Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron

  “Say you’re not a doctor. Say it!” he said as I tried to wriggle out from under him.

  “I’m not a doctor!” I yelled and he stopped. I wiped tears out of my eyes and got my breath back under control.

  “You’re an asshole,” I said, poking him in the chest. “I almost kicked you in the skull.”

  “Nah, I would have ducked out of the way. I’ve got good reflexes.” He grabbed my wrist and then kissed the back of my hand. It was impossible to be mad at him for long. He was just too damn cute.

  “You are trouble,” I said as he got up and pulled me up after him.

  “The good kind of trouble, I hope.” I pecked him on the lips.

  “The best kind.”

  MAX CALLED HIS mom before we went to dinner and I could tell things weren’t going well. She was having a hard time letting him go. He thought I didn’t really know a lot about his situation, but I paid attention. I could read between the lines, probably better than a lot of people.

  He had a frown on his face when he finally hung up. I didn’t like it.

  “Everything okay?” I asked tentatively.

  “Yeah, I guess. She’s just being super demanding. I mean, I went home for Christmas and break and everything and now she wants me to come back again. I told her I’m busy, but she knows how to push my buttons and get me to agree to things.” He sighed in frustration. I wanted to wipe the frown off his face, so I kissed him. I didn’t really know what else to do.

  “It’ll be okay,” I said, messing with his hair. He gave me a tight smile and it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one who had issues that I bottled up. Granted, our issues were very different, but still. We were quite an interesting pair.

  MY MOM WAS being nutty. Her new strategy to try to make me come home was to offer me a car. A motherfucking car. My parents didn’t have money to buy me a brand-new car like that. I wondered if it was her idea, or Dad’s. It sounded more like something he would do, but who knew?

  It was crazy and I wasn’t going to fall for it. I was staying in school and I was going to figure out what the hell I wanted to do and then I was going to do it. And hopefully, if everything went right, Trish would figure out what she wanted to do and then we’d ride off into the sunset or whatever. I didn’t care where we rode, or how we got there as long as she was next to me.

  It was probably a little premature to think about that kind of stuff. College relationships seemed to come and go because life was in such a state of flux. One minute you were an education major and the next minute you were making money as a nude model for art classes. Things changed so fast. People changed so fast. I didn’t want that to happen to us.

  “Max?” Trish said, getting my attention. We were parked at Stryker’s and I’d checked out.

  “Yeah, sorry. I was just thinking about my mom and other stuff.” I unbuckled my seatbelt, but she put her hand on my arm.

  “You know, this talking and sharing stuff goes both ways. If you want to share things with me, I’m all ears. Granted, I’m not so good at the advice and so forth, but I can listen.” She was much better at advice than she gave herself credit for. She’d helped each and every one of her friends at one point or another.

  The problem with Trish wasn’t that she didn’t feel things. It was that she felt emotions more than most. She cared so fucking much, but couldn’t handle it. Not a bad quality to have, but not very easy on her.

  “Thanks, hun,” I said, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

  “Anytime, babe,” she said and then made a face. “Ugh, no. I thought I would try that out, but it made me feel gross saying it. I want to have a nickname for you, but I don’t have a good one. I guess I’ll have to try something else.”

  “My Lord and Master has a good ring to it,” I said and she pretended to punch me in the face but pulled back at the last second. I wrapped my arms around her and held her to my chest.

  “You’re an asshole,” she said into my chest.

  “Only sometimes.”

  “NO. WE ARE not naming our child after a day of the week,” Stryker said as we all sat in the living room and ate grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and bowls of Lottie’s salsa soup.

  “Tuesday isn’t bad,” Katie said.

  “I veto that name,” Stryker said, putting his empty bowl on the coffee table. “Do you want some more, sweetheart?” Katie shook her head and he took her dishes with his to the sink.

  “Look, I’ve grown up with a weird name,” Trish said.

  “It’s not easy. Every time you’re in school or at the DMV or anywhere you have to use your full legal name, it’s a fucking nightmare. So please don’t name your child something weird or ‘creative’. But don’t name them something like John or Jessica. Because that’s just too mainstream,” Trish said.

  “So we should have a unique name, but not too unique?” Katie asked.

  Trish pointed her spoon at Katie.


  “And don’t give him or her a long name that’s hard to spell,” Lottie said, raising her hand.

  “And if you have twins, don’t give them matchy-matchy names,” Zan said. His full name was Alexander, but since his older brother was named Zackary, he got the nickname Zan. It totally suited him over Alex, but the correlation with his older brother was unfortunate.

  “And don’t give your kid a name that’s the same as, like, someone famous, because then everyone will ask them if they’re named after said famous person,” Will said. “And don’t name your kid after a dead writer.” He was named after the one and only William Shakespeare and Lottie was named after the spider in Charlotte’s Web. Since their mother was a librarian, it made sense, but it was kind of cringe inducing when people asked the origin of your name.

  I was named after a name my mother liked in a baby book. Nothing special. At least I had a decent nickname. Maxwell just made everyone think of coffee or something.

  Stryker came back and sat down on the couch and gathered Katie into his arms.

  “Does anyone else have any opinions on our child’s name? Don’t be shy,” he said, but there was a scowl on his face.

  “Hey, it’s okay. They just don’t want our baby to get made fun of when he or she goes to school,” Katie said, brushing his hair back from his forehead.

  “I’m just looking out for my niece or nephew’s wellbeing,” Trish said, putting her hands up.

  Stryker just shook his head and started playing with Katie’s hair.

  “So how is this joint baby and wedding shower thing going to work?” Lottie asked.

  Katie snorted.

  “I have no freaking clue. It sounds insane, but that’s what she wants to do. I mean, it makes sense to do it all at once since we’re getting married soon.” She hadn’t told everyone the date, so this was new information.

  “How soon?” Audrey asked from her place under Will’s arm. Everyone was coupled up. It was crazy how that had worked out.

  “Well…” Katie said, looking at Stryker, “we talked it over and we’re thinking just after school gets out. June 3rd.” This caused all the girls (and Simon and Brady) to leap to their feet and rush to give Katie hugs.

  There was lots of excitement and exclaiming. Sometimes all these people could be overwhelming. They just had such strong personalities, it was hard to deal with all of them together sometimes.

  “You think you’re ready for that, big brother?” Trish said, going to give Stryker a hug.

  “I’m gonna have to be,” he said, hugging her back. They didn’t show affection very much, but it was easy to see they loved one another deeply.

  “So, with that said, I think I’m going to need some bridesmaids and a certain Maid of Honor,” Katie said and there was more squealing.

  “Can we be bridesmaids? Please?” Simon said and Brady nodded and clasped his hands. “I mean, we’ll still wear tuxes and everything, but we want to be in the bridal party. Oh, and if you are in the market for a hand-carved arch to say your vows under,
I might know someone who would be able to come up with one.” Simon was crazy good at building things. He was saving up money to rent a workshop where he’d have room to work on his furniture. The plan was eventually to start selling his one-of-a-kind pieces online.

  “We’ll talk about it,” Katie said, laughing.

  “I swear to God, if you make me wear an ugly dress, I will end you,” Trish said to Katie.

  “Don’t worry, I’m going to let everyone pick their own style of dress and the colors will all be different shades of pink. Because, well, it’s me.” She shrugged and just about everyone rolled their eyes.

  “Hey, if I have to wear a pink tie, you have to wear a pink dress,” Stryker said to Trish, grabbing her under his arm and messing up her hair. They wrestled for a moment, but she got herself free, looking a little disheveled. I ran my fingers through her hair to smooth it for her.

  “Thanks, Max,” she said, softening when she looked at me.

  She sighed heavily.

  “Okay, okay, I guess I can wear the pink dress.” Katie clapped and gave Trish a hug.

  “You’re going to look amazing. Promise.”

  The talk quickly devolved into wedding plans including locations, food and songs.

  “Now the music is something that’s not going to be a problem,” Stryker said. “The Band is going to have their very first gig.” That would be awesome. It was going to be one hell of a party.

  Stryker and Zan started talking about song selections while Katie, Lottie, Audrey and Simon were talking about releasing doves or some shit. Will made a snarky comment about it and Lottie threatened to box his ears.

  “What does that even mean?” he asked.

  “Do you want to find out, William?” she said, holding her hands up, as if to demonstrate.

  “Be nice to my boyfriend,” Audrey said, putting herself between the twins.

  Lottie just narrowed her eyes and pointed at Will.

  “I will get you. When you least expect it. Bam! I’ll be there,” she said.

  “And I’ll know you’re coming,” he said, rolling his eyes. He tapped his head. “Twindar, remember?”

  I wouldn’t have believed in it, if I hadn’t seen it in action. They could practically read each other’s minds. It was freaky.

  “Break it up, break it up,” Simon said, stepping between them. “If you kids don’t cut this out, I’m going to separate you and take away your video games. And books.” Lottie and Will whined at the same time and I couldn’t help but laugh with everyone else.

  “You’re ridiculous,” Audrey said, tugging on a lock of Will’s shaggy hair.

  “And you’re beautiful,” he said. Simon made gagging noises, but it was like the pot calling the kettle black. He and Brady were the sugary-sweetest couple I’d ever witnessed. I’d thought that maybe they were just in the honeymoon phase, but they still acted like they’d just met and were hopelessly obsessed with one another. They set a high relationship bar.

  MY FRIENDS AND family were downright ridiculous. Between the happy couples and the wedding stuff and the baby news, it was like being around people who were on mood enhancers all the time. It was hard to be bitter and surly around them. I got contact happy.

  When we got back to my room, Max and I did homework, but he seemed distracted. He wouldn’t stop tapping his pen on his textbook and it was driving me crazy.

  “Sorry,” he said a million times before I got up and took the thing out of his hand.

  “What’s up?” I said as I held the pen out of his reach. Sure, he could just stand up and take it from me, but he stayed seated. “Tell me and you’ll get the pen back.”

  He rubbed his face and he looked really tired. It might still be from the date, but something told me it wasn’t.

  “My mom said she and Dad would buy me a brand-new car if I came home.” Damn. That was intense. I handed the pen back to him and pulled my chair over so we could sit close to each other.

  “I don’t even want to consider it, but…” he trailed off and shrugged. “That would mean I had transportation. I could stop working a bunch of jobs just to get by. I could work for my dad and I’d have a way to get around. It’s a tempting idea.” My heart dropped. For a fraction of a second, I thought about what my life would be like without him.

  No. I couldn’t. It just wasn’t possible. I didn’t want my life to not have him in it.

  He gave me a tight smile. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do it. But they’re playing hardball. Makes me wonder how far they’re going to go.” I took a shaking breath and tried to calm myself down.

  “It’s not just school I don’t want to leave, it’s you and my new friends and freedom and everything. If I went home, I’m sure my mom would want me to dye my hair a normal color and wear different clothes and act properly and be someone who isn’t me. Now that I’m away from my parents, I realize how much they stifled me. Controlled me. I can’t… I can’t go back to that.” His voice was thick and I thought he might cry, but he cleared his throat and smiled again, this time sadly.

  “It’s just hard to realize that even though you love your parents, they don’t accept who you are, and being around them means you can’t be yourself.” I was having a really hard time understanding his emotions. It didn’t mean I couldn’t sympathize with the fact that he was hurting, but I had never, ever loved my parents. When I thought about them I felt nothing. Not anger, not hatred. Nothing. I didn’t even know if they were still alive. It really didn’t matter anyway.

  “I’m sorry, Max. If it helps, I like you just the way you are. I wouldn’t change you for anything.” He chuckled and pulled me toward him for a kiss.

  “I wouldn’t change you, either.” I went back for another kiss. He’d touched my stomach on our date and it had been a test for me. To see if the bad thoughts and dark things would turn the sweet moment into something awful.

  But when he touched me, all I could feel were his fingers, slightly calloused, and all I could see were his unbelievably blue eyes looking at me as if I was the only thing in the entire world that he had ever wanted.

  We were still in separate chairs, so I got up and straddled his lap. I would have been lying if I said I didn’t feel him get hard in his jeans. I froze and waited for the horror to kick in, but it didn’t come. Instead a rush of warmth and desire washed down my body, pooling in several key places.

  He reached up and seized my face and the kiss went from sweet to deep and a little vicious in seconds. Add to that the downstairs action and I was instantly a ball of want.

  I gasped a little as he moved his hips ever so slightly against me. Oh holy shit. I was almost ready to blow just from that one movement. He paused, as if waiting for me to stop him, and then he did it again. Unable to help myself, I curled toward him, enjoying the things friction was doing to that specific area.

  He nipped at my lower lip and I did it back to him. Our kisses were very egalitarian. Give and take. He was such a gentleman.

  Before I knew what was happening, we were kissing hard and thrusting hard and I was fucking ready to come.

  “More,” Max breathed harshly against my lips. “More.”

  I moved faster, harder against him. The chair legs made noises as they banged against the floor, but I didn’t give a shit if anyone heard us. We were both making plenty of noise, and I didn’t want to stop. Couldn’t stop.

  Need had wrapped around us and wouldn’t let go until we were both satisfied.

  “I’m going to come,” he said and his voice was so raspy and harsh that it set me off. The climax shot through me, attacking my whole body and I was helpless as bursts of stars and fire and light shot through me. It was so intense, I didn’t think I could survive. It was going to kill me.

  I finally started to come down, but then Max was groaning and thrusting against me so hard I nearly fell off his lap. He yelled out a string of curses followed by my name and then his head dropped onto my shoulder.

  We both gasped, trying to refil
l our lungs. I shivered a few times as little bits of pleasure went off again.

  “Holy. Fucking. Shit,” Max said, and then he chuckled a little bit. I looked down at him and he had the widest smile on his face.

  “You are the sexiest fucking thing,” he said, gazing at me in awe. I didn’t know what to say. Now that the euphoria was wearing off, I realized what we’d just done. I waited again to be seized with terror or regret.

  All I could see was his face as he smiled at me and then pulled my face down to give me a sweet and innocent kiss.

  “You’re incredible,” he whispered. I wrapped my arms around him again.

  “No, you are.”

  I HAD NEVER come that hard. Never fucking ever. Trish blew everything I’d ever done out of the water. It made me think of that scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps out of the house and into Technicolor. That was what being with Trish was like.

  Seriously, though. Holy shit.

  I couldn’t move for at least ten minutes and she seemed content to hang out in my lap. But my jeans were wet and starting to get uncomfortable, so I eventually told her that I had to clean up.

  “Oh, okay,” she said, swinging her leg over and standing. She hadn’t said much, but she didn’t seem upset, so that was a good sign. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of satisfaction because she wobbled a little. I wasn’t so steady myself. I got up and had to sort of hold onto the chair. It was also a miracle that my spine was still intact and I hadn’t injured myself in any other way.

  Going to my bag, I pulled out a spare pair of jeans and boxers and balled them up.

  “I’ll, um, be right back.” She nodded, her eyes a little glazed over.

  WHEN I CAME back, she was sitting cross-legged on her bed, chewing her lip.

  I wasn’t sure what to do besides shoving my messy clothes back in the bottom of my bag and hoping I’d remember to do laundry ASAP.

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