Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron


  “Gross.”

  Because we were both feeling a little silly, we ordered one giant strawberry milkshake and two straws.

  “I feel like I’m in a movie or something,” Trish said as we leaned forward and drank the thick deliciousness with our individual straws.

  “Golly gee, you’re sure looking keen tonight,” I said with a wink.

  “Oh, why Max, you sure are sweet. You know just what to say to a girl. Maybe later we can drive out to the sock hop.” She fluttered her eyelashes and we both burst out laughing.

  “You’re such a dork,” she said.

  “Dork is the new black, sweets,” I said, straightening my bow tie.

  I COULDN’T REMEMBER the last time I had this much fun. Sure, I loved hanging out with my friends and doing things with them, but this was on a whole other level. My face hurt from smiling. That had definitely never happened to me, like, ever.

  Max seemed more open and free when we were on the road. He sang along with the playlist, which kept going as the miles increased. We passed through Maine into New Hampshire and I just stopped asking questions. It didn’t matter. Whatever we did, it was going to be a blast.

  We had to stop for coffee and to pee a few times.

  “I shouldn’t have worn this dress,” I said. It was a bit on the tight side and I wanted to just unzip it and put on something more comfortable.

  “There’s extra clothes in the bag in my duffle,” Max said, pointing to the backseat.

  “Why didn’t you tell me that until now? Jesus.” I reached in the back and grabbed the bag. Holy shit, he had tons of stuff in here. Several changes of clothes, toothbrushes, PJs. I was both shocked and impressed. Somehow he’d gotten these clothes without my knowledge.

  “What the hell are we doing tonight, Max?”

  “You’ll see,” he said.

  I MADE HIM stop so I could change into a t-shirt and jeans. He changed also and I took off the makeup.

  “It was fun while it lasted,” I said.

  “If you like it, wear it. If you don’t, don’t. Doesn’t matter to me either way,” Max said, messing his hair back to its normal level. It still boggled my mind that Max liked me exactly the way I was. I’d probably never figure it out.

  Then it was back in the car for more driving. We passed through state after state and I ended up falling asleep. The next time my eyes opened, I heard Max’s voice.

  “We’re here.”

  It was nearly four a.m. I blinked a few times and finally realized where we were.

  “Do you think you can get up and walk? We just have a little bit farther to go.” I nodded and got out of the car. My legs protested and I stretched my back a few times as Max got some more stuff out of the car. He’d really gone all out for this date. I didn’t know a whole lot of guys who would drive someone all night like this.

  Putting the bag over his shoulder, he grabbed my hand. I’d switched out my heels for sneakers. It was pretty chilly, but not as cold as Maine.

  “I’ve never been to Atlantic City,” I said as we walked through the nearly empty parking lot and toward the boardwalk.

  “Me neither. But I always wanted to, so here we are,” he said. We made it down to the sand and then we found a flat-ish spot. Max spread a blanket out and pulled out some Pop Tarts and orange juice.

  “You thought of everything,” I said as I sat down and he handed me one of the foil-covered Pop Tarts.

  “I tried to. I wanted to make this first date epic. You know, raise your expectations so high at the beginning and then just disappoint you for every other date,” he said and I lost it laughing. I was tired and achy, but it didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter that it was going to take us nearly an entire day to get back to school. I had the day off tomorrow, so we were good, but still. This was quite the epic date.

  We both uncapped our orange juice and clinked the plastic bottles together.

  “To sunrises in Atlantic City,” he said.

  “To epic boyfriends,” I countered.

  IT TURNED OUT even better than I thought it would. We were both exhausted, so we lay back on the blanket. Trish cuddled into my chest and we watched the sun rise on the ocean. Life was a series of moments and this one, right here, was one of the best. I had my girl and she was happy and that was all I needed right now.

  Since it wasn’t really even spring yet, the beach was pretty much deserted. Soon it would be dotted with tourists, but apart from the occasional jogger, we had the place to ourselves for now.

  We both fell asleep for a little while. I was woken my phone ringing.

  “Nooo,” Trish said, burying her face into my jacket.

  “I agree,” I said, looking at the screen. It was my mom. I decided to let it go to voicemail. I’d call her back later. Hopefully it wasn’t an emergency.

  She didn’t leave a voicemail, so I figured it was all good.

  “Wanna walk around?” I said and Trish nodded. We were both awake now, despite our sporadic sleep. After going in search of coffee, we just wandered the empty boardwalk. Most of the shops were shuttered and looked sad and abandoned.

  “We should definitely come here this summer,” she said and I totally agreed. There were plenty of corners where I could pull her aside and kiss her. She laughed and even let me slide my hand under her shirt. Just a little. I would punch myself in the face before I pushed her to do something she didn’t want to do. But then she pulled back and smiled at me and didn’t tell me to stop. So I brushed my fingers across her stomach a few times and took her hand again.

  Best. Date. Ever.

  After we sort of looked around, we mutually decided that it was time to drive back.

  “This time I’ll take the wheel,” she said. I fought her on it, but I was so damn tired that I didn’t think I could drive really well, so I let her do it.

  “So,” I asked as she pulled out and we started for home, “is this one of the best first dates you’ve ever had?”

  “No,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s the best first date I’ve ever had. Thank you so much.”

  “Thank you for trusting me and coming with me. You don’t know what it means.” I went ahead and hit the playlist for the mix I’d made for us and tilted the seat back. She sort of hummed along with the songs and between that and the constant rumble of the engine, I dozed off.

  I DIDN’T WAKE up until the car stopped and Trish was getting gas.

  “Where are we?” I asked as I got out to stretch.

  “Almost to New Hampshire,” she said. Wow. I’d really crashed there.

  “Sorry for sleeping the whole way. I didn’t plan to be out that long.” I rubbed my eyes and yawned, my jaw cracking.

  “No big. I don’t mind being alone.” I knew that, but it still made me feel guilty.

  By the time we made it back to campus, we were both sick of being in the car.

  “I want a shower and a nap. And pizza. I need pizza,” she said.

  “I can help with all of those things,” I said as we went back to her room.

  “Oh yeah?” she said, turning to face me as I set my bag down on the floor. I’d packed a bunch of extra clothes for myself. I had a few outfits at her place, but it would be easier if I had half my clothes here and half at my place.

  “I’d really like to help you with the shower part,” I said, being bold. She studied me for a moment and I waited for her to roll her eyes and tell me I was being crude.

  Instead, she took off her jacket, tossed it on the chair, gripped the edge of her baggy shirt and pulled it over her head.

  My brain exploded.

  Holy shit, my girlfriend was taking her clothes off. She gave me a few seconds to appreciate her beautiful skin, marked here and there with tattoos, and the black bra she had on before she stripped out of her jeans to reveal matching black lace panties.

  I couldn’t take it. Couldn’t deal. Too much. Way too much. Too much skin, too many curves, too much beauty.

  She stood there in front
of me, her chin up as if daring me to criticize her. But I saw how her lip trembled a little and she did that thing where she shuffled from foot to foot.

  “You’re incredible. I don’t even have words,” I said. She blushed. I honestly couldn’t remember a time she’d blushed before and damn, if that wasn’t the prettiest thing ever.

  “I’m not perfect,” she said.

  “Yes you are,” I said, but she shook her head. I’d had enough of her doing that, so I crossed the space between us and grabbed her shoulders.

  “Trish. I know you don’t believe good things about yourself. But you are beautiful. You are kind. You are a wonderful, good person. You deserve to be loved. You deserve everything.” I let go of her shoulders and brushed my hands through her hair. It was still somewhat curly and I wanted to play with it.

  She swallowed and her eyes were wide as she looked at me. I could tell she was looking for my lies. She always looked for the worst first.

  “I want to believe you,” she whispered. “I want to believe I can be loved, but too much has happened.”

  “What happened?” I murmured, brushing my thumbs across her cheeks.

  She closed her eyes, effectively shutting me out.

  “I don’t want to talk about that with you. It’s in my past and I don’t want to remember it.” She turned her face away from me, but didn’t step back.

  “Oh, hun,” I said. My heart broke for her when she said things like this.

  “Stop it,” she said, pushing me away and brushing at her eyes. Trish never cried in front of anyone.

  “I just wish I knew what I could do to help you. This kills me, Trish. It kills me that someone hurt you when you were young and vulnerable. But you’re not broken. You’re not damaged. You’re whole just the way you are.” She sniffed loudly and sat on her bed, her back to me.

  I took another risk and sat down next to her, my hand on her shoulder.

  “I just want to be normal,” she said and then sniffed again. I looked around and found a box of tissues. There was also an extra blanket on the end of her bed and I draped it around her shoulders. She didn’t need to be any more exposed than she already was. “I don’t want to be like this.”

  Taking the tissues from me, she turned around and my heart shattered just a little bit more.

  “I know, hun. I know.”

  “I’m so much work. Why do you stay?” She’d asked me questions like this since the day we met. I guess I never had a good enough answer for her.

  “Because I love you. And when you love someone, you don’t walk away. No matter what.” She pulled the blanket further around herself, as if she was cold.

  “I wish I could let myself love you. If I could love anyone that way, I would want it to be you.” My heart nearly stopped. It wasn’t a declaration, but it was pretty damn close and probably as close as I was ever going to get from her.

  “That’s good enough for me,” I said, leaning forward and kissing her forehead. “Why don’t you go take a shower and I’ll order us some pizza, okay?” She nodded and got up.

  I’D DONE IT again. Taken something perfect and ruined it. I really had to stop doing that, but I didn’t know how. Stryker had always encouraged me to go to therapy, but I always refused. I didn’t want to open up to some stranger who was paid to listen to me. That was just weird.

  I’d talked to Stryker about some of it, but I didn’t want him to know about the worst stuff.

  I hated that this stuff ruined my future, but I was caught in a trap. Unable to move forward, but unwilling to go back and deal with the past.

  Something had to give. I couldn’t keep doing this and I couldn’t drag Max along with me. I was poisoning him. Slowly, and without him knowing. Eventually, it would get to him and the poison would kill our relationship. Kill his love for me.

  I took a long shower and thought about a lot of things. When I came back, the pizza had arrived and Max was getting out plates and paper towels and cans of soda for us.

  “I don’t know what to do, Max, but I know I need to do something. I’ve lived like this for so long, but it’s time to change it. I never really had a reason before. Or at least I didn’t have as much support before. I only had Stryker growing up. Now I have you and Lottie and the rest of my friends. I had no idea I’d ever have friends.” I laughed a little.

  “You know I’ll support you in anything you want to do. Anything. Just tell me how I can help and I’ll do it,” he said, handing me a plate. How in the hell had I found him?

  I sat down and blotted my hair with my towel before turning my attention to the pizza. The room was quiet and it was driving me nuts.

  “My parents were meth dealers,” I said, staring down at the oily pepperonis on the pizza. I couldn’t look at him right now.

  He didn’t say anything, so I kept going.

  “They had a lab in our basement and kept a lock on the door to keep us out of it. There were always addicts and dealers going in and out of our house. My earliest memory is of a junkie passed out on the floor of my room.” Of course they hadn’t gotten me an actual crib when I was a baby. Instead I had one of those big plastic tubs and a dirty blanket in it. It was a miracle Stryker and I had survived our childhood with relatively little physical damage. Psychological damage was another story.

  A hand came into my line of vision and I realized it was Max’s. I reached out and he held my hand as I continued.

  “We hardly ever had food. Stryker had to sneak into the kitchen when everyone was passed out. I still remember what it was like to be that hungry.” I took a jagged breath. Yeah, that was enough for today.

  “So, yeah. That’s a tiny piece of what I went through. There’s a whole lot more, but I think that’s enough for now.” If I kept going, I was going to get sick. The memories of growing up weren’t distant and fuzzy. They were clear as watching a movie in my brain. Like they had happened just yesterday.

  Max squeezed my hand.

  “Thank you for sharing that with me, Trish. It took a lot of courage and I’m proud of you.” That made me start crying again and Max moved the pizza box off the bed so he could put his arms around me.

  I’d never put much stock in the power of hugs, but right now Max’s arms were the only things keeping me together. I started breathing too fast and panicking and he talked in my ear, telling me to breathe slower and relax. He said all kinds of things and they distracted me from the memories.

  After what might have been hours, I untangled myself from him.

  “You doing okay?” he asked. I thought about it for a minute.

  “Yeah, I think I am.”

  I SLEPT LIKE crazy that night and it wasn’t just because I was exhausted from the road trip. For once, my mind didn’t feel so… heavy. Most nights my brain spun thoughts around and around for so long it took hours for me to actually fall asleep.

  This was different.

  I woke up feeling amazing. Like I could conquer the world and run marathons and shit. I smiled at Max and he kissed me on the nose. I’d made a rule of no kissing before tooth brushing.

  “You seem happy,” he said, his tone surprised.

  “I am happy,” I said and it was the truth. So that was what this feeling was. This bright bubbly in my chest feeling like I was going to float away like a runaway balloon.

  “Good. My goal is for you to have at least one happy moment every day. And I want to be there to witness it. Happy looks really damn good on you.” He winked and got up to brush his teeth and I stayed in bed and basked in my happy for a little bit longer.

  THE HAPPY FEELING lasted for quite a while. Into doing homework and waiting to hear from Stryker and Katie about telling her mom about the baby and the wedding.

  The wedding. It was going to be the pinkest fucking wedding to ever happen in the history of weddings. It would be awesome, though. Definitely non-traditional. Definitely with a kickass reception. It would probably be the most fun wedding I’d ever attend.

  I still wasn’t sur
e how I felt about the marriage subject. I just couldn’t imagine anyone actually wanting to commit to me like that, so I’d never entertained the idea of it. I wasn’t opposed to marriage at all. I mean, I wasn’t a lover of romance books and Happily Ever Afters for nothing. But that was not for me. Never for me.

  I finished my homework early, so I was reading a new book when I got the phone call from Stryker.

  “Hey, how did it go?”

  He laughed a little.

  “Hey, better than expected. I thought she was going to pass out. After her initial shock, she hugged us both so hard I thought my ribs were going to break and Katie had to tell her that she was squishing the baby.” We both laughed and he went on to say that Mrs. Hallman wanted to throw Katie and Kayla a joint baby and wedding shower, which was all kinds of crazy.

  “You gonna be back soon?” I asked.

  “Yeah, you and Max want to come over for dinner? Katie is dying to know how your date went.” Oh I bet everyone did. I almost didn’t want to share it with them. I wanted to keep it between just the two of us. Our little secret. I liked the idea of sharing a secret like this with him. A sweet and fun secret. Not the dark and disgusting kind of secrets I currently carried around that weighed me down like chains.

  That would never work, though. My friends were persistent and annoying when they wanted to know something, and it would be less work to just tell them than to try to keep it to ourselves.

  “We’re going to dinner at Stryker’s,” I said as I hung up. Max got up and stretched his arms over his head.

  “Sounds good. I think I pulled something from driving yesterday.” He tilted his neck from left to right and winced.

  “I don’t think you can pull something just from driving.”

  “How do you know? Are you a doctor?” I made a face at him and he got up and pretty much tackled me.

  “Max! What the hell? Get off me,” I said, but then he got his fingers under my ribs and started fucking tickling me. I couldn’t help the breathless laughter that came out of me. I was completely at his mercy.

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]