Forty-Two Minutes

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Chapter Nine

NICK

I'm the first one up. I usually am. Normally, by this time, I would have already downed two cups of coffee, fed and watered the horses, and then come back up to the main house for some breakfast. I've been up for more than an hour and I'm still on my first cup of coffee which is now cold. I keep finding myself staring out the window, losing my train of thought.

I can't stop thinking about finding Lexy on the porch last night. Her voice keeps playing over and over in my head. I can't seem to shake the loneliness and grief in the words of her song or the hopelessness in her eyes. What happened to her? I wish I didn't want to know. I don't like it. I barely know her and want to keep it that way.

I'm relieved when Becca comes into the kitchen. I've been waiting for her. I need her to take the weight of Lexy's pain from me.

"Morning." She brushes her hand over my shoulders as she passes on her way to the coffee pot. She's one of the few I'm comfortable being close to. "Rough night?" she asks softly.

She thinks it's about Megan, I realize. I wish it was and feel guilty that it's not. "Didn't sleep much." Turning away from the window, I lean back against the counter. "Was up a lot with Glory."

She stirs creamer and sugar into her coffee. "How's she doing?"

"Making progress. She's eating and drinking which is a good sign. Still having a hard time letting people get close to her though. Gotten kicked and charged at a couple times." I've got the bruises to prove it, too.

Becca smiles knowingly. She'd been working with abused horses for years and knows what to expect. "That's normal, especially with all she's been through. Just be patient with her. She'll be eating out of your hand in no time."

"Yeah," I murmur, distracted. I know I have to tell her about her niece and am not sure how she's going to take it. "When I was up last night, I ran into Lexy on the porch."

She turns to look at me, her expression worried. "Was she alright?"

"Not really." I can still see her tears but don't mention them. I wouldn't want someone talking about that kind of moment for me. It was so personal. I don't think anyone was supposed to ever know. "She has a lot of questions about her mom."

"I'll bet she does," she says sadly, shaking her head. "What did you tell her?"

"Not much. I figured it should come from you." Since my old cup of coffee is cold, I dump it out in the sink, glance over my shoulder at her. "I showed her where you and your sister carved your names into the post under the porch."

The kitchen gets very quiet. Too quiet. Feeling the abrupt shift, I turn and look at her, and see she's gone very still, a dark, haunted expression on her face. She seems to be shrinking into herself. I have the thought that if she could hide in a corner she would do it. Her eyes are dilated, unfocused, as if she's somewhere else, someone else. Someone she doesn't want to remember.

"We spent hours under there," she murmurs, staring painfully into the memory. "Sometimes days." Her skin has gone pale. Even her voice sounds different, detached and hollow, and makes my stomach clench. She holds her coffee mug with both hands as if suddenly cold even though the day is already warm.

I don't know what to say. It hurts me to see Becca like this. She suddenly looks very young and scared and small. I hadn't known that. She'd never told me before. As close as we are, there were some parts of her life she rarely ever talks about. But now with Lexy here, I have a feeling a lot more was going to be coming to the surface. I hope they both had the strength to handle it. "Will you be okay telling her everything that happened out here?"

"I'm going to have to be," she says, forcing herself to come back. "She deserves to know the truth." She pulls her hands unsteadily through her hair. I notice they're trembling and stand a little closer to her. "I'm also hoping she can fill in the blanks about what my sister has been doing all these years."

I remember the devastation I saw in Lexy's eyes the night before. I just want to understand what makes her do it. I have a sick, sinking feeling this conversation is going to be much more painful than either of them was ready for. "Do you want me to stick around?"

She let out her breath as if trying to gather up strength. "No, I'll be alright, honey." She touches my cheek and gives me a weak smile that pierces my heart because I know how much she's hurting. "Thanks for being there for her last night."

I don't deserve her gratitude. I hadn't wanted to help Lexy and had resented her needing me to. I don't have the strength to save us both from drowning. I can barely keep my head above water. I can't tell Becca that though. She has enough to deal with.

I nod, not quite able to meet her eyes. I feel like I should be careful of my movements. The air is brittle and much too sad. I'm quiet as I pour coffee into my thermos and then turn back and look at her. She's still standing in the same spot, deep in thought. I've never seen her look so broken and fragile, like a lost little girl.

"I'm going to get out to the horses," I say, and move towards the back door. It's very crowded in here with old ghosts and painful memories.

Becca doesn't answer, but I don't expect her to. I leave her alone so she can go talk with a niece she just met about a past that is still very much alive and present in this house.
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