Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron


  I WAS FREAKING the fuck out, thank you very much. I tried to tell myself that this was Max. I liked Max. He was cute and sweet and smelled good and said things to me that made me think I was a fraction worthy of him.

  When he put his arm around me, I almost bolted. But I let myself feel it and it was nice. Warm. Comforting. He smelled really good, and I made my mind focus on that and the sound of his breathing in my ear. It was lucky that I wasn’t facing him. I didn’t think I could have dealt with that. Too much.

  I really did want to try for him. I was going to. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else. He was damn lucky that I liked him so much.

  I refused to think about the fact that he’d said he loved me. I was too busy dealing with the sleeping situation to cross that bridge right now.

  It took a long time for me to even get over the fact that I was sharing a bed with someone to even start to think about sleep. But then my eyes finally closed and the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off and I was groaning. I sat up. Or I tried to.

  “Ow!” I’d completely forgotten about Max and had sat up so fast my skull smacked into his nose.

  “Shit, are you okay?” I asked as he held onto his nose and writhed around.

  He moaned a few times and then moved his hands. Gross, it was bleeding.

  “Let me get you a tissue. Is it broken?” He put his hand under his gushing nose so it wouldn’t get on my sheets. Such a gentleman.

  “I don’t think so,” he said, his voice all nasally. I grabbed a box of tissues and shoved them at him. He staunched the flow and started grinning at me.

  “What are you smiling for?” I asked. Maybe I’d also damaged his brain.

  “I can’t believe you let me stay the night with you,” he said, his voice even more stuffed from the tissues.

  “You’re ridiculous,” I said, and I wanted to punch him in the shoulder, but I’d already inflicted enough violence on him for one morning. “I’m going to take a shower.”

  He just nodded and tipped his head back to stop the bleeding. I grabbed my shower stuff and escaped.

  I FELT WEIRD during breakfast, and I swore everyone was staring at us.

  “No one is looking at us,” Max said in my ear. I turned and glared at him.

  “Shut up.”

  “Are you two fighting?” Simon said from across the table. He, Brady, Will and Audrey had joined us. I was regretting that we were all eating together. I would have rather eaten in my room. By myself. Or at the very least, with just Max.

  “No,” Max and I said at the exact same time.

  Simon put his hands up in surrender.

  “Whoa, sorry I asked.” He went back to his French toast and I glowered over my coffee. I wasn’t much of a morning person.

  “Did something happen to your nose? It looks a little red,” Audrey said to Max. He was fine with talking when we were alone, but he was unusually quiet around my friends and my brother. I wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t bother me. I could talk enough for the two of us and Lottie talked enough for five people.

  “Just bumped it this morning,” Max said, feeling the bridge of his nose and wincing. It did look a little red and swollen, but I’d already apologized a bazillion times and offered to do his laundry for the next month. He didn’t take me up on the offer, but he did accept the apologies.

  “Hey, so you guys are coming this weekend, right?” Will said.

  “Uh yeah. My brother is getting engaged,” I said and Audrey shushed me.

  “Sorry, I just don’t want it to get spoiled. He’s been working so hard on it.” Didn’t I know it? He’d been calling to bounce ideas off of me. I’d shot down some of the worst ones and told him to just go with his natural talents. He could play a ton of instruments and sing. Boom. Proposal.

  He’d also roped The Band in on it and I was supposed to help keep Katie in the dark until then. Not too hard. She was consumed with planning out how long she could continue to go to school before the baby was born, figuring out if she could still eat soft cheeses and slathering cocoa butter on her stomach to prevent stretch marks. I was pretty sure a proposal was the farthest thing from her mind.

  He was going to set everything up in an abandoned parking lot down the street from his apartment. The lot would be filled with various cars he’d worked on and everyone would be hiding in the cars. The playing would start and The Band would pop out, Katie would cry and realize what was happening and then Stryker would get down on one knee and blah, blah, blah.

  My official job was to film the whole thing with a steady hand so we could put it online. I’d volunteered because that meant I wouldn’t be in it.

  Stryker had found a ring and I rolled my eyes so hard they nearly fell out of my head when I saw it. Pink, of course. Pink tourmaline, which was mined in Maine. It was so Katie that I couldn’t even believe it hadn’t been custom made for her.

  He’d lightened up a little on Katie. She was allowed to shower without the chair and drive short distances alone. But his eyes still followed her around the room and he jumped at loud noises and reached for her. It was pretty damn sweet, actually. My brother had always been protective, but this was different. And he was happy. So fucking happy, I thought his face was going to split wide open when he smiled.

  I was excited for him, but I was something else too. Jealous. Painfully, horribly jealous. It clawed at me from the inside, dark and thick and oozing. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. I wanted that. I wanted a man who cared about me in that way. Who wanted to marry me, God forbid. Who wanted to have children with me.

  I’d look at Max and see him looking that way at me. The way Stryker looked at Katie. I wanted it, but it scared the absolute shit out of me. Because what if it didn’t work out? What if it ended? Then what would I have? Fucking nothing.

  I couldn’t stop the negative thoughts from taking over and running my life. It was how I’d functioned for almost nineteen years and it was hard to break old habits.

  WHEN I GOT back from classes, my roommate was out and Max was at work. I had the place to myself so I did something that I only did when I had too many thoughts in my head that I couldn’t get out.

  I put on some music and danced.

  Now I wouldn’t say that I was going to be a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance? anytime soon, but I’d been doing it since I was little. Stryker didn’t know about it, and I usually did it away from prying eyes. Dancing made me happy and I didn’t want anyone to take that away from me. When I had nothing else (except for Stryker), I had this. Music and movement.

  I tended to gravitate toward modern and contemporary as far as movement went and I was proud of myself that I’d mastered a double turn and could still bust it out when I wanted to. Sure, I wasn’t as flexible anymore because I’d been neglecting stretching. I should get back into it. Maybe take a class or something.

  I started with “Run” by Christina Perri, moved to “Electric Love” then “99 Red Balloons”, “Stranger” by Skrillex and finally “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift. Yes, I listened to her music. No, I would not admit that to anyone. It was the perfect song to dance like a dork to.

  By the time I took a break, I was breathing hard and a little sweaty. Man, I was getting out of shape. That wasn’t good. Just as I was getting some clothes out to change into, Max called me.

  “Hey,” I said.

  “Hey, are you okay? You sound out of breath.”

  “Yeah, fine. I was just rushing to answer the phone. What’s up?” That wasn’t too convincing, but it didn’t matter.

  “Well, I need to you to pick me up. I’ve been downsized.” The pizza place had been cutting back his hours for a while now, so this wasn’t unexpected. It just sucked ass for him.

  “Aw, Max I’m sorry. I’ll be right there.” He sighed and we hung up. I rushed into my clothes, slicked on some more deodorant and rushed to his aid.

  OF ALL THE times for the pizza place to get rid of me. Now I was going to have to find something to replace
my hours there. I didn’t get paid nearly enough to get by with my work study job, so I was going to have to find something else. Fast.

  I was in a pissy mood when Trish picked me up and I felt bad that I was taking it out on her.

  “It was a shitty job anyway. Now you can get something that actually requires you to use your sexy brain,” she said, trying to cheer me up. I smiled in spite of myself.

  “I find that very doubtful, but you never know. I’m going to try and pick up more hours at the gym, but there’s a limit on my work study.” I hated thinking about this shit. I hated talking about it even more.

  “College should be free. Bottom line,” she said.

  “A-fucking-men.”

  My bad mood dissipated somewhat when she leaned over and gave me a kiss as we pulled into the parking lot near her dorm.

  “What was that for?”

  She shrugged one shoulder.

  “I wanted to.” That was a good enough reason for me. I pulled her face toward me again, sinking my hand into her hair. It stayed soft, despite the fact that she bleached and dyed it all the time.

  Trish always tasted like apples. Fresh, crisp green apples. I had no idea why, because she didn’t use apple lip gloss or toothpaste or anything, but that’s what it made me think of.

  I thought she was going to pull away, but she yanked me closer. So close I had to maneuver myself around the shifter so I didn’t impale myself. Both her hands were on my face, pulling me toward her. In a bold move, she shoved her tongue in my mouth and I fucking lost it.

  I pretty much attacked her, but she didn’t stop me. Oh no. She made these little whimpering noises that I’d only heard a few times before and they were like spurts of gasoline on my already-stoked fire. It almost scared me. How much I wanted her. How she made me feel like I was on fire, flames licking me inside and out.

  I pushed and pushed, but she pushed back and asked for more. We hadn’t kissed like this in so long and what a fucking shame that was. She bit down lightly on my tongue and I did the same to her and the kiss became vicious. Deliciously vicious. I was afraid one of us was going to draw blood.

  It only ended because I moved my head the wrong way to breathe and mashed my already-sensitive nose into hers.

  “Ow,” I said into her mouth. She pulled back and I rubbed the bridge of my nose. Stupid fucker.

  “Are you okay?” she said, her voice all breathy. It was too dark to really see her, but I hoped her lips were as swollen as mine felt.

  “Yeah. Just a little tender. I’m fine.” We sat there, with about a foot of space between us, staring at each other.

  “Wow,” she said.

  “Yeah.”

  MAX HAD MANY talents. Rocking blue hair, writing a term paper in less than two hours, making incredible pizza and kissing. Oh sweet Jesus fuck, was he good at kissing.

  I didn’t know what had come over me. I just wanted to like, eat him alive. It both scared me and thrilled me. I felt tingly and powerful all over. Like I’d had a shot of the most amazing orgasmic espresso ever.

  It was hard to remember all my reservations about giving in to him when he was so damn good at using his mouth. He’d probably be good with that mouth… everywhere.

  Yeah, I needed to get my libido in gear. This was not the time for that.

  We got out of the car and went into my room, which somehow made things worse because there was a perfectly available bed to do lots of physical activities on.

  Look away from the bed, Trish.

  MAX STAYED IN the bed with me again that night and the next few nights, but I got a lot less sleep.

  I ached for him. It was a physical pang that seemed to be with me all the time. I kissed him, but that only served to wind me up even more. I had no idea why it had taken me this long, but it was like I’d pulled the cork out of a bottle and lust was fizzing and spilling out everywhere.

  Max didn’t say anything about my newfound need to molest him all the time. Well, at least he wasn’t complaining. He just took what I gave him and gave it right back and made me want more. It was a vicious cycle and I was totally cool with that.

  Lottie and I had the day off on Saturday for the proposal. We all drove over to the parking lot with the rest of The Band, Zan, Will, Audrey, Simon and Brady. Katie’s sister Kayla was also there with her fiancé, Adam. She was just starting to show a teeny tiny baby bump. Soon her sister would be joining her.

  I had my phone ready to film. We were just waiting for the happy couple. They were late.

  “Where the hell are they?” Allan yelled at me. The natives were getting restless.

  “I’ll call him,” I said and hit the Send button on his number.

  “Dude, where the hell are you?”

  “Oh, uh, yeah. We’ll be right there.” With that, he hung up. What the hell? He’d sounded distracted. Like he had something better to do than getting engaged to the mother of his future child.

  Something was definitely up.

  “I guess he’s on his way,” I said, loud enough for everyone to hear. About ten minutes later, his car finally appeared.

  He pulled into the lot and hit the brakes. Katie got out and she was already beaming.

  “What are you all doing here?”

  Stryker got out slowly and he was supposed to give the signal, but his face was a little red.

  “Um, yeah. We can still do it, but I kinda already asked.” He walked around the car and Katie held up her left hand, showing off the pink sparkler.

  “He asked me this morning.” What the hell, dude? I wanted to smack him. Kayla and Lottie both squealed and ran over to give Katie hugs. I walked over to Stryker and just glared.

  “Yeah, I just… I don’t know. I wanted it to be just the two of us so I did it.” He looked at Katie and she gazed back at him.

  “It was perfect,” she said with a whisper.

  “So what the hell are we supposed to do?” Pepper yelled.

  “Well, we can all go back to my place and jam.” There was some grumbling, but it was decided that we’d all move this celebration back to the apartment. Stryker asked Katie if she wanted to see the whole performance, but she declined.

  “It was already perfect. I don’t need more. Save it for our anniversary or something.”

  “Sure, sweetheart,” he said, kissing her forehead, then raising her hand and kissing the finger where the ring rested. His hand went to her stomach and he rubbed it.

  “I CAN’T BELIEVE we’re both getting married and both knocked up,” Kayla said as she and Katie sipped orange juice in fancy wine glasses. The rest of us were boozing it up. Well, except for Zan, who stayed away from the stuff for a lot of reasons.

  “I know. Who would have thought, right?” Katie said. She and Kayla were the spitting image of one another and they had identical grins of contentment.

  Finally the story of the engagement came out. Katie lifted up her shirt and we all had to tip our heads to read what was written on her stomach in black marker. And then we laughed.

  Stryker had drawn a tiny little baby with a bubble coming out of its mouth saying: WILL YOU MARRY MY DAD?

  It was cute and it was totally Katie and Stryker.

  “It wasn’t easy to do it while you were sleeping,” he said. “You kept almost waking up.” She just rolled her eyes at him and then put her shirt down.

  Max stayed by my side and kept one hand on me at all times. It was both comforting and distracting because I wanted to pull him onto the porch or into the bathroom to make out. This didn’t seem like the right venue for that, so I refrained, even though it wasn’t easy.

  There were many toasts and after everyone had a good buzz going on, the music started. Instruments were passed around, requests were yelled out and I sat in Max’s lap.

  “I wish I could sing,” I said in his ear. I hadn’t inherited Stryker’s talent. No idea where his came from. Neither of our parents ever sang and we never knew our grandparents.

  “You have many other talents, hun
,” Max said back, his fingers moving absentmindedly up and down my arm, across my tattoos.

  “Your hair is fading,” he said, grabbing a few of the ends and giving them a little tug.

  “Yours is too. Want me to do it for you?” The couple who dyes together, stays together.

  “Sure.” Stryker was going nuts on his violin, tearing up “Creep.” He could do just about anything. It always made me feel inferior. I didn’t really feel like I was good at anything. If only I was amazing at one thing and mediocre at everything else, I’d be fine. I was good a dyeing hair. I was definitely a decent dancer, but not enough to actually do anything with it. I did fine in school, but nothing had jumped out at me and demanded my attention. Demanded my interest. I wanted to want to do something. All my other friends had their shit together and had known what they wanted to do for ages. Drove me crazy.

  Sometimes I felt like an outsider. Like I was just hanging out on the periphery of his world.

  “You okay?” Max asked, brushing my hair over my shoulder. I leaned back against him.

  “Yeah. Fine. Just tired and thinking about a lot of things.”

  “Want to talk about it?”

  I started to shake my head, but then remembered that I said I was going to trust him more.

  “I’ll tell you when we’re alone.” That seemed to satisfy him and I felt okay about it. I was always giving other people advice that I neglected to follow myself. Yeah, yeah, I knew how hypocritical that was. Whatever.

  His arms went around me and I almost felt like I wanted to take a nap. But then Katie started feeling sick and Stryker had to go tend to her. The Band went on playing without him, but it wasn’t the same.

  “I’m going to go check on them,” I said to Max. Katie was going to be my sister, so I might as well start treating her like one. Kayla was right behind me.

  “I get sick sometimes at night too,” she said. “I’m just crossing my fingers that I won’t have sympathy sickness.” Ugh, that would be awful. Two puking pregnant women in one small bathroom.

 
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