Fighting Redemption
Author:Kate McCarthy

Jake turned his head and looked at her. His expression was blank as his pen hovered over the page. “Nothing.”

 

 

“I saw the bruises, Jake,” Fin told him when he went back to scribbling notes. “Did you two have a fight?”

 

Intent on the page in front of him, he replied, “It’s none of your business.”

 

“Fine. I’ll ask Ryan then.” She started to sit up from the bed and Jake dropped his pen with a huff.

 

“No, Fin. Don’t.” Jake spun in his chair and faced her, running a hand through his choppy blond hair. “Why do you think he’s always here and never at home? His dad’s an asshole and a lousy drunk.”

 

“His dad did that?” Fin whispered, shock making her stomach roll.

 

Jake nodded, the movement sharp and angry. “Don’t say anything, okay?”

 

“That’s why Ryan’s here all the time, isn’t it? Because this isn’t the first time it’s happened.”

 

“No, it’s not.”

 

“Why doesn’t he say anything?”

 

“Leave it alone,” Jake growled and turned back to his books. “A couple more years or so and we’ll be joining the Army, and then he doesn’t have to be there anymore.”

 

Deep down Fin held hope that Ryan would change his mind about leaving. She didn’t want him to go, but she knew now why he had to. Fin would want to leave too, move as far away from here as she could possibly get.

 

As Jake asked, she tried not to say anything, but it slipped out one night when she was sixteen. A guy in her year at school had blushed and stammered his way through asking her to the movies. Her head filled only with Ryan, her immediate reaction had been to say no. If she was going to date anyone, she wanted it to be him. But Ryan was leaving, so she told him maybe. They were at the dinner table when she blurted it out in front of everyone.

 

“No,” her dad replied.

 

Her gaze shifted to Ryan. His face had paled, his eyes falling to his dinner plate. He didn’t want her to date? The mixture of relief and regret confused her, and pushing away from the table, she strode outside. Sitting out in the yard, she picked at the grass. Her pulse raced when Ryan came out and sat down next to her, both of them flinging bits of grass at each other as they talked quietly.

 

“I want to get out, Fin,” he told her. “I need to. I can’t live at that place for much longer. I’m tired of the fighting and the yelling, the alcohol and the …”

 

“He hits you.”

 

Ryan closed his eyes and her heart ached. Instead of acknowledging her words, he kept talking, but his voice held a world of hurt. Not knowing what else to do, she rolled over and cupped his face in her hand.

 

“Ryan,” she whispered.

 

He turned his head, pressing a soft kiss against her palm. She shivered. The way Ryan was looking at her stole her breath.

 

As though waking up, he shook his head, pulling away. Scrambling to his feet, he walked inside leaving Fin alone. She sat there in the dark, crickets chirping, the smell of jasmine sweet in the warm air, and she cried.

 

Eventually she turned seventeen and reached the age her parents decreed as the magical dating number. Ryan had withdrawn from her over the past year, so when Ian asked her out, she didn’t allow herself to hesitate.

 

Ian was in the year above her at school, and hot. Tall and blond with flirty blue eyes, he was muscular, outgoing, and funny. Fin surprised herself by having a good time. When Ian walked her to her door, she pushed down thoughts of Ryan being her first kiss and gave it to Ian.

 

Taking hold of her hands, Ian leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. He opened her mouth under his and slid his tongue inside, and the touch sent a punch of heat through her body. Fin wound her arms around his neck and his came around her waist, pulling her close.

 

Embarrassed at the thought her parents could possibly be watching, she broke away.

 

“Can I ring you?” he asked breathlessly.

 

She licked her lips and his eyes fell on her mouth. “Okay,” she replied with a smile.

 

After two months of dating Ian, she had him over to watch a movie while her parents were out at a function. She had no idea what was playing out on the television. Ian had her beneath him on the couch, his weight pushing her into the cushions as they made out until the credits rolled.

 

His touch became firmer and more insistent. She flushed at the foreign feeling of his big, warm hands travelling underneath her shirt and up the bare skin of her torso.

 

Hesitant, he pulled back to look at her. “Fin … is this okay?”

 

For a brief moment, she’d wanted to say no—your eyes are too blue instead of a brown so dark it bordered on black, and your hair is blond, not dark and silky. Leaving, she reminded herself. Ryan was leaving.

 

She couldn’t wait for something that wasn’t going to happen. She liked Ian. Her parents liked Ian. He had dreams of his own and they didn’t involve fighting someone else’s war—he was going to be a police officer.