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Driven (Page 107)

“Baxter, come!” Colton yells before holding his hand out to help pull me up from my seat in the sand. “Let’s head back,” he says as he keeps my hand in his, and it’s not lost on me that he has not responded to my statement. We walk in silence for a while, and I can sense he wants to ask more but is unsure how.

He sighs. “I have no right to even feel this way,” he says running his hand through his hair, “seeing as how my past is so …” he drifts off without finishing when he meets my eyes. “Why does it bug me? Why does the thought of you with someone else drive me absolutely crazy?”

A part of me likes the fact that it bugs him. I revel in the fact that I mean enough to him for it to matter. “You surely can’t think that I’ve been waiting around my whole life to be your plaything, Ace,” I laugh, shrugging away the unease at the next question I know he is going to ask. I rarely talk about what happened. I never speak of the after effects. Of the indescribable loss that can never be forgotten. Of the horrid, callous words his family said to me. Their accusations that still haunt me to this day.

Despite the passage of time, I still feel that sharp pang of grief when talking about it. Time has dulled it some in the two years since the accident, but the images burned in my mind will never fade. The guilt still weighs so heavily on me at times that I can’t breathe or function. In the past it has prevented me from living again. Taking risks and putting myself out there. From taking a chance like the one I am taking with Colton. I try to hide the shiver that runs through me at the memories and prepare myself for how much I to want to reveal.

Colton looks at me, a ghost of a smile on his sculpted lips. “Spill it, sweetheart. What happened?”

I take a deep breath. “There’s not much to tell,” I begin staring at the sand in front of us as we walked casually. “We were high school sweethearts, followed each other to college, got engaged, were planning our wedding,” I feel him stiffen beside me at my last words, his fingers tensing in mine. “And he died a little over two years ago. End of story.” I glance over to find him looking at me. I’m glad the tears that usually fill my eyes don’t come. How embarrassing to be in love with one man and crying about another.

He stops, tugging on my hand until I falter. Sympathy fills his eyes as they search mine. “I’m sorry,” he says gently, pulling me into his chest and wrapping his arms around me. I bury my face in his neck finding comfort in the steady beat of his pulse beneath my lips. I wrap my arms around him, inhaling his delicious scent, so new yet so comforting. He brushes a soft kiss to my temple, and his tenderness is so unexpected that tears burn in the back of my throat.

“Thank you,” I whisper leaning back to look at him and smiling softly.

“You want to tell me about it?” he prompts as he runs a hand down my arm and grabs my hand bringing it up to his mouth and placing a kiss on it.

Do I want to talk about it? Not really, but he deserves to know. Most of it anyway. He pulls me to his side and puts an arm around me as we start to walk again. “There’s not much to tell, really. Max and I had pre-calc together. He was a senior and I was a junior. Typical high-school romance. Football games, prom, each others firsts,” I shrug with indifference on the outside to hide the turmoil on the inside at the memories. “I followed him to UCLA, stayed with him throughout and then we got engaged my senior year.” I watch Baxter bite at the waves again, and it brings a welcome diversion from what I’m going to relay next.

“One weekend, Max decided to surprise me with a road trip. He said it was just what the doctor ordered before …” I falter, wondering how I should continue. Colton squeezes my hand in encouragement. “Before life got more hectic; new jobs, marriage … everything. We had no set destination, so we just drove looking for scenery. No one knew that we were going anywhere, so there was no one to expect us back home. We headed north and ended up by Mammoth, passing the town, but veering off a two-lane road not too far from June Lake. Thankfully it had been a dry winter, so there wasn’t much snow on the ground. Just a few patches here and there. It was early afternoon and I was starving, so we decided to explore and find the perfect spot for a picnic. Stupid us,” I shake my head. “We had cell phones with us, but without any service, we turned them off to not waste the batteries.” I stop now, needing a minute to remember those last carefree moments before life changed forever for the both of us. I release Colton’s hand and wrap my arms around myself to stifle the shivers that race through me.

Colton senses my anguish and wraps his arms around me, his body ghosting mine. “You guys were young, Rylee. You did nothing wrong. Don’t put whatever happened on yourself,” he says as if he already knows that the guilt eats at me like a disease on a daily basis.

I take in his words, grateful that he’s said them but still not believing them. “We came around a corner on this winding road we were driving on. There was an elk in the road and Max swerved the car to avoid him.” I can hear Colton suck in an audible breath, knowing where this is going. “We veered into the oncoming lane and the tires grabbed the edge of the road because Max had overcorrected too much. I don’t know. It all happened so fast.” I shudder again and Colton holds me, his arms squeezing tighter around me as if their strength can ward off the inevitable. “I remember seeing the first trees as we went over the edge and started down the ravine. I remember Max swearing and it struck me as odd because he rarely swore.” My stomach lodges in my throat as I remember the weightless feeling as the car lifted from the ground and the centrifugal force that tossed me around like a ragdoll as the car tumbled down. I reach up and wipe the single tear that has slid out of the corner of my eye. I shake my head, “I’m sure you don’t want to hear all of this, Colton. I don’t want to put a damper on our evening.”

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