasta had asked him why Finn moved abruptly, and without me, to which Rod said they’d have to ask our former coach that question. He even suggested sending him an email at his new station.

Rod then stated Shasta is now in love with Drake, so he doubts she’ll even remember our former coach by next week.

My hospital stay lasted four days. My dad, Rod, Morgan, and Val alternated staying with me in shifts. Morgan was the one who I preferred staying with me. She didn’t talk about much and being doped up and let down, I wasn’t great for conversation, anyway. We watched TV, and she painted my nails black. I had been in between colors, and she knew what I wanted without asking.

Somewhat thoughtful, Shane came to visit me, which was nice at first. He had found out from Ivan of my condition. Thanks a lot, Jethro. He even brought me flowers.

“So, you were pregnant. That explains your weight loss.”

“I guess.”

“Where’s Wilder?”

“Baltimore.”

“Is he coming back?”

“No.”

“He broke up with you when you were pregnant?”

“No.” Technically, I broke up with him, so I wasn’t lying.

“So, you’re still together?”

“Thanks for the flowers.” Now shut your gaping hole.

Thankfully, he didn’t ask any more questions involving my private life.

When my staples were removed, and they discharged me, my dad stayed with me for a couple of days, but since he saw I was in good hands with my friends taking care of me, he went back to Annapolis. After he left, Rod took over my couch. He also took time off work to take care of me at my apartment. He said he didn’t have much use for his saved vacation time before, so I was doing him a favor. Rod...

Morgan brought us dinners, and we’d all sit on my bed, talking about what Rod and I were missing at work, which wasn’t much, except for Shasta’s nonstop chatter about Drake, much to Rod’s annoyance.

Val would stop by my apartment, bringing Rod and me lunch. The Thursday following my surgery, when Rod is out picking up more pain medication, Val and I sit on the couch, eating grilled cheese sandwiches on Texas toast. As I take a bite, she says, “I knew.”

“You knew what?”

She takes a deep breath. “I knew you were pregnant.”

I drop my sandwich, and it tumbles off my plate and into my lap. “What? How’d you know that when I didn’t even know?”

“It was your aura. You and Morgan both had a dominant orange, which I assumed was because you both were hoping to get married. Yet, Morgan’s was mixed—bright orange with silver. Yours was dark orange and gray. I asked Paloma, and she said those colors most likely represent pregnancy. Morgan had it, but then so did you. Unfortunately, gray means that you were having trouble getting pregnant, or you were and…” She drops off, regarding me sadly.

Still cynical, I ask, “You knew I was pregnant just from my aura?”

“It was that, and then I kept having more fish dreams. I keep having them until I acknowledge that someone in my life is pregnant. After Morgan told me, the number of dreams decreased, but some were still reoccurring, so that meant I missed someone. You.” Val sighs. “Also, I noticed you were losing weight, and you looked pale and tired all the time. After I had talked to my sister, I was positive. I wanted to mention my suspicions to you, but I didn’t get a chance to before things took a turn after Morgan’s reception. I’m so sorry, babe. I should’ve told you sooner.”

“It’s okay. Wow. You could see I was pregnant? I missed it. I thought I was at one point, but then I got what I assumed was my period, so then I thought I wasn’t.”

“Were you trying to get pregnant?”

I look down to the coffee table. “No, I wasn’t.”

“Oh, babe. It’ll happen for you someday when you find the right man. Maybe I’ll find you one.” I look up to see her smile, and I shake my head.

“I don’t want another man. I had one who I completely trusted, but look what happened. He cheated on me. Just like Max Warren did in high school with my best friend.”

“Not all men are like that. Some aren’t but make mistakes. You two were so cute together. I was positive he would marry you.”

He didn’t want to marry me or have kids with me. You were right about his green aura. All he cared about was his career. One time he lied and said he’d quit his job for me, so he wouldn’t be in the public eye anymore. He never meant that. All he cared about were his fans and ratings.”

“Despite his dominant green, he still was very much in love with you.”

I scoff, “Why? Did his aura change or something?”

“Yes. When a person is in love and is near the object of their affection, their aura will merge with their significant others. The energies combine to create a realm of light around the two, even leaving part of their energy with their loved one when they leave.”

I cautiously ask, “Really? He had that for me?”

“Yes. His light is still with you. I see it. That’s why it’s so hard.”

“His aura could’ve done that with anyone.”

She shakes her head. “No. It only happened when he was near you. His light only stayed with you.”

“Not Cara?”

“Not even a flare around her. Only with you. His love for you was intense, as you know. Your auras, although different, meshed beautifully.”

Looking away from her, I try not to lose it. I thought it was intense, but if his love for me was that strong, why did he mutilate me time after time?

Val says, “He left me a message with Rhonda when you were in D.C., but I hesitated calling him back for days. I didn’t know what I wanted to say to him, but I wanted to hear what he had to say. When I finally tried calling him back, he changed his number.”

I’m bewildered. “Why did he call you?”

“I don’t know. Rhonda said he was looking for you, but you had left for the weekend.”

“He was looking for me?”

“Yes. Rhonda said he sounded desperate to find you.”

“He probably had time to think and decided since he’s free now to take that job. Maybe he wanted to give me something of mine he found while packing. Whatever it is, I don’t want it.”

“No. That doesn’t sound like him. That man had it bad for you.”

I frown. “Not in a good way, I guess.”

“Why don’t you see him when you feel better?”

I immediately shake my head. “I don’t want to see him after all he accused me of doing. He was cheating on me for a long time. After he turned down my proposal, I caught him with another woman, and then he skipped town. He even denied the baby was his. That’s all I keep thinking about. They’re like a movie running through my mind nonstop.”

Uncertain, she says, “Something is missing. Something’s not right.”

“I caught him cheating on me, Val. How is that right?”

She sighs. “I don’t know, babe. That’s one thing I can’t fathom. He truly loved you.”

I pick up my sandwich, but then put it back down, not hungry anymore. “I don’t want to talk about him anymore. He left.”

He chose to start a new life, but how do I do that?

I try to sleep, but I can’t. It’s especially hard trying to sleep in the bed where we made love so many times. I smell him on the pillows. I changed the sheets, but he’s still here.

The dreams… The dreams won’t let up, nightmares or otherwise. They’re always about him. The sweet dreams are the hardest because that’s how I remember him. He was so loving. So charming. So cocky. So sexy. So playful. So wild.

What’s more, the memories are squeezing what’s left of the life out of me.

On his couch, as I straddled him while his fingers were inside me, he pleaded over my lips. “Becks, I can’t wait anymore. I need you.”

Impulsively, I said, “I need you more. Make love to me, Finn.”

He gently pushed on my legs, and I stood up. As I fixed my jeans, he swept me into his arms, and before I could squeal, his lips were on mine. When he stole his lips from mine to take me into his bedroom, I kissed his neck, sucking along the way. I wanted the world to see Finn Wilder was mine.

Setting me down, we kissed as we hurriedly undressed each other, my hands shook I wanted him so much. I think his were, too. Before taking off his jeans, he reached into his nightstand drawer, pulling out a condom. Naked and feeling so self-conscious, I laid down on his bed, more nervous than my first time having sex. I was anxious about him seeing me naked. Unequivocally, this was the man I wanted to marry, and this meant so much more.

With his shirt off, I watched as he pulled down his underwear. I hadn’t seen him naked before, either. I was in awe. I don’t know how I waited for months to make love to him. Although his body is a beautiful work of art, his soul sparked my love for him.

I watched him put on the condom, and when he was ready, he got on the bed, covering my body with his, and kissed me, not holding back anymore. I loved it. With a hand and a knee, he pushed my legs apart. My heart was beating brutally inside my chest.

“I can’t wait anymore, Finn,” I breathlessly said, robbing what he had said to me, but still intending every word.

He whispered, “Make love to me, Becks.” Nodding, I gripped onto his arms, and he firmly drove into me, flipping my world upside down. We both loudly gasped and groaned as we reveled in the first-time feel of each other.

Panting through a smile, Finn said, “Next to falling in love with you, that was the best thing I’ve ever felt in my life. I love you, baby.” That was the first time he called me that, too. It warmed me. It made me feel treasured.

My fingers went into his hair as I stared into his chocolate brown eyes. “It was for me, too. I’ll forever love you, Finnigan.”

His breathing stuttered. “Fuck. Call me that again.”

“Finnigan.” He growled and kissed me as we vigorously moved in an urgent rhythm, not able to slow down as we clung to each other.

Feverishly sliding in and out of me, he gasped, “Becks! Oh, fuck! I can’t… I’m sorry.” But he was sending me to my own end.

“Finn!” I grabbed his magical brown hair as we loudly moaned and passionately came together in one of the most powerful moments of my life.

And I still can’t escape it.

My moods are erratic, and I’m not even pregnant… anymore. One minute I hate him for everything he did to me, but then the next, I miss him and think of everything we had together. Those times are unbearable. Those are the times I can’t get out of bed, eat, take a shower, or care if the building explodes.

Rod tries to help me, but I don’t want help. I want my life back. I want answers. I want to go to Baltimore and wait in the parking lot for him.

The following Saturday, when Rod is at a game, I take a drive. I can’t go near the softball field yet, so I drive to another place that I never thought I’d want to be, either

I get out of my car and walk up to the cinnamon-brown building with the gorgeous stained-glass windows. As soon as I step into the main room, the memories flood me. I stand frozen, unsure if I should flee or take a seat.

Gulping, I slide into the last pew and pull down the padded knee bench. I clasp my hands and lean my forehead onto them.

I don’t even know where to start with God. Why? That’s my big question. Just… why? Why did he not want me as his wife or mother of his children? Why did he cheat on me? Why did I have to walk in on them? Why did I get pregnant when we weren’t trying to? Why did I lose our baby? Why did he leave? Why did he accuse me of cheating? Why wasn’t I enough for him? Why didn’t he love me as I loved him? Why?

Am I being punished for having sex outside of marriage and conceiving a child, or for not being baptized? I’m so lost. I wish I had answers to all my questions.

Sniffing over my folded hands, I realize I’m crying as I question God. I instinctively search for my key to hold, but it’s not there anymore, causing more tears to flow freely. People trickle in, but I don’t even care who sees me crying.

Sitting back on the bench, I peer around to see if people are laughing at me. Strange enough, no one is. And even stranger yet, it doesn’t matter what people think of me. It just doesn’t anymore.

The sunlight etches the glass into colors floating over the walls and floor, somewhat lifting my lifeless spirit momentarily. I’m not doing cartwheels, but it’s enough that I’m still not openly weeping.

I sit through Mass with tears in my eyes. It’s odd because as hard as it is here, it’s also comforting. The man I was in love with sat on these benches, praying. He prayed with me once here. For what? Was I in any of his prayers?

Shaking hands with those around me, I try to smile. These people probably shook hands with my ex. My ex. That’s difficult to swallow.

People sing around me, but I’m unable to warble joyfully. Even if I could carry a tune, my heart refuses to burst forth with song.

That evening after the game, Rod sits next to me on my bed. In a fetal position, my back is to him as I stare at the wall. Mass was exhausting, with the constant questioning of God and dodging nonstop memories.

We lounge in silence for some time before he says, “You can talk to me, Hadley.”

Into my pillow, I mumble, “I don’t want to.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“You don’t have to be anymore. You can go home. I’ll be fine.” Fine…

Leaning closer to me, he squeezes my shoulder. “You need to talk. Shit, I’d scream if I were you. You can’t hold it all inside. It’ll drive you insane. You’ll become one of those women who wear socks with their flip-flops, mow their grass while wearing an umbrella hat, sit at McDonald’s to people-watch, sign documents with crayon, dress their hamster in a tuxedo, give surgical masks for Halloween, consider Pluto a dwarf planet, and who cuss out American Idol judges and/or sleeping children.”

“What the fuck?”

I feel the bed dip as he sits back. “All fact.”

“It must’ve sucked to grow up with psychologists for parents.”

“Am I anywhere near the vicinity of normal? I’m serious now. Let it out.”

I quietly sigh. “I hate that I feel anything. I want to be numb. It hurts all over. My stomach hurts, and my bones ache. It even hurts to put my hair into a ponytail.” I softly gasp and whisper, “I don’t know how to live without him.”

“I know, but he’s a dickhead. Get mad! Yell about him! Tell me how much he pissed you off! Bitch about how he fucked you over! He broke your heart, but don’t let him break your spirit!”

Feeling ignited, I steadily push myself up and turning to him, I seethe, “My spirit? He took my spirit with him. It’s not even here to break!” I kneel up, and he nods to encourage me. “He took so much from me! He broke my trust! He gave up on our love without a fucking fight! He said he’d never let me go! He’s a damn liar!”

Rod goads, “He did, didn’t he?”

“Yes! We created a baby, but he didn’t care! He didn’t even care that I was having surgery in the hospital to remove our baby!”

He sits straighter. “What a fucking bastard!”

“I want to strangle him! I want to destroy his car! I want to set his fucking bridge on fire! I want to shave his head!”

“Shave his head?” Rod laughs in disbelief.

I keep spewing, “I want to force him to change that damn tattoo, scrubbing my name from his chest! I want to saw his snowboard in half! I want to push his dirt bike down a hill! I want to tear up his fucking autographed pictures!” My hands go to my head as I pant in anger. “I want to… I want to…”

“Knee him in the cheating balls and punch him in his conceited mouth!”

I point at him and shout, “Yes! Been there! Done that!”

The pictures on my nightstand catch my eye, and I reach over to pick up the one of me riding him piggyback at the park. “Why did you fuck her? I loved you!” I whine at the picture but then snarl, “Now, I hate you. I want you to hurt, but it wouldn’t come close to how you ransacked me.” I twist, which pulls my tightened, healing skin as I hurdle the picture across the room, smashing it against the wall with a loud crash of metal and glass. That felt good.

Turning back, I select the one of us at the racetrack, kissing at sunset, as I hovered over him on the bleacher. I sneer, “We were supposed to be forever.” I wing it to the wall where I obliterated the other one.

“You’re way off, Hadders,” Rod teases about my aim. I then pluck the one of us kissing at Busch Gardens. I wipe the tears away, but sob, “I thought you loved me.” I squeal as I pitch that one at the wall, which results in a resonant blow.

I pick up the last one, a picture of him laughing. God, how I loved his laugh. Now, it’s like he’s laughing at me. “Fuck you, Finn Wilder.” I chuck it at the wall, and it shatters, crunching as I collapse onto the bed, screaming into my pillow in relief and frustration.

“I hope you have a vacuum cleaner,” Rod finally says with a giggle.

I rub my hand on my wet cheeks and slowly roll over, staring at his blue-jeaned leg next to me. Calmer, I discern, “It’s strange. The ironic thing is he couldn’t get me pregnant when he was trying because…”

Rod sighs. “Because he already had gotten you pregnant.”

“And it happened when he wasn’t trying to knock me up.” I glance up at Rod. “You know what depresses me the most?”

“That there will be glass in your dresser and in your underwear for a year?”

I halfheartedly smack his leg. “Besides that. With me losing a tube, and half of my fertility, it’s almost like it’s Finn’s final retribution. Payback. He didn’t want me to have a baby, so he made damn sure I’ll never have one now. Just like in my nightmare.”

“Hadley, no. The doctor said you can still get pregnant.”

“My heavy, irregular periods and the fact that I’m getting older, Rod, they’re against me, too. He took everything from me. Marriage, a baby, his love.”

“No, he didn’t. He took nothing from you. Don’t let him win like that. You’re a survivor, Hadley Beckett. Your life will go on.”

“What if I don’t want it to?”

He grabs my hand and firmly says, “Don’t you say that. You have so many reasons to live your life without him.”

“It doesn’t feel like it right now.”

“It’ll take time.”

“In the meantime, I grow old without him. No marriage. No children.”

Rod lets go of my hand, crosses his arms, and cuttingly inhales. “I don’t know how you’d feel about it, but…but if you really want a baby, I’ll… I’ll give you one.”

Not sure that I heard him right, I peer up at him, puzzled. I expect him to be joking, but he’s not. His face is solemn. “What?”

He nervously flicks his eyes to me. “I know you want a baby. I’ll do that for you. I’ll give you a baby, Hadley. I want to see you happy.” I’m in shock. I don’t know what to say. “I know it sounds… crazy, but I’ll make it happen for you. I promise. I’ll keep trying until you’re pregnant.”

“Greg,” I quietly utter, astounded.

“I’m not sure how we’d work out the… arrangements. You know, I mean, I’m not sure about how having… sex… with you would go. I-I mean, I know I’d have to fuck you, but… I don’t know if I could. It might be too weird.”

“Wow. I don’t know what to say.”

“I’d do anything for you, Hadley. I just want to see you smile again. I know he hurt you by refusing to get married. I wouldn’t do that. I’ll even marry you if that’s what you wanted.” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “I’m not sure what kind of marriage it’d be. I know you could never love me the way you loved him.”

I blink up at him as tears cloud my eyes again. “Greg, you would really do that for me?”

He sincerely nods. “I would.” A small smirk lights his mouth. “I’m sure I could have sex with you if maybe we were in the dark, or I wore a bag over my head.” He promptly tries to backtrack, “Not because you’re ugly—because you’re not! You’re pretty. Extremely pretty. I just don’t know if… shit. I sound like a douche.” I smile at his struggle. “I could even jack off into one of those turkey baster things if that would be better for you.” My eyes widen at the mental picture I suddenly have of that. “I’ll jack off in a clinic. I mean, behind closed doors. In a cup. Shit. I am a fucking douche. I don’t know. Whatever works.”

I giggle until the tears fall, and laugh until I snort, which makes him laugh. With my stomach aching, I catch my breath and slowly try to sit up, and he helps me. “So, to be clear, you’re offering to knock me up and marry me?”

Rod brushes at his hair and sheepishly looks at me. “Yeah. Whichever order.”

“You do know that I’m an older woman?”

He relaxes slightly. “By what? Seven years?” He shrugs. “So what? It’s hot.”

“I love you. You know that?”

Rod scoffs, “Um, no.”

“Well, I do. You’ve been such a great friend to me, and I grossly underestimated you, Gregory Rodwell. I’m sorry about that. You’re the only person who can make me laugh, despite this shitty mess.”

“Well, you did throw a lot of pictures.” I giggle at the mess on the other side of the room. He laughs and grabs my hand again. “I’ll always be here for you, Hadders.”

I look into his light brown eyes. “You’re one of my best friends, Greg.”

He arches an eyebrow and grins. “So, you’re promoting me to BFF?” Dropping my hand, he puts his arm around me. Pulling me to him, he slyly asks, “Does that mean we’re having sex? I get to see you naked?”

I smile. “No.”

“Only with the lights out?”

“No.”

“The turkey baster then?”

“Eww. No.”

“I don’t know how else to… you know… deliver the goods.”

“Shut up!” I shriek with a giggle. I lean my head on his shoulder and say, “I don’t want a baby, but thank you for the offer.”

“Wait a minute. That’s what you’ve wanted.”

I’m silent until I quietly admit, “I wanted his baby. I wanted a life with him. Everything. Now, I have nothing.”

“No, you don’t have nothing. You have people who love you.”

“I thought I had the epic love.”

“I thought you did, too. He wanted you back. He told me.”

“When?”

“When he texted me, wanting to meet with you. I went in your place.”

That doesn’t surprise me. “What did he say?”

“He wanted me to help him get you back. He said he loved you, and he’d wait as long as he had to.”

“Oh.”

“He was giving you time without pressuring you to talk to him. I thought he was genuine. I don’t know how he played me.”

“Right. More lies. I wonder if he would’ve acted differently if he had known I was pregnant. Maybe he would’ve said yes to my proposal. Maybe he wouldn’t have left or cheated on me. Maybe he would’ve left me sooner.”

“Don’t go speculating. We don’t know what he would’ve done.”

“He told me he didn’t want to lose me. He actually proposed. I don’t get it. We even sat and cried together. It was cathartic, in a way.”

“I don’t know. I wish I could tell you why he took off and said those things. Maybe he was lying again.”

“Oh, God. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.”

Rod strokes my arm. “Regardless, I’m here for you. I’ll be your baby daddy.” I laugh and shake my head against his shoulder. He says, “If you ever change your mind, tell me. I don’t know how that’d work out if I met someone. I guess we’d have threesomes.” I pinch his arm, and he swats me, giggling with me.

Rod asks, “Am I still sleeping on the couch? Baby making or not, we could still have a romp, couldn’t we?”

I elbow him. “Not tonight, Rod. I have a huge gash in my stomach.”

“That’s hot, too.”

I sit back and say, “Greg Rodwell, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”

He wickedly smirks. “I have a list of things you could do, starting with unbuckling my belt.”

“You’re a slut.”

“So, I’ve been told.”

Becoming emotional again, I tearfully giggle and hug one of the true heroes in my life.

In the morning, there’s a knock at the door. I lie in bed as I hear Rod answer it. I can only hear his muffled voice. I don’t want any visitors. I want to stay in bed for the rest of my life. I’m sure that would work.

We spent two hours cleaning up my tantrum last night as best as we could. I’ll be forever wearing shoes in my bedroom.

I pull the blanket up over my head and pray that it’s someone for Rod. Highly doubtful since it’s my apartment.

From under the blanket, I hear my bedroom door push open and soft footsteps fall on the carpet. A hand goes on my shoulder, and I try not to move. Maybe they’ll think I’m dead and go away. The blanket slides away, and I tug it back to me.

I growl, “Go away.”

“Not happening.”

Floored, I throw the blanket off, and Bethany smiles at me. “I’m your wakeup call. Get up.”

“Beth!” I carefully sit up, and she sits down next to me. Hugging her, I cry.

She says, “Your dad had to tell me what happened.”

“I didn’t…”

“That’s crazy, Hadley, for you to think you can’t tell me. Where’s your suitcase? You’ll need some clothes.”

I pull away. “Where are we going?” Another kidnapping?

“Wherever you want to go.”

I frown and slump. “I’m not up for a trip.”

“And this isn’t up for discussion.”

“I can’t afford a trip since I had this surgery. The bills will be horrible.”

“Don’t you worry about it. The trip is already taken care of.”

“You?”

“Your dad. Now, come on. I’ll help you get dressed. Where do you want to go?”

“There’s only one place I want to see.”

We check into our hotel before we stop at a grocery store, where I pick up what I need. She then drives us a short distance to Henlopen State Park.

“I still don’t know why you want to be here. You could’ve gone anywhere, Hadley.”

“I want to be here.”

“Why? It’ll bring up memories for you. That’s why you won’t go to my house.” I feel bad that we’re not too far from Bethany’s, and I’m making her stay in a hotel with me.

“No, I didn’t pick your house because you need a mini-vacation, too,” I fib, somewhat. I can’t sleep in her guest room.

We walk to the shore, where Finn drew a heart in the sand for me. She sits down on the sand and advises, “You have to watch your incision with the saltwater and sand.”

“I know. I’ll be okay.” I twirl the stems of the white and red roses I have in my hand. Stepping out of my shoes, I walk to the water as Bethany looks on. I wade into the sudsy water until it’s up to my shins. I know the roses will most likely wash ashore, but I think this will help me to find closure.

I pluck the white rose and whisper, “To my baby. I’m so sorry I couldn’t hold you in my arms. I didn’t know you, yet I loved you. We wanted you, even if that’s not the impression you had in your last minutes of life. I know your father loved you, too. I truly believe that. He created you with love. That’s one thing I’m positive. I felt his love those three years. He couldn’t pretend that. I know your daddy truly loved us. Though, he didn’t know the preciousness he had in front of him. I swear he knew we made you because after we did, his hand was always on my stomach, and after the ball hit me, he kissed around my bruise, essentially kissing you. I’m naming you True because, through his lies, there was truth within him when he gave me you. God bless you, True Beckett Wilder. I love you, my baby.”

I toss the rose into the water, watching it ducking into the water and bobbing on the waves.

Holding the red rose, I whisper, “To you, Finn. Sparks. I know you loved me. You made mistakes. I made mistakes. But together, we made a miracle. Not just by creating our baby together, but with our love. You were the one person in my life I counted on. More than even my dad. I thought I knew you. You made me feel loved, no matter our separate addresses or marital status. You were mine as I was yours. I loved you more than I’ve ever loved anyone. You were my heart and soul. My missing puzzle piece. My key. The stars in my night sky. How do I learn to live without you? How do I get past the cheating? The things you accused me of doing? I want to forgive you. I want to hate you. I want to love you. I want to remember you. I want to forget you.”

“This way?” I asked as I attempted to bob the soccer ball on my knee. I bounced it once before it shot off my knee and onto the ground.

“Sort of.” Finn laughed. “You’re supposed to keep it going a little longer.”

“I tried!”

He picked up the ball and grinned. “No, this way.” He expertly popped the ball several times on his knee with cool and confident ease. He then handed me the ball back. “Try again.”

“Why? What’s the point?” I giggled. “You’ll just laugh at me.”

“No, I won’t. I promise.” He crossed his arms while arranging his face into a serious and studious expression. I pursed my lips at him to hide my smile, but I couldn’t. However, he was a better actor since he didn’t crack a smile.

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll try again.” I lifted my knee and dropped the ball. I popped it twice that time, but it hit my knee at an angle and bounced toward Finn. I put my hands over my mouth and laughed.

Without a smile, he picked up the ball. “Nice job, Hadley. David Beckham should be scared.”

“Did you know he’s married to a Spice Girl?”

“I guess.” Finn rolled his eyes as I giggled more.

“So, he soon might be out of a job?”

He bit his unsteady lip, and I noticed he had a hard time keeping a straight face. “Yep. I’ll interview you instead.”

I teased, “Like I’d talk to you.”

“Is that right?” His eyes slid over me as his bottom lip disappeared into his mouth to keep from grinning.

“Yep.” I was already stealing his words then.

Regaining his stern composure, he cocked his head. “Not at all? Would you at least wave to me in the press box?”

“Maybe if you were in charge of refilling my drink.”

He lost his unruffled composure and laughed. “Thanks!”

Stepping forward, I patted his stubbled cheek and struggled not to laugh. “I’ll remember the little people.”

Still grinning, he handed me the ball. “Come on, Becks. Try again.”

“Becks?”

“Yeah. Becks. His nickname. Get with the program!” His smile was contagious.

Enlightened, I nodded. “Oh. Aren’t you funny?”

“I don’t know, Becks. Am I?”

“Nope. I changed my mind. You’re pure smartass.”

He heartily laughed and threw his hands out in defense. “What?” His eyes widened, and he declared, “Hey, it even goes with your last name!” Overjoyed at his observation, he laughed again, his handsome face gleaming with humor. “That’s perfect!”

I tried to fake a frown. “Sure.”

“Don’t get discouraged. One more time, please?”

“One more time,” I huffed. I bounced the ball, and it again dashed away. I dodged after it, but so did he. As I dove for it, he grabbed me instead, and we fell to the ground. When I tried to escape, I couldn’t. He was too strong, and I was giggling so hard. He hovered over me, his brown eyes ensnaring mine. Though I wanted to wait, I so much wanted to make love to him, to feel his love for me in return with our shared passion.

I faux pouted, “You’re mean.”

He smiled and over me, he whispered, “And you’re so beautiful, Becks.”

“You must need glasses,” I teased, not yet knowing he wore glasses. He shook his head as his eyes glided over my face.

To deflect his intent stare, I playfully asked, “You’re sticking with that name?”

Drifting closer to me, he nodded as his smiling lips grazed mine. “You’re my Becks.” My hands went into his dazzling, blondish hair, and he kissed me on the chilly ground.

I pulled back. “So, that makes you my Spice Girl wife?” I laughed, but something filled his eyes. Panic? Dread?

He abruptly stood, helping me up, as well. “I forgot I have to make a phone call. Can you handle the ball by yourself for a minute?” He slanted his head and grinned.

“Definitely a smartass.”

“And don’t you forget it.” He leaned down to kiss me, whispering, “You have no idea what you’ve done to me. I love you so much.”

I smiled against his lips. “I love you, too. Maybe even more than soccer.”

His lips skimmed mine. “Smartass.” I giggled at him for stealing my remark before he gave me another kiss.

As I watched him swiftly walk to his car, I realized right then I wanted to marry Finn Wilder, to put a ring on his finger and vow to him my love and fidelity for eternity. I wondered if he felt the same way about me.

I guess he didn’t.

I may never forgive him, but I’ll never stop loving him. He’s in my blood, as Morgan said. He’s a part of who I am, and I’ll never forget him.

Trying for three years to find a nickname for him, only to come up with Sparks on a whim.

His coming to my rescue when I was lying on the ground after the ball hit me.

How he kissed me on our first date before asking me to be his girlfriend. Then asking me to be his girlfriend again when he gave me his class ring and jacket.

His magical color-changing hair that mystified me.

The feel of his fingers possessively sliding in between mine.

How he put me up against the wall and kissed me after our fight at the club.

Giving himself as an Easter gift.

Our interview on the softball field when I kissed him.

Our phrase-stealing game and his one-upping me with lighthouses.

The way he hid behind his sunglasses.

The way he hid me from everyone.

Daydreaming about sailboats and playing on the beach at Bethany’s.

His surprising me by showing up to Morgan’s reception and dancing with me.

Giving me my ring the night we conceived True.

Kissing me or giving me sweet, secret smiles while he was supposed to be working.

How he swept me up after his race and enthusiastically kissed me.

Slow dancing at Chimborazo and in the dugout at his high school.

Kissing in the rain.

His astonishing tattoo dare that he’ll always have.

The feel of his full lips kissing mine.

When he gave me the key to his heart for my birthday.

Having loud sex with him at the hotel.

His admitting he was in love with me on our second date.

Laughing together.

How he finally confessed his secret to me while we made love.

Kissing my bruise and our baby.

Watching him drive as I drove him crazy.

The way he and my dad would bond, watching games together on TV.

Teasing me about my warped pancakes.

How he looked like a bad-boy college professor, wearing his glasses.

Calling him Finnigan and cranking him up.

The feel of his scruff beneath my fingers.

My Rocky Steps dare and how he danced at the top.

His love for Black Veil Brides and how every song reminds me of him.

His cool cockiness fused with unadulterated insecurity.

His unwavering love and devotion… or so I thought.

“Do you think she’d like some water?” Hearing a man’s voice, I stopped crying to look up at him. He was the familiar-looking, handsome man sitting diagonally from where we were seated, and whom I noticed when we came into the ER. He had been watching TV as we took our seats in the waiting room.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks, and the man smiled at me. I’d seen him somewhere before, though I couldn’t place where.

“That’d be nice,” my dad replied. “Thanks.” He took the cup and said, “I’m not from around here, but I’ve seen you on TV. Don’t you do Sports on one of the news channels?”

“Yeah. I do.” He held his hand out. “Finn Wilder.”

“Adam Beckett.” Dad shook Finn’s hand while Finn looked right at me with big, shining brown eyes. Oh. Finn Wilder, sportscaster. I remember seeing him on the news. My dad nodded at me. “This in-pain young lady is my daughter, Hadley.”

Finn’s eyes sparkled as he looked at me. “Nice to meet you, Hadley. I’m Finn. How’d you break your wrist?”

I sniffed and tried pulling myself together. “I fell. It was stupid. I wasn’t watching where I was walking.”

“You slipped on ice, pumpkin pie.”

I asked Finn, “How do you know it’s broken?”

“I can tell how it’s swollen. I’ve been there three times. Twice on my left, once on my right.”

I noticed the cast on his arm. “How’d you break your wrist this time?”

“It’s actually my arm this time. Snowboarding. I took a left instead of a right and slammed into a tree. Oops.”

“That had to hurt.”

“Yeah, but it’s not the first time breaking my arm, so I knew what to expect. Have you broken a bone before?”

I shook my head. “Virgin.” I cringed at how idiotic that sounded.

He beamed a sexy, lopsided smile at me, and I was hooked. He was gorgeous. His brown eyes captivated me, his smooth, deep voice was hypnotic, and his smile was bright and glorious. Looking at him distracted me somewhat from my pain.

His phone rang and suddenly frowning, he apologized and answered it. My dad leaned over to me and whispered, “I think he likes you.”

“Shut up,” I grumbled.

“Listen to your old dad. I know some things. He can’t stop staring at you.”

“Maybe he’s a deranged stalker.”

“Maybe I should give him your phone number.”

“Right. Like he’d want to waste his time. Isn’t he the one on the news who does those stunts and dares?”

“From what I’ve seen while here.” He chuckled. “How much you want to bet that you just met your future husband?”

“Now, you’re insane.”

He laughed and whispered, “Finn Wilder will be my son-in-law. How about that?”

I glanced over at Finn, who was hanging up his phone and watching me. With my wrist throbbing, I still smiled at him and blinked away.

What did Adam Beckett know?

I toss the red rose into the water. “I want to breathe again. Someday, I might. Until then, I’m twisting in the wake of what you left behind when I dared you the ultimate dare and lost. You win. Goodbye, Finnigan Robert Wilder. Even though I can’t understand how you hurt me the way you did, I’ll forever love you, Sparks. Beyond the stars. That’s the bane that I must live with, along with the scars I bear. Somehow, I’ll go on without you.”

I hope.

Outside, children play in the parking lot. Playing what? I don’t know, nor care. I lie here, waiting for something, but nothing ever comes. Just more minutes. More hours. More days. More loneliness.

The sun still shines the same; the air I breathe is the same. I do the same mundane routine without fail. Every day. That’s all. I live my life day by day. Nothing more. Always less.

My light died.

My spark left.

Yet, the world keeps on spinning. And all I can do is wish it would stop, so I can jump off.

Getting out of bed is a chore every damn morning. Often, I wish I didn’t wake up at all, but I do. How is this fair? How do I go on with my life? My phone rings, but I don’t answer it. My doorbell rings, but unless they have a key, nobody gets in here. They all see me at work, so why must they bother me at home, too?

Killing my alarm clock, I rise, but no shine. Not anymore. I sit on the edge of my bed until I find the passing strength to stand. Though, I’ve been late for work plenty or I give up and don’t go in at all, much to the chagrin of my boss and coworkers, who call me incessantly, leaving me messages of concern and love. Love. Who needs it?

I know they care, but they can’t return the spark to my soul, in my heart, or inside my womb. Or at least, near it.

I robotically walk out of my room. Going into my bathroom, I flip the switch, and the stark light buzzes my mind like angry bees in a hive. Squinting, I hesitantly peer into the mirror. It’s been months, yet feels like years since I’ve been able to look into a mirror. I’ve aged. My cheeks are sallow, my skin is pasty, my hair is limp, my eyes are even duller than usual, and the lavender bags under them could hold a Buick.

Leaning on the sink, I intently study my reflection. What happened to me? The life has literally been sucked out of my body, surgically and otherwise. I’m old, faded wallpaper that needs to be replaced.

As I was.

I stare for a long time, assessing. Deciding. Executing.

It’s time to get rid of the dried-up wallpaper. Death is just a heartbeat away now. My existence is barely a step above. I’m just a shell of what I used to be.

If I ever was anything at all.

Something has got to change.

Reaching for a rubber band, I put up my hair, and I sigh at the pallid face that emerges from the veil of hair.

I open the vanity drawer and grab what I need. Lifting my ponytail, I assess my face this way for any differences I may not have noticed.

I raise the scissors, and the blades reflect the light before I cut through. When I’m finished, I’m left with a long bundle of light brown hair.

What have I done?

Looking up from the ponytail in my hand to the mirror, I see a different person. I don’t recognize the woman standing here.

Then the reality sets in of what I did.

And I slowly smile.

I am Hadley Beckett.

Hear me fucking roar.

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