Carbon

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Chapter 31

I silently drove back from a trip to the grocery store for a few things my mom forgot to collect over the weekend.

“Ned, you’re here all of the time. When did I have a teenage son?” my mom joked as she put away the groceries. A smile spread from ear to ear as she handed me things to put on the top shelf as she couldn’t reach.

Lex noted as she continued her math homework, “I like it when Ned’s home.”

I leaned over and gave my sister a quick squeeze around her shoulders before I turned back to my mom. “Yeah, you should be happy, Mom. I used to never be home.”

Because I used to always be with Devin. For the past week, she had been ignoring me and barely pretending I existed as she bumped into me and mistakenly apologized for doing so before recognizing me. She immediately tucked her chin and scurried off to somewhere else besides near me.

I rubbed the back of my neck as I glanced at the edge of an unknown neighborhood I had never ventured down due to my sudden curiosity and need for adventure. I used to be satiated with Devin’s accompaniment regarding my desire for excitement. I bit down and immediately regretted the decision. I had absentmindedly driven around and through neighborhoods I no longer recognized and found myself deeply lost in a labyrinthine suburb. I slowed to a measly dribble as I took my foot off the gas and eagerly searched for a familiar path in vain. I ran my fingers through my hair and finally put my car into park. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and noticed my battery was depleted. “Jesus, what can get worse.” The ice cream was melting in my passenger seat as I had been lost for approximately thirty minutes. Maybe if I wasn’t in the pitch black of night, I would have found my way.

I turned my engine and moved forward, and then someone streaked across the front of my car. I braked abruptly, smacking into the person. They fell forward against the asphalt and quickly stood up, suddenly bursting into a sprint down the road. A brown blur whipped around the edge of a fence and sprung after the individual, barking loudly with fierce growls hurtling through its throat. A guttural bark then followed with a white specter whirring after the two individuals.

I revved my engine and roared forward. I stared out the passenger window as I came to the runner. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a bun that bobbed and swayed with each passing gait, and her blue eyes nailed to the horizon in desperate hopes of escaping. Jeans clung to her muscles, accentuating the curve of her hips and legs as they destroyed space and time as she moved fluidly. The t-shirt I recognized from Heath’s closet—a blank shirt with the skull of the Misfits illuminating in the dull street lights—hid her flat chest and muscular arms. I quickly cranked my passenger window down and yelled, “Devin!”

She glanced at the car and turned back to the sidewalk. “Not now!”

“Get in the car!”

She sped up her pace and raced forward. She cut across the front of the car and across the street to the other side. Why did Devin cross the road? To get the hell away from something. I swerved to get close to the other side of the street and cursed as I slammed into the corner of a trash bin. I cranked down my window and tried to get her attention. “Devin, just get in the freaking car!”

She abruptly stopped and glared at the car. She threw me a middle finger. The black blur swept into my periphery and launched into Devin, throwing her to the ground. I screamed, “Devin!” A string of curses escaped her as she threw her forearms in front of her face. I threw open my car door and finally was able to see the beast she was so reluctant to face.

A fierce German shepherd stood over minute Devin with massive muscles obvious through the beast’s magnificent coat. Its teeth dug into her forearm and ripped its face to the right, tearing away strips of her flesh. Blood dripped down her arms as she cried out in pain.

I jumped from my car stupidly, throwing the door where it managed to hit the dog in the face. He backed up and bared his teeth at me as Devin managed to pull herself off of the ground, mangled and bleeding. She huffed breaths and eased her way backward, eyes on the dog. The dog charged towards me with its large fangs naked and ravenous. I threw my arm forward, attempting to distract the beast, but it was in vain as he clenched his jaws, crunching against his nerves. I threw myself on top of the hood of my car, and the dog snapped and growled gnarled teeth angrily. I turned back to Devin who just meekly stared at me. “Whose dog is this?”

“I’ll tell you later!” She stuttered to step to her right and to her left, just eyeing me as she constructed some ludicrous plan. She turned and flinched as a white specter launched itself on to the German shepherd. The dog peeled away from the hood of my car and focused on the white shadow. Devin finally wailed, “Holden, no! No!” She leaned forward and ripped the great ghost off the German shepherd and dragged him away from the bestial dog.

Holden bared his sparkling fangs at the other dog, daring him to attack Devin again. My heart beat through my chest as I wondered why I didn’t have a guardian other than the hood of my car. Devin pointed to my car, and Holden leapt over the German shepherd into my front seat, nestling in the passenger seat as he abruptly turned back to the loveable mess. Devin’s eyes pierced into mine as she murmured, “Ned, get in the car and close the door.”

“Are you serious?”

She pointed at the car with derogatory comments illuminating her eyes in the dim light. “Get in the car.” She turned to the shepherd and howled, “Come and get me, you little asshole.” She turned and sprinted away from the vehicle.

I quickly slid off the hood of the car and into the driver’s seat. Holden shoved his head on my lap as I turned the engine and roared forward. “Come on, Holden. Let’s get Mom.” I pressed my foot on the gas and whipped the car parallel only a few inches from the curb, my driver’s side window down and ready.

Devin heaved shallow breaths as her arms pumped back and forth in rhythm. She kept murmuring words to herself as she felt the dog inching closer and closer to her as exhaustion began to set in and her adrenaline began to deplete.

I rolled up next to her. “Devin! Devin!”

Her eyes slithered across her sclera and attached to me. She shook her head frantically and tried to speed up.

I leaned through the window and snatched her t-shirt. The dog launched forward, grabbing onto the back of her thigh. Devin wailed, and I yanked her back into the car through the window, grunting as if just that little action would allow me to lift her into the car. Her hands latched onto the lip of the window and assisted me to fall into my lap. The dog’s face snapped and gnarled as his teeth threatened to rip through her leg. She shoved her left foot into the dog’s face, and he flew back away from the car. Devin tucked her legs in quickly. “Put it up! Put it up!”

I slammed the window up before the dog managed to plaster his face against the glass, drool and slobber cascading down the glass. He snarled and growled angrily, needing to satiate his ravenous hunger for Devin. After about a minute of utter failure, the dog retreated in defeat, his head to the ground as he swayed back and forth down the road to where I assumed he came from.

Devin went limp in my lap, falling onto the console between the seats. She put her hands over her heart and breathed heavily, staring intently at the ceiling. She smirked and let out a whoop, petting Holden on his head.

I stared at her blankly. “Holy shit.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Are you okay?” I breathed.

She sat up and locked my eyes. It was funny how I forgot her mole under her lip was on the left side instead of the right side. How little flecks of gray littered across her icy blue irises. How her lashes stretched toward you as if you were the only one she could focus on. How her canines were a little crooked when she smiled. How her blonde tendrils fell in her face and she brushed them away. How the world seemed to slow when I was with her. She smiled and nodded, admitting, “Yeah.”

“What were you doing?” My love for her was stifled for a moment by my curiosity as to why she could abandon herself and try to sacrifice herself for something.

She leaned back against the horn, her legs straddling my waist as she readjusted in my lap. She turned her gaze to Holden, her eyes glowing. “I had to get him back.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I knew they had him, but I couldn’t let them have him, you know? They don’t love him as much as I do; they won’t care for him like I do. I need him, Ned.”

“What?”

“My dad and mom.”

“Whose dog was that?”

“My dad’s.”

“Why was he coming after you?”

“Because I kind of broke into my parents’ house to get Holden back.”

I meekly stared at her, incredulous. She was willing to do all of this for a dog. I kind of turned to Holden. Her fingers combed through his luxurious hair, his eyes folding close calmly. His breath softened as he curled up in the passenger seat. I patted him on his paw, and he began to lightly lick my hand. Holden was such a good, loving dog; I never thought he would ever actually dare to challenge someone. Then again, he was challenging a beast attacking the one who cared for him. She was his last hope, and he was hers.

“What is wrong with you?”

Silence stifled our conversation as I felt a thick liquid trickle down my forearm. I glanced down, the maroon slinking down my arm like an eerie snake. I turned back to her wide eyes as she finally realized her arm was mauled. She began to heave shallow breaths suddenly. I tried to calm her down. “Devin.”

“Oh my God.”

“Devin, we’re going to go to a hospital, okay?”

She nodded her head as she crawled across the console and dashboard to get in the seat, shoving Holden on her lap as she buckled in. My stomach turned as I watched her blood stain the snowy dog’s complexion. I revved the engine to life and began the trek towards the hospital. Her voice broke the silence as I whipped into the parking lot after she led me through the maze of neighborhoods, popping out right beside the hospital, “Hey, you want to know something?”

“Shoot.”

“Dogs’ mouths have some of the best bacteria.”

I furrowed my brow and glanced at her for a moment before pulling into a spot designated for the ER visitors, seeing as Devin probably needed about a million stitches to put her arm back together, muscle visible in the dull light of the parking garage. “What are you on?” I shot my hand to her side, snatching her hand without the blood pouring down it, and she tucked her wounded arm to her chest like she was cradling a baby. Our fingers interlocked, and I pulled her into the waiting room. The fluorescent lights scarred my eyes, forcing me to squint to shield them. A small family sat across the front desk with a five-year-old on a mother’s lap, her knee bobbing up and down to her child’s delight. I turned back to the front desk to finally get into the queue for medical treatment.

I almost pulled my hand away from Devin as I walked up to the front desk, but her hand clenched mine lightly, almost reminding me that she was just a kid. We were both just kids.I glanced over my shoulder at her, and I saw the horror flash across her serene blues as she could really see the damage done. I leaned forward, pressing my lips against her forehead, hoping that would give her some assuage.

“Name, please,” a throaty voice hoarsely retorted.

I turned back to the woman. “Devin Sebold.” I continued to answer all of the questions, forced to give them my driver’s license and my insurance as Devin managed to have neither on hand. Normally, I would have lambasted her with bombastic remarks, but my chest softened as I further observed Devin try to remain calm and collected.

We settled on a pair of chairs close to the entry of the ER, waiting impatiently for the doctor to just look at Devin’s arm. Her knee bobbed, becoming more and more uncomfortable as the numbing hormones in her body began to dissipate. I placed my hand on her knee, and it fell limp under my touch. We turned to each other, our faces inches apart from one another. Her brows furrowed as she whispered, “I missed you.”

I froze. How was I supposed to respond? Admit I missed her? Admit all I thought about was her, and all I could even hope was she would see I existed? That wasn’t fair to me, and that was just advantageous to her.

“Sebold.”

A nurse escorted us through Devin’s vitals and introductory information for her chart slowly, making me nervous as I continued to notice a blood stain spreading across the front of her black shirt, turning it to a dark gray. The woman finally took us to a room, and a doctor immediately marched into the room. He introduced himself with a Nigerian accent, but I never managed to fully grasp his name. I just knew him by “doctor.” He instructed Devin to lay flat on the bed, turning and twisting her arm gently, but I could tell from a slight twinge of the corner of her lips that it was painful. She finally put her hand over her eyes and clenched her jaw. I meekly stared at her as he continued to evaluate the wounds, spreading the skin apart to reveal more muscle and fascia. His nose turned up to me, and he inquired, “We’re going to get an x-ray real quick, alright, boyfriend?”

I glanced down at Devin, waiting for her to correct him quickly, but she just lay there limply, breathing deeply as he peeled away from her arm. “Oh God…”

“You’ll definitely need some stitches, sweetheart, but don’t worry. We’ll numb you up and everything else. Just wait a second while we check for any fractures.” He patted her shoulder and instructed the nurse to pull the bed out of the room. The three of them left me alone in the room, the white noise of the television accompanied me as I stared vacantly at the other side of the room.

Thoughts unraveled in my mind as I pondered what she could have meant by “I missed you.” The phrase was so versatile like nearly every other word in the English language. Other languages have different words regarding different levels love or interest, but English just has the finite words. Did she mean she missed the idea of me? Did she miss me emotionally? Did she miss my mind? Did she miss me romantically? Did she miss me because she forgave me for being so blunt and forward?

“Crap…” I forgot to send my mom a text or a call that I would perhaps be a bit late coming back from the grocery store. I guess that ice cream really would be liquid by the time I managed to get home.

I knotted my fingers together and turned to the television. Some program regaling the process of building golf balls flipped through the screen, each stage perfecting the small porous sphere. The sounds of wheels rolling, squeaking along, awakened me from my trance, and I stood as the nurse pulled Devin’s gurney back against the wall.

I glanced down at Devin, and the color evaporated from her face since I had seen her. Her eyes fell on my face, and she gave me a small smile. “Hey, Ned,” she simply said.

I nodded my head, “Hey, anything broken?”

She gingerly shook her head and glanced at her arm. She pulled it away from her chest, placing it to her side, scooting parallel to her appendage. “No, I’ve just got to get some stitches.”

The nurse suddenly left without warning, and Devin immediately sat up.

“Whoa, Dev, maybe you should calm down.” I placed my hand on her shoulder and tried to push her back down onto the mattress, but she was too strong.

“I’m so sorry.”

I froze again. I pulled my hand away from her as if touching her was like grabbing hold of an electric wire. “Devin, let’s talk about this later.”

“No, no, I want to talk about it now.”

“Devin, you’re going to regret saying anything to me right now. You’re emotional from tonight, and Holden is probably pissing all over my car right now.”

“Look, I’m sorry about how I reacted.”

“You know, Holden is probably destroying my car, and all you care about is yourself,” I joked, pleading to change the subject from that awful night when she managed to crush my heart with one phrase.

Her hand hooked around my neck, pulling me forward a couple of inches. Our noses touched, and I expected her to aggressively manipulate me into her. In a weird way, I was kind of hoping she would. Kissing her for the first time after that big of a fight—well, I first of all didn’t expect to have the chance to do it ever again, and I never thought it would be in a hospital ER room.

Our eyes locked, and she whispered, “Look, I’ve got things about me I can’t fix. I’m conditioned, okay? I’m weird, and you, for some ungodly reason, like it. You’ve got to know you’re not the first thing that’s happened to me, and you’ve got to understand I’ve got a past.”

I slowly nodded; her eye lashes brushed against my cheek.

“And I don’t want you to know about it because you’ll look at me differently, but I’m not hiding it from you just to be selfish. I’m protecting you, too.”

Something unsettled in my stomach as she continued.

“And, Ned, you’re the first person who has made me happy in a long time, and I don’t want to lose you because of my issues. Well, you’re an issue, but I like you being an issue.”

I smiled. “Okay.”

“Forgive me?”

The doctor marched in with a trolley filled with needles, syringes, and all sorts of unimaginable horrors that would make people contemplate jumping off the third story of the building to escape its purpose. He hummed a little song as he sat down on the chair on the opposite side of the bed from me. “First off, we’re going to give you some Novacaine, my dear. It’ll be uncomfortable for a moment, but then your arm should go numb.” He wrenched her arm down, and she lay back, staring at the ceiling. Her body stiffened as she glanced to her right to see the long needle spray a clear liquid before diving into her flesh.

Devin’s eyes clenched shut, and her knees folded into her chest. Her jaw dropped in anguish as she tried to roll away from the doctor, but he managed to wrestle her arm down with little ease. I imagine she couldn’t have much strength left in it after being mangled. She let out a muffled squeal and reached for the bedrail. I snatched her clammy hand in mine, and her eyes fell open. She recognized me and gave a meek smile. I rubbed my thumb down her wrist as I noticed her discomfort began to dissipate based on the strength of her grasp. She fell back onto the bed, and her eyes fell close.

The doctor weaved in and out of her flesh like a seamstress, and I smiled as I swore I heard Devin let out a snore. I placed her hand to her side so she could be comfortable while she slept, but she immediately sat up once I let her go. “Please sit back down, Devin,” the nurse demanded. Her eyes glued to me as our fingers intertwined again, and she fell back.

Twenty-two stiches later, Devin was finally released from the ER. Bandaged and drugged up, Devin stumbled into the passenger seat of the car as Holden hopped into the backseat of my car. I buckled her in as she closed her eyes, her arm resting in her lap like a cat. Her head lolled back and forth as I buckled myself in, my eyes nailed to her with curiosity. I noticed her t-shirt again and ripped off my club soccer t-shirt I was forced to wear when I helped with try-out registration for Lex’s club. “Here.”

Her blue eyes turned to me. “Do you forgive me?”

My goose bumps rippled in the cool air as the engine did not churn on without my help. I unbuckled her seatbelt and pulled off her shirt timidly, scared to unsettle her. The darkness shrouded all of her features. I threw her t-shirt on her lap and pulled mine over her head. I manipulated her arm through the hole and helped with her other arm, buckling her back in. “Oh, shut up.”

“Is that a yes?” As if on cue, Holden poked his head through the two front seats and stared at me quizzically, as if evaluating every life decision I had made up to that point.

I turned back to the road and revved the engine, pulling out of the parking garage quietly in the early morning hours. Devin leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes as I trudged along back to her house. Holden climbed upon her lap and nestled his face into the curve of her neck. I smirked at the two of them and pulled the car into their driveway. I parked the car and gently shook her shoulder. “Devin, babe, we’re back at your house.”

Her eyes slowly opened but then rolled back into her head. She moaned, “Give me a minute.” Holden sat up and licked the side of her face with his massive pink tongue, but she didn’t move.

I unleashed a resigned sigh and pulled myself out of the car. I stalked around the hood and pulled open the passenger side door. Holden immediately pounced out of the car and ran around the yard in wide laps excitedly. Mesmerized by the beast’s unreserved happiness to be back in his original home, I almost forgot about pulling Devin out of my car. I turned back to the sleeping being and leaned across her, my chest brushing against hers as I unbuckled her from her chair. I cupped my hands under knees and around her shoulders, extracting her from my car as delicately as one can possibly. Her face burrowed into the curve of my chest as she murmured something about letting her sleep some more. “I’m getting you inside first.”

“Just leave me in the front yard.”

“Devin, come on…”

“Fine, just drop me on the porch.”

“No, Devin…”

She buried her face into my neck, her lips brushing against my skin gently. Bumps rose immediately on my skin, and I gulped to try to calm myself down. “Don’t leave me alone.”

“You’ve got Holden.” This was more of a persuasion for myself than for her.

“You’re right.”

I carried her through her backyard and into the house. We waltzed through the rooms until we came to the family room. I knelt down and laid her upon the floor gently, careful not to let her lean against her arm. I combed my fingers through her hair, pulling it away from her face nonchalantly. I pondered how beautiful she was in the nonconventional sense with full brows and alien eyes. How her minute features accentuated the curves of her cheeks. Her hand snatched a belt loop of my jeans and pulled me beside her. She turned to her side, facing away from me, her fingers still latched around my jeans.

“Devin, I’ve got to leave.”

Holden galloped into the room and fell to his elbows a foot away from Devin. He pulled himself with his front legs forward and burrowed underneath her neck. She leaned against him like a pillow.

“Please, forgive me.” Her fingers peeled away from my jeans and fell in front of her face. Her eyes sleepily closed as she rubbed her face against the white fur.

I turned her to face me. Her eyes became slits as she glanced at me, wandering eyes too exhausted to remain curious. I unraveled beside her, nestling against the white mountain of a dog. I placed my hand on her cheek and quietly nodded with a small smile bearing ear to ear. She smiled, too, and then I leaned into her. Our lips melded together, and then she leaned her head against my chest.

I wrapped my arms around her as she rested her bandaged one on my hip. Holden sat up to see who was getting all of the attention he rightly deserved as royalty, but he then relaxed back into a slumber. I turned back to Devin and pressed my lips against her golden locks.

“I’m falling asleep,” she breathed.

“Good.” I combed through them until I, too, succumbed to slumber.

My eyes slid open, the sun streaming in through the windows across us as we lay sluggishly in the family room. My sight focused as I recognized the angelic face resting beside me. As she breathed in and out, a small purr escaped the back of her throat, and I smirked at her soft snore. I gently ran my fingers through her hair, half-expecting her to snap to attention, but she lay motionless, partly from the drugs I was sure. Her lips parted as she readjusted, curving her back, rolling into a small ball of flesh. I pulled my hand away and glanced at my watch.

My heart dropped as I realized I had managed to stay the whole night. I sat up straight and then remembered my bare chest. I hurriedly glanced around the room, seeing if perhaps Devin kept her wardrobe in sight. I could possibly steal one of Heath’s shirts, but it would still be suspicious to show up in a shirt that was definitely not mine.

A soft voice inquired, “What are you doing?”

“My parents are going to kill me!” I ran my fingers through my hair anxiously and turned to Devin.

She remained on her back, her eyes eagerly absorbing her environment. Her blonde hair, fluid streams of gold, became a tangled mess while we slept. She heaved a sigh and rubbed her eyes. “God, I feel like I got hit by a train and run through a shredder.” She pulled herself off the carpet and stumbled to the kitchen island where I had placed her pain pills the doctor graciously gave us the night prior. She popped one in her mouth and swallowed, pulling her face to the ceiling and rubbing her throat like a geriatric.

I pulled myself off of the carpet and confessed, “Dev, I got to go back to my house. My parents are going to kill me. I broke curfew, didn’t tell them where I was, and melted the ice cream Alexa asked for.” I marched to Devin’s side and explained with wild arms, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She glanced at me peripherally and nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders. “Tell them the truth.”

I froze for a moment. “The truth?”

She nodded silently, tearing at her cuticles with her nails. Holden scurried up in between us and placed his chin on the counter. His brown eyes stared up at me as his tail whipped slowly back and forth impatiently begging for a light touch.

My face fell flat. “You’re kidding.”

She shrugged again and merely noted, “You took me to the hospital. We didn’t do anything else. It’s not like you and I had sex or something like that.”

Blood rushed to my face suddenly, and I became uneasy, my stomach rolling into taut knots. I forced a laugh and patted her on the shoulder animatedly. “That’s right! I took you to the hospital, and nothing else happened! Haha! Yes, yes, my parents will believe me full-heartedly.”

She thought for a moment and turned to me, a smirk on her face. “You did kiss me, though.” She didn’t even blush or anything like that. I mean it wasn’t like it was an intense kiss full of passion or anything like that—just a fleeting love that she would not reflect.

“Wait, what?! No, that was like kissing an aunt! You know, that weird aunt that always wants a kiss on the lips despite smelling like moth balls and despite your pubescence ending?”

She cracked a toothy grin. “Fine, you just tell your parents you kissed a girl while you show up without a shirt.”

I winced and gulped, “Time to meet the parents again.”

I sat rigid beside a colorless Devin as she writhed her wrists constantly and tore the cuticles of her nails with her index finger. Holden sat on the other side of Devin on the dining room floor despite my mom mopping the floor last night in a stress-cleansing full-house cleaning. The three of us against the world—or at least the parental world.

My parents gave me piercing glares from across the table decorated with white doilies as place-mats and a plaid tablecloth covering the table. My dad sat loosely with his arm across the back of Mom’s chair nonchalantly. My mom’s arms crossed tightly against her bosom in agitation as her toe clapped against the floor quietly. A deafening silence fed my anxiety as I nervously searched for a way to escape this bombardment of scoffs and ridicule, and then my mother managed to kill it. “Why were you late?”

I stuttered, “I was coming home a different way, and I ran into Devin. I took her to the hospital for some stitches, and then I took her home. I fell asleep at her place by accident, and I forgot to text you or call you because my phone was dead.” As if on cue, Devin raised up her arm with the hospital band loosely attached.

My mom glanced at my father, bringing more artillery to the battle. My dad turned to us and laid his hands flat on the table. His blue eyes fell on Devin. “Why did you need stitches?”

“A dog bit me.”

Both my parents immediately glared at Holden, but I quickly alerted them, “Different dog! Different dog! This thing wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“I just saw him eat a ladybug,” my dad adjourned.

Devin glared at Holden and snapped her fingers. The dog sadly lowered his head and opened his mouth. Devin peeled a small bug from inside his mouth and cupped it in her hands. She lovingly patted him on the head as she returned to the conversation. “I forgot to give him breakfast.”

“Edgar, I think the question you wanted to ask was, ‘Where is your shirt?’” my mom directed.

I dipped my chin to see my bare chest and flipped back up to my parents. “She had blood all over hers, so I gave her mine.”

My mom turned her attention back to Devin. “Were you on medication?”

My heart stopped, and sweat dripped down the back of my neck as my mouth turned into a dust-ridden desert. My irises slid across my sclera as I silently begged Devin to answer this question with the distinction that I did absolutely nothing to her.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Did he do anything to you?”

Devin glanced at me, worry across her face, and I remembered how she was reluctant to release too much information all at once, terrified she would exile herself. She murmured, her eyes still glued to mine, “He gave me a goodnight kiss, and then he was going to leave. I stopped him because I was still shook up over the dog attack.” Her eyes fell back to my parents as she honestly exaggerated, “I kept your son past his curfew—he didn’t want to, but I kind of forced him to.”

My mom glanced at me and gave me a small smile—and I knew what was going to come out of her mouth next. “Do you know how badly you hurt him?”

Devin’s blue orbs fell upon me again, and I turned away immaturely like a little kid, terrified to come into contact with my crush. Her lips parted as her brow furrowed. “You shouldn’t have forgiven me.”

I mumbled, “I already did.”

“Ned, you can’t just go around accepting people’s apologies left and right. You’ll get hurt.”

“I’ve already been hurt; I was hoping this would be my chance to piece this back together.”

My dad finally said, “Jennifer, how should we punish him? I mean, he doesn’t go out and party like he used to. All he does is hang out with Dev, and I honestly don’t think it’s fair to Devin to punish her for something she did while medicated.” With that, my parents permitted me to spend time with Devin in our own home, but I was disallowed from any other extra excursions.

My mom declared, being the most religious out of anybody in the family, “God wants us to forgive our debtors, so it’s only reasonable and honorable to accept your apology, Devin. Surely you’ve done some forgiving in your own lifetime.”

Devin’s eyes stayed on me as they shivered, and I wondered if she recounted all of the times she felt the harsh hand of her father collide against her soft flesh, the times he made derogatory comments to her, the times he emotionally and physically scarred her body. She formed a fist in her lap, and she clenched her jaw. “Not as much as I should,” she admitted.

I cupped my hand over hers that settled in her lap. She turned to me, and I felt my chest flutter as I believed whole-heartedly this would be the girl I would spend the rest of my life with. This was the girl who changed me for the better and the love that would change me forever.


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