Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron


  She shook her head and munched a pea pod.

  “No, because I understand why you did it. It makes me think back to when you told me I would have to decide if keeping my secret was worth the price I was paying. It turned out it wasn’t and I wonder if the same could be true for you.” I had a feeling she was going to say that. Damn. Should have talked to Simon.

  “Is it that you’re scared he’ll judge you? Or that it will change how he feels about you?” Yes, I was scared of those things, but my bigger problem was that I thought he would feel sorry for me. Pity me. And that the story of my life would make him not want me anymore.

  I couldn’t give him the nightmares that still haunted me.

  “I’m scared of a lot of shit, Aud,” I said, giving her a grim smile. “I’m scared to tell him, scared what he’ll think, how he’ll react, how he’ll treat me after, and how it will change our relationship.” I rattled off the list and she just listened and chewed quietly.

  Tossing her hair over her shoulder so it wouldn’t get in her food, she thought for a little while.

  “I can’t tell you what you should do. I can only tell you that in my case, things worked out. And it helped to save my daughter’s life and that’s the best part. Now I get to see her and Eddie gets to see her and everything is good now. It’s not perfect, but it’s so much better than what I was doing. How I was living. I wasn’t. I wasn’t fully living.” I knew exactly what she was talking about. I knew I wasn’t living fully. I’d always felt that way and I’d accepted it. Sort of. Then I met Max and now I wanted to live.

  I wanted to give myself over to the feelings I had for him. I’d let myself do it for a few hours on our road trip date and it had been unbelievable. I wanted more.

  Ugh, whatever. I had to figure something out.

  Sensing that I didn’t want to talk about this particular subject anymore, Aud switched to telling me a funny story about her friend Tyler. He was notorious for doing ridiculous things just to get a laugh.

  “Thanks for this,” I said as we piled the empty containers in the trash.

  “Anytime. You were there for me in a time when I really needed a friend. I’ll always be grateful for that. Not to get sappy all over you.” She sniffed a little and I was feeling a little emotional myself. We shared a hug and then I suggested we re-watch my favorite Nicholas Sparks movie.

  I DECIDED TRISH and I needed to go on another date that weekend. The last one had be epic and I felt like it had helped to propel our relationship forward. Hopefully another one would do the same thing.

  “Should I pack for another overnight trip? Because I have to work at eight tomorrow morning,” she said on Friday night when I picked her up.

  “Nope, this one won’t be an overnighter. I wish, but it’s not gonna happen this weekend. And for what I have planned, we don’t have to go far.” I could tell she was intrigued. Sure, this date wasn’t going to be quite as dramatic as the last one, but I still thought it was going to be a good time. Hell, we could sit in her dorm room and stare at the ceiling and it would be a blast. It didn’t matter what we did, as long as we did it together.

  Just to throw her off a little bit, I drove around a while and then stopped at a drive-thru.

  “What do you want?” I asked.

  “Um, aren’t we going to get out of the car and go in and eat?” she asked.

  “Nope. We’re not eating here. We’re just picking up food to bring it somewhere else.” This was almost the best part of the date. When she tried to figure out what the hell she was in for.

  “Okayyy,” she said slowly and then scanned the light-up menu. I ordered and we got the bags and then it was time for phase two.

  I drove back to campus.

  “Wait a minute,” she said, looking around. “What are we doing?”

  “You’ll see. Have some damn patience, Trishella.” That earned me a nice smack on the arm. It was worth it to see her scowl like that. I really did like winding her up.

  I parked a little way from the observatory and got out of the car.

  “So we’re going to need to do something a little bit bad,” I said.

  “Go on,” she said, her eyes sparkling a little. I knew Trish would be up for breaking any kind of rule.

  I opened the trunk and pulled out a baggy jacket for me and one for her.

  “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to hide your food in this jacket so we can sneak our dinner in. They don’t allow eating in the planetarium,” I said, shoving the jacket at her. She looked at me as if I was nuts.

  “What? It’s dinner and a show,” I said.

  She just shook her head at me and folded the top over the bag and shoved it in her purse.

  “How the hell did you do that?” I asked. Her purse definitely didn’t look big enough to hold that entire bag of food.

  “Magic,” she said and then grabbed my bag and shoved that in as well. If that wasn’t enough, she somehow nestled in both of our sodas. Very carefully, she put the bag over her shoulder and then posed.

  “Tada.”

  “Is it weird to say that I’m seriously turned on right now?” I asked and she laughed. It was a sweet and open sound. I loved her laugh. It made me think nothing bad could ever happen.

  I walked over to her and gave her a kiss. Fire sizzled in my veins and I almost wanted to cancel the date and just make out on the hood of my car.

  Trish pulled away and gave me a wink.

  “Ready to go, Clyde?” I snorted.

  “After you, Bonnie,” I said, motioning for her to go first.

  MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, she got the bag in without anyone the wiser. I couldn’t look at her as I paid for two tickets for the seven o’clock show because I knew I’d blow our cover.

  We took our seats near the back and in the corner so hopefully no one would sit near us.

  “How are the drinks?” I whispered as we sat down. There weren’t a whole lot of people here, so I figured we were pretty much home free as long as we didn’t make a whole lot of crinkling or sipping noises.

  She checked her purse and then handed me mine.

  “Perfect.”

  I set it down by my feet, since there were no cup holders.

  “It will be just my luck that I knock that over and get us busted,” I said. She just shrugged and sipped her soda.

  “You know I’ve never been in here,” she said, looking around.

  I hadn’t either, but they had discounted rates for shows on the weekends, so it seemed like a cool thing to do. We’d done the sunrise on our last date, so it sort of made sense to do the stars on this one. I’d wanted to take her up to the observatory or something, but that would have required me to pull some strings I didn’t have access to. They didn’t let just anyone up there, apparently, and I didn’t have any connections in the astronomy department.

  We waited until the lights dimmed and the show started before we brought out our food.

  “Normally I can’t eat fries without ketchup, but I’ll make an exception,” she said in my ear. I turned my head and her mouth was only inches from mine. It was a shame about the ketchup. I was imagining her with it on her lip, and I could just lean over and lick it off…

  She handed me my fries and burger and we did everything we could to muffle the sound of unwrapping them. I kept glancing around, but the narration to the show was so loud that even if we crinkled a thousand wrappers no one would have heard it.

  The show was designed to give you an overview of the cosmos, but the best part was near the end, when it showed the stars and then started turning slowly and accompanied by music.

  “Wow,” Trish said, her voice a quiet hush. We’d finished our food and wiped the grease off our fingers. I nudged her with my elbow and then put my arm up so she could lean against me. She did so and snuggled into me. I turned my head just a little and inhaled the scent of her hair. She used this thick conditioner to keep her hair color and it always smelled amazing.

  She gave a little
contented sigh and it made me feel like a million bucks. Putting her hand on my chest, she started stroking my shirt just a little. I didn’t think she was even aware of doing it, but I loved it. Just that little touch.

  My neck got sore from looking up, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. When the show ended I turned and looked at Trish. There was such an expression of calm contentment on her face it made my heart thump a little faster.

  “What?” she said, realizing I was watching her.

  “You are so heartbreakingly beautiful,” I said, placing a kiss on her forehead.

  She didn’t scoff, just closed her eyes and smiled up at me.

  “When you say it, I believe it.”

  “You should. It’s true. And anyone who can’t see how beautiful you are needs their eyes checked.” I’d been baffled when she hadn’t been attached to someone at the funeral. I would have thought she had a line of suitors down the block, but nope.

  “You know, I can never keep the constellations straight,” she said as we slowly walked back to the car. I still had my arm around her.

  “What do you mean?”

  “They all have crazy names and then they never look like the thing they’re supposed to look like. Except for Orion. That one definitely looks like a dude shooting a bow and wearing a glowy belt.” That made me laugh.

  “Now, if this were the cliché date, I’d spread a blanket on the ground, take your arm and point out the constellations and tell you which one is which and draw them with you. And then you’d fall helplessly in love with me,” I said, and that made her snort.

  “You’re ridiculous.”

  “Only sometimes,” I said. “And since this isn’t a cliché date, because we are not cliché people, I’m not going to do that. Also, because it’s fucking freezing and I don’t want to ice my balls off.” That last part made her laugh again.

  “I also value your balls, so we definitely don’t want to do that,” she said. “What is the plan now? Unless that was it.” She tried not to sound disappointed, but really failed. Trish wasn’t good at hiding her emotions. I was definitely cool with that.

  “No, that wasn’t it. We’re ready for part two.”

  “Ooohhhh, that sounds sexy.”

  I held the door open for her and she got in the car.

  “I’ll let you be the judge,” I said, winking before I shut the door.

  IT WAS LIKE he’d studied some kind of book called 50 Unique Date Ideas That Will Make Women Want to Bang You. He was making it nearly impossible to say no to ripping his clothes off and dragging him into the backseat. And to be honest, if he wanted to do something cliché, I wouldn’t have cared. We would have a good time no matter what. Hell, we could have a rocking time at Bingo. I should suggest that as a date idea. He was bound to run out eventually and I didn’t want him to have to do all the work.

  It was only a short drive and we ended up parking at his dorm. I just stopped asking questions. He wasn’t going to ruin the surprise.

  “Ready?” he asked as he held the door open for me and gave me his hand to get out.

  “Why not?”

  We went up to his room, which I expected, but then he opened the door and my mouth dropped open.

  “I wanted to take you to the beach, but I couldn’t really do that, seeing as how it’s cold and it would take a while. So, I guess I brought the beach to you.”

  He’d decked out his room with blow up palm trees, beach balls, towels, a giant cardboard sun and in the middle of the floor was a kiddie pool filled with blue-tinted water and a tiny blow-up shark.

  I stuck my hand in the water and it was still warm.

  “I might have had some help with this one,” he said, and I looked up to see him holding out a bathing suit. My bathing suit. I didn’t really want to know how he’d gotten it. Probably via one of my friends.

  “You don’t have to put it on,” he said.

  “No, I’ll put it on. I want to get the full experience.” My bathing suit, I cursed myself, was a bikini. I’d probably only worn it once. I wasn’t much of a beach bum, but I had one so I could go to the pool with my friends if I wanted to.

  Max also had a suit, but it was in the form of a pair of board shorts. There was more material in his shorts than in my suit, that was for sure.

  He turned around and waited while I changed. I still felt completely naked when I had the thing on.

  “You can turn around now,” I said and he did so, his eyes nearly popping out of his head.

  “Fucking hell,” he said.

  I looked down at myself. I was fine with my body. It wasn’t anything all that special. Well, except for the tattoos. Compared to the average person, I had a lot.

  “I just want to stare at you for a while. Damn, this was the best date idea ever.” His eyes roamed up and down my body and I felt my face flame up. It was a wonder I wasn’t full-body blushing. My skin felt hot everywhere. Not an unpleasant feeling at all.

  “Your body is fucking amazing. You should wear this all the time.”

  “It would probably be a little cold,” I pointed out.

  “Meh, it would be worth it.” I snorted.

  “Yeah, for you.”

  He stuck his index finger in the air and made a circle with it, asking me to do a little twirl. I wanted to roll my eyes at him, but I didn’t. I slowly pivoted on my feet and showed him the whole deal.

  He’d stepped closer to me and I jumped when his fingers brushed the skin in the middle of my back where I had a huge piece done a year or so ago. Stryker had drawn it for me and Magnus had done the work. He’d done nearly all of my tattoos and most of my piercings as well. We had a good relationship and I trusted him not to fuck up my skin.

  It was a giant multicolored tree with various birds in its branches. Some of the leaves were green, some were shaded toward autumnal colors. It was bright and totally beautiful. I’d fallen in love with it the second Stryker had shown me a drawing. Magnus had added his own flair and I’d taken the pain of several sessions to complete it. I was thinking about adding a few things to it, but that would be down the road. I didn’t want to cover my entire body with tattoos now. I thought of them as little road signs for my life, and I didn’t want them just for this time in my life.

  “Wow,” he breathed and it tickled. I wiggled my shoulders and then turned my head a little. He was right there.

  “My skin is so boring compared to yours,” he said. Normally I went for people who were tatted and pierced, but Max’s only modification was his hair. It was a departure for me, which just proved how much I liked him.

  “I could take you to Magnus if you want to get something done,” I said. If that wouldn’t make me want to jump his bones, nothing would. Oh fuck, thinking about Max getting tattooed was so freaking hot. I shouldn’t have brought it up because now I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

  “Maybe. I’d have to think about it.” I stepped away from him. Things were getting intense again.

  “Okay, now that you’ve ogled me enough, get your suit on,” I said, shoving him a little.

  “Fine, fine. But only as long as I get to stare at you some more. I could spend the rest of my life looking at your skin.” Now it was my turn to wait for him to put his suit on and when we faced each other again, he had the board shorts on. Max was a little on the skinny side, his hipbones just barely showing. I fucking loved that. So damn sexy. His chest was smattered with just a little bit of dark hair and there was a trail of it from his bellybutton downward.

  Yeah, I had to stop looking downward. That was not what we needed right now.

  I jacked my eyes back up to his face and now he was the shy one. Adorable.

  “Well, should we get in the water?” he said, reaching out for my hand.

  “I don’t know, is it safe?” I said, pointing to the inflatable shark.

  “I’ll protect you, hun,” he said and we both sat down in the kiddie pool. There was barely enough room for two of us and the water was only a few in
ches deep. Still, it was goofy and fun and then he reached over into his mini fridge and pulled out two pre-made piña coladas with little umbrellas in them.

  “I was going to try and get a sunlamp, but those things are expensive, so that was a no-go,” he said.

  “Well, you went all out,” I said, sipping my drink.

  “I try. I just want to make every day with you special.” I tried to stretch my legs out, but there wasn’t enough room.

  “You don’t have to try. Just being with you makes it special.” He sighed and leaned back.

  “I know, but I still like doing these things for you. Mostly because I like seeing how irritated you get when you don’t know what we’re doing, and then the surprise on your face when you figure it out.” He grinned at me and I splashed him.

  “Be careful, I don’t want to get busted for having a pool in my room.” We both laughed.

  “What are you going to do with this thing after tonight?” He definitely couldn’t keep it in the middle of the floor. There was hardly any room to maneuver around it.

  “I think I’ll give it to Stryker and Katie. They can use it for the baby when it gets bigger.” To me, the baby was still a strange concept. I couldn’t picture it yet. It would be months until we’d find out if it was a boy or a girl and until then, it still felt like an unreal thing.

  “Good plan,” I said and we sipped our drinks.

  “Oh, I forgot,” he said, toweling his hand off and then grabbing the remote. He turned on the television and then played something from the DVD player.

  “Blue Crush?” I asked as it started to play. I’d seen it before, but it didn’t seem like the obvious choice.

  “I figured this had enough romantic content in it and it’s not too campy. I can’t stand any of those old beach blanket bingo movies.” He made a face and I totally agreed. Those movies belonged one place. In the past.

  I moved closer to him and he put his arm around me. Within about twenty minutes, the water started to get cold, so we got out and toweled off.

  “How are you going to drain it?” I asked about the pool. He just laughed and messed with his hair like he did when he didn’t know the answer to something.

 
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