Chapter 12- Everything
“Be all my sins remembered.”
Why wasn’t she blinking?
She’d been staring for the last minute and twenty seconds without so much as a flicker.
I considered waving my hand in front of her to see if she reacted, but the levity of our situation wasn’t suitable.
“Landon,” Sophia murmured, finally blinking. “I’m dying over here.”
My fingers were tapping incessantly against my knee, wired. I focused on the girl sitting cross-legged in front of me. She deserved the truth. She deserved to know why she was assaulted for doing nothing more than daring to be my friend. It had landed her in the hospital.
I’d made her cry.
“I’m going to give you the whole gory tale,” I warned. One last chance to run. One last chance for her to only know me as she did, without the X-ray vision into my soul.
She grabbed one of my pillows and settled onto my comforter. “I’m not going anywhere.” Is that a promise?
I rested my head back against the head board. The only light in the room was the moonlight streaming from the window. I tried to structure what I would say, tried to phrase the darkness into a tidy synopsis.
“My early childhood can be summed up in one word: tense. My father is CEO of his own marketing agency, and my mother was a struggling actress. They fell wildly in love when they were young and got married, odds be damned. Dad worked and Mom stayed at home, taking care of me.
She was a good mother. She’d take us on all these spontaneous trips, introduce me to the most colorful people.
She had a big heart.” I paused, allowing the early memories of my mother to flourish in my mind’s eye. It was so rarely that I ever freed her from the prison of my past.
“Things with her began to deteriorate by the time I was nine. Dad worked every second he could and was less patient with Mom’s quirks. Mom was lonely. Anyone who knew my mother could tell you she was a sensitive woman. She wasn’t like normal people. When life hit her, she didn’t bend back into place. Pieces of her broke off with each blow. When I was ten, she found out Dad was cheating on her with a coworker. She went downhill fast. They fought all the time, these ugly screaming matches.”
Sophia was riveted, clutching the pillow to her chest. I might as well have been telling her a bedtime story instead of the fucked-up history of the sordid Sinclair clan. She frowned. “Why’d you stop?”
My lips twitched in amusement. Bringing out my private file to air should’ve felt foreign and wrong, but it didn’t. No, it felt like I’d finally found the person I was supposed to tell.
“Mom started forgetting things, like taking me to school or making sure there was food in the house. She would spend hours in her room, working on whatever caught her fancy. But her favorite spot…” I hesitated. My hands were restless, pulling at the leather cuffs around my wrists and wiggling under the bands. “Her favorite spot was in front of our house, where a small hill slopes in front of a lake. We would lie down on the grass and she would teach me to read the stars. Mom was convinced I had stars in my eyes. When she started deteriorating, she would sit out there without food or water, just watching the water. Dad…” I snorted. “Dad couldn’t be concerned with his wife. He was too busy with whatever piece he had at the office.
“One day, Jesse’s Mom was driving me home early from school. I had a fever and the school couldn’t reach Mom, so they called my first emergency contact. Mrs. Kendall waited in her car and told me she’d stay until I called to give her the a-okay. I called for Mom, but the house was quiet. There was no sound at all. I was getting impatient, because I knew Mrs. Kendall was outside. I headed out back, figuring she was where she always was: on the hill, in front of the lake. Now remember, the hill slopes in front of the lake. I was walking over the slope when I slipped on some wet grass and went tumbling down. Something warm broke my fall.
“It was Mom’s body. The grass was wet from her blood.”
Sophia gasped, and I felt a warm pressure against my right side. I tilted my head to find Sophia beside me shoulder-to-shoulder, hand gripping mine. Tears jumped in the large doe eyes I’d become a simpering sucker for, and I wondered if I should stop. But it was too tempting to be the right thing to do, so I squeezed the small hand and soldered on. If I let myself stop now, I’d never finish.
“It took me a few minutes to figure it out. I was only eleven. There was blood, so much blood. It was everywhere. There were two huge gashes on her wrists. Small, birdlike wrists, slashed to ribbons. I shook her shoulder, I screamed her name, I prayed to God. When she didn’t move, I just sat beside her and held her hand. I didn’t want her to be alone.
“Mrs. Kendall found us ten minutes later.”
I still remembered the shock and horror on her face, her whispered ‘Oh dear God’. I’d never forget it. “She couldn’t pry me away from Mom’s body. She called 911, and a paramedic tore me away kicking and screaming. Dad came rushing in, fake tears on his face. He hugged me, but I didn’t want anything to do with him. He was the reason Mom was always alone. He was the reason she was gone.”
I couldn’t completely mask the bitterness in my voice. The wounds Dad’s deeds had inflicted still festered.
“The next years were…rough. Dad kept trying to shovel me off into therapy and hoped they could slap a few bandages over his son and fix what was broken. I started acting out. Jesse and Mrs. Kendall did the best they could, practically adopting me into their home, but I resented their kindness. I resented Jesse for having a stable home, for sleeping without nightmares.”
I drew circles against her hand and laughed sardonically. “You would not have wanted to know me as a teenager.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” was her gentle
response. “Keep going. Don’t worry about what I’ll think.”
I sighed. “I was angry all the time. I fell into the wrong crowd, started messing around with some bad shit. Drugs and drinking were easiest way to get out of my own head. I partied hard, missed school, got arrested. Mrs. Kendall was at the end of her rope with me, and even angrier with my father, who didn’t know his ass from his elbow when it came to dealing with a fucked-up teenager. Jesse came with me to these parties, just to make sure I didn’t drive drunk or get into a car with someone who was. This continued until senior year. I collected friends like baseball cards; indiscriminately, the good with the bad. And whenever one stopped suiting my needs, I threw them aside without a second thought.”
Here was the awkward part. She wanted to know everything, well, I was a man of my word.
“I slept around a lot. Boyfriends weren’t really a deterrent for me. If a girl offered, I wasn’t going to say no or ask for details.”
Beside me, Sophia had tensed slightly. A glimpse to the side showed her schooling her face into blankness. This was the worst part of the entire sordid tale. I fixed my eyes on the ceiling and tried to detach my words from my heart. “I was a party one night. Wasn’t sure whose it was. People were everywhere, in the house, on the balcony, out in the yard. I was rip-roaring drunk and dancing with this girl I’d been involved with for a month or so. Naomi. She was as drunk as I was. The only problem was her boyfriend; a boyfriend I knew existed and didn’t give a single rot about. A hotheaded, temperamental boyfriend. Rex Janson didn’t like to share. He saw us at the party and suspected the truth. I was out in the yard with Naomi, smoking a joint, when he confronted us. Naomi was trying to calm him down, apologizing and sobbing, but he didn’t care. His pride was slighted, and he wouldn’t have that.”
It still saddened me, remembering Rex’s reaction. So much bluster and swagger. Was it to save face at Naomi’s betrayal or to hide something else? I’d never know.
“Jesse was near me, as always, and he sensed the danger. He tried to get me to leave, but I was young, brash, and high as a kite. I wasn’t used to answering for my sins. Rex threw the first punch. We went at it, hitting and talking trash. It was a simple fistfight between two teens. But Rex wasn’t as strong as he thought he was. I punched him in the jaw and he lost his balance.”
My voice was empty, without inflection.
“He fell to the floor and cracked his head against a glass bottle. It killed him instantly. There was no fanfare, no epic last words or goodbyes. He was just gone.” I felt Sophia’s entire body freeze and wondered if this was it. Was this the moment she’d realize I was the anchor dragging her down? Or would she escape, having seen me for the monster I was?
Instead, she did what she always did.
She shocked me.
“Oh, Landon,” Sophia sighed. Her sorrow seeped into my tense bones, thawing me from the inside out. She wasn’t running. “I can’t even begin to imagine what that was like.”
My mouth opened and closed like an airborne fish.
I’d just told her I was a murderer, and she was…cuddling? Either she was further along the crazy scale than I’d thought, or…actually, that was it. There was no other explanation.
I kept talking, hoping the distraction would keep her from coming to her senses and leaving. “His brother was also at the party. Carter Janson was the calm one of the family, patient and superior. He’d only deigned to go to that party because a girl he liked told him she’d be there. He came outside to see me punch his brother and kill him. He didn’t care about what happened before. All he saw was his brother’s girlfriend clinging to me and screaming, and Rex slumped on the floor.”
Now it was my turn to squeeze Sophia’s hand. “That was who attacked you.”
Sophia sat up, chewing her lip with brute ferocity. “Carter Janson? The brother?”
Now she was getting it. Finally connecting the pieces of the puzzle that would show her just how much I was screwing up her life.
“’What’s dead isn’t always buried’,” Sophia
whispered. “He was talking about Rex.” I stayed silent.
Neither of us spoke for a few minutes. I gave her time to absorb everything. I needed a break from the unpleasant trip down the lane of fuck-you rainbows and shitclouds anyway.
“What happened after that?”
I startled from where I’d been watching the hand of the clock creep along. “What?”
Sophia resumed her position beside me. “What
happened after the party?”
I didn’t say anything.
Sophia reached over me, pressing her fingers into my leather wrist bands. “I know that’s not the whole story. Don’t be a wimp now.”
How could I refuse that kind of challenge?
“Rex was buried, I was arrested. Dad pulled lots of strings and managed to get me off with mandatory rehabilitation for three months. They ruled Rex’s death an accident. Carter was furious. Naomi kept trying to contact me, but I didn’t want to see her. Jesse didn’t know what to do.
“A week before I was scheduled to go to rehab, I was alone in the house. Dad was at work; Jesse was at his house.
I walked over to the hill. I’d avoided the area for as long as I could. I sat and stared at the stars, but it was a dark night. I couldn’t see them. It was the lowest point of my life, Sophia. I was a murderer. Blood was on my hands. And they say the apple doesn’t fall from the tree.”
Gritting my teeth, I twisted so Sophia had a good view of what I was about to do. She opened her mouth to speak but shut it with an audible snap at my actions. I took off my wrist bands quickly, before I could rethink the decision. My hands were down, and I turned them up, gaze on Sophia.
She gasped. I glanced down, seeing the long familiar scars the way she must have. Two thin white lines running horizontally across my wrists, the left one shorter than the other. The constant reminders of my brush with death and oblivion.
“I took a razor,” I continued quietly, “and I slit my wrists. I should have died, would have died, if it wasn’t for Jesse.” I gave a short, humorless laugh. “The guy just can’t leave me alone. He’d been calling for an hour and he was worried. He drove over to my house and let himself in. Saw the back door wide open and found me. I don’t think he knew to grab my wrists, but he just did. He says it was either that or sit in a pool of blood and sob. If he hadn’t, I doubt I’d be here today. He dialed 911 and called for an ambulance, all the while trying to keep pressure on my wrists. I was slipping in and out of consciousness.”
The most distinct memory of the event I had was the burning in my arms and Jesse yelling, screaming at me to stay awake. He was crying, and I’d wanted to muss his hair and tell him to man up, but I couldn’t remember how to move.
“I was hospitalized for a while. When I was released, I was sent directly into rehab. It wasn’t too bad. They gave you free food and everyone smiled all the time. I did my schoolwork and kept to myself. I didn’t see anyone or let anyone come see me. When I was out, it was almost graduation, and I hadn’t seen Jesse since the hospital.” Jesse’s words still rang in my head. “After the shit you’ve put yourself through, Landon, I could call you a lot of things. I didn’t think thief applied until you tried to rob me of my best friend.”
“I graduated with the rest of my class. I was straight as an arrow, good with schoolwork and socialization. I enrolled here because of Jesse. If it had been up to me, I would have gone as far away from my father as possible.”
After my failed suicide attempt, Dad had hovered constantly. He installed a housekeeper to keep an eye on me and recruited the Kendalls’ in his spying. The only thing I had to thank him for was covering my police and rehab records well. He was probably the reason it had taken Carter so long to find me, despite being an hour or two away from home. There was a good chance he’d deliberately set it up to be a wild goose chase.
“And that brings us to today,” I finished.
Sophia slowly reached forward and took my hands into her lap and ran her index finger against the scar. The sensation was strange, and I could decipher if it was a good strange or not. I was fighting the instinct to yank my hands away and cover my shame. When she looked up again, her eyes were full of tears again.
“Don’t cry.” I rubbed my thumbs across her cheek, catching the falling tears. Jesus, I’d brought the girl to tears more times than I could count. “This happened years ago. I’m a junior, I’ve had time to recover.”
Sophia buried her face in her hands. “I’m not crying. I’m just allergic to sadness.”
I couldn’t help laughing as I pried her hands from her face. “Don’t hide.”
She hiccupped. “I’m going to hug you now.”
“Of course not.”
Sophia shook her head and launched herself at me, arms going around my shoulders and burying her face into my neck. I held her tightly, more relieved than I could have imagined that she was healthy and vital in my arms. It was a rare and debilitating fear, thinking that someone you cared about was suffering at your hands. Even if it was indirectly.
“Ugh, why is your nose so cold?” I complained. Honestly, she could have sneezed ice cubes and I would have melted them with the heat scorching through my veins.
Sophia pulled back and rolled her eyes. “You are so full of it, Landon Sinclair.”
Sophia’s tone turned serious. “In a million years, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what you’ve been through. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
My brows furrowed in confusion. I’d been expecting more shock and horror. Potentially disgust and aversion. “You don’t think I’m a murderer?”
Sophia scowled. “Of course I don’t think you’re a murderer. You’ve made mistakes, Landon, who hasn’t? Yours just happened to have a worse ending than most.”
“What about Carter?” I pushed. I wasn’t sure why I was trying to alienate her, but something about her acceptance and compassion made me want to run away. Quickly. “I’m the reason you were attacked.”
“No, a guy with a strong grudge that’s altered his sense of reality attacked me. You saved me.”
“There’s nothing I can say that’ll change your mind, is there?”
Sophia smiled and laid down on the bed, propping her head in her hand. “Now you’re catching on.”
“What am I going to do with you?”
She patted the bed. “Sleep with me.”
I arched a brow, and she flushed. “You know what I mean, perv.”
She was a vision, hair spread out across my pillow, bow-shaped lips opening in a yawn. She tucked both her hands beneath her head and exhaled deeply.
I could watch her forever. The realization startled and disturbed me.
“Are you going to hover there all night?” Sophia asked sleepily. “My brain is trying to get me to haul ass back to my room, and I’m just too tired.”
I reached for my wrist bands, but a small hand stopped my movements. I glanced back. Sophia shook her head. “Don’t wear them. There’s nothing left to hide.”
I hesitated, but she was right. I’d laid myself bare for this girl.
Sophia gestured at the bed again, and this time I obeyed, lying on my side, mirroring her position with my hands tucked beneath my head. Sophia yawned again and burrowed deeper into my pillow. While she settled, I made a mental note to text Jesse that Sophia was spending the night before her roommate went ape-shit.
“Thank you for trusting me, Landon,” Sophia murmured, eyes drifting shut.
I lifted a tendril of her hair and smoothed it back, not quite believing the night’s events could turn out so spectacularly. I waited until her breathing slowed and her muscles relaxed before I answered.
“I can’t seem to help it, bumblebee.”