Author:H.M. Ward

chapter 26

I must have dozed off because I wake up again a few hours later. Peter is talking on the other side of the bedroom door. It’s cracked, letting a little bit of light from the hallway spill inside. I stretch and push back the covers. My hands hurt. I forgot they were torn up. Stretching reminds me that my body will not be my friend today. I ache all over.

Rubbing my eyes, I pad across the room to the door. I watch Peter for a second. He has the phone to his ear and he’s talking softly.

“I know what it means.” He pauses and pushes his hair back, away from his eyes. His brow is pinched. “There’s more to it than that. Have you ever found someone that sees right through you? When she looks at me... It’s like we were thrown together, like my life didn’t turn into a pile of shit for no reason. I can’t leave her. I don’t expect you to understand. I just wanted you to know that it wasn’t a whim.” Peter shakes his head as if he can’t handle what the other person is saying. “I won’t be coming back, but thank you all the same. I’ll come by later and empty out my office.” He takes the phone from his ear and presses a button, then tosses it on the table.

I feel bad for watching him. Peter senses me. He turns and sees me standing in the doorway. “Hey. Feel any better?”

I give a weak smile and walk toward him. “A little bit. Thanks for letting me sleep.” I look at him, wondering who he was talking to. Peter seems rattled. “Are you all right?”

His eyes meet mine. He doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then he takes a slow breath and says, “They want me to come back.”

“Who?” I look up at him. I already know who, but I want to make sure.

“The University. That was Strictland. She said that she didn’t file my resignation, that I’m making a mistake.” Peter runs his hands through his hair and then down his neck. He sighs and looks straight at me.

I feel guilty. My stomach twists. I didn’t want this. I’m messing up his life. “You guys sound close.” I wonder about that.

He nods. “We were at the same university when I did my undergrad. Before she relocated here, Strictland oversaw my internships and wrote my recommendations for grad school. I was her TA, too. I got to know her since I was around her every day. That’s how I got the job here. She shoulder tapped me for another position. When Tadwick passed away, she moved me into his classroom.” He folds his arms over his chest. When he looks at me again, he adds, “I was kind of close to Strictland back then. She knew me before everything happened.”

My eyes dart to his side, to that scar, but it’s covered by a white tee shirt. When my gaze flicks back to his face, I nod. “You should go back.” He laughs, like he thinks I’m kidding. “I’m serious, Peter. I can’t do this to you. I—”

“You didn’t. Some asshole in New York did this to me. Someone they didn’t even find stole my life from me. It wasn’t you. If anything, you gave me a second chance.” He sighs and steps toward me. Peter takes my hand and pulls me to the couch. I follow, feeling a little more than exposed in my tee shirt. We sit down. He turns toward me. “I need to know what you want to do about last night.”

I bristle. “I’m not calling the police.”

He shakes his head and takes my hand. He pulls it into his lap. “That’s not what I mean. Do you want to—?”

Before he can finish, there’s a loud thud as someone pounds on the door. I know who it is before he speaks. “Open the goddamn door! I know she’s in there.” Sam’ voice fills the room.

Peter looks at me and then back at the door. The pounding stops. Silence follows. The door is a few feet away. Peter gets up and looks out the peep hole, then comes back to me.

“It’s your brother. Do you want me to let him in?” Peter’s voice is tight. His fingers flex into fists and reopen.

“Dean’s not there?” Peter shakes his head. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to talk to Sam, but I have to get him to leave me alone. “Wait a second.” I get up and find my jeans. I pull them on under Peter’s shirt and smooth my hair a little bit. This is going to look wrong, but I realize that I don’t care what he thinks. Sam pounds on the door again. I nod at Peter and he opens it. Sam’s hand flies through the air when the door is suddenly yanked open.

Peter glares at him. “If you try to take her again, I will kick your ass.”

Sam smirks. “Like last night? If I recall correctly, my sister saved your ass.”

Peter is through being nice. I can see something snap inside of him. Instead of answering, Peter grabs Sam by the throat and pushes him into the wall hard. He hisses something in his ear that I can’t hear. Sam’s eyes widen. His face is turning red. He can’t breathe. Peter drops my brother, then slams the front door shut.

Peter folds his chiseled arms over his chest and says, “You have two minutes. Talk.”

Sam is leery of Peter. I can tell that he doesn’t like this, that he doesn’t want to talk in front of Peter, but he does anyway. “Sorry about Dean.”

“Don’t apologize. I don’t want to hear it. What do you want?” I snap. We’re both standing, staring at each other. He’s my twin. We were so close once. He knew what I thought and how I felt, but I don’t know him anymore. He chose his jackass friend over me. I fold my arms over my chest and stare at him. Sam’s eyes cut to the side. He glances at Peter. “Just say it.”

Sam looks at my shoes. He’s silent.

The little muscles on the side of Peter’s jaw are twitching. He says, “One minute.”

Sam scowls at Peter. “It hasn’t been a minute! What the fuck, man?”

“I don’t care and you’re wasting your time.” Peter glares at him.

Sam finally says something, and gives me an indication as to why he’s here. “Mom’s sick, like really sick. She’s been asking for you. I told her that I’d find you and bring you home. You can’t send me back without you. Please, sis. She’s dying.”

I don’t want this news to affect me, but it does. My arms drop to my sides. “When? How long has this been going on?”

He tilts his head to the side. It’s his are you a moron face. “I sent you letters. It got a lot worse a few months ago. I found you last Christmas. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to make Mom worse. When she started asking for you, I started writing you, asking you to come home. Way to blow me off.”

I watch him. There are too many emotions boiling beneath the surface. “I didn’t open the letters.”

“Why the fuck not?”

I glare at him. “You seriously want me to answer that? You’re dead to me, all of you. I don’t want anything to do with any of you. And why the hell are you still hanging out with Dean? Look what he did to me last night! Look!” I hold up my hands so he can see my palms. They’re covered in scabs. “This is nothing compared to what he used to do. How could you bring him here?”

“You’re still on that?”

“Holy fuck,” Peter turns and yells in Sam’s face. “Are you that stupid? Look at your sister and tell me that she liked getting her skin ripped off last night. Say it, asshole.” Peter pushes Sam’s shoulders, but Sam doesn’t push back. Whatever Peter said to him before still has Sam spooked.

Sam’s eyes flick to mine. “Just come home.” He turns and leaves without another word. Peter shuts the door behind him. When Peter turns to look at me, I feel like I’m falling apart. I don’t understand how or why I even care. I have no more tears. I reach behind me, and fall down onto the couch nauseated.

“Why? Why did he have to come here and tell me that? I can’t go. I can’t face them. Not after everything that happened.” I’m taking to myself, saying a million reasons why I can’t do it.

After a few moments, I feel Peter sit down next to me. I’m staring straight ahead, seeing nothing. I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know why. “There’s only one question here, Sidney. Will you regret not saying good-bye to your mom?”

“I don’t know. I can’t face them. I can’t manage them and Dean, and…”

“I’ll go with you.” I glance up at him, surprised. “You don’t think I’d send you alone? Not with those two?”

“What’d you say to him?”

Peter grins wickedly, and shakes his head. “Not telling. That’s my little secret. I was holding back last night. I didn’t want to hurt either of them. I didn’t want to cause you more pain or make you feel more conflicted about me than you already do. I warned Sam that I won’t hold back again. No one will hurt you, not while I’m around.” His eyes are so blue.

“I don’t want this life. I want a refund.” I grip my face in my hands. I don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to go. My mom has never said she needed me before. If she really said that, I should go, but I don’t know if Sam is lying.

Peter wraps his arms around me and pulls me to his chest. “I don’t want a refund.” His words shock me. Peter’s been through hell and back. I sit up and look at him.

“You’d do it over again?”

He nods. “In a heartbeat.”

“Why?” My mouth drops open into a little O. I can’t stand my life. I’d trade it in a second. I feel like a piece of tissue paper that’s been torn and glued back together too many times. There’s no tissue left. All the color is gone. I’m a mass of scars and glue. The pieces of me that remain are battered and broken.

I watch Peter’s face. I don’t understand how he can say that he’d knowingly sign up for this.

He smiles at me and touches my cheek. “I wouldn’t give any of it up. I know who I am. I know what matters to me. Those things shaped me, they changed me. I wouldn’t do it differently. I wouldn’t give it up.” He leans in close to me, his lips right by mine. He whispers to me, “And, I’d do it exactly the same way again if I was given another chance, because in the end, it led me to you.”

Peter’s courage gives me strength. I didn’t know I felt this way. I didn’t think that I could take my life back, not after having it violently ripped away.

I know what I need to do. Running away didn’t work. My past found me. It will always find me. I’ll never be free, not unless I face the pain I tried to leave behind.

I have to go home and face my past.