Pulled (Page 73)

Author: A.L. Jackson

“Oh, I know,” he sneered, his mouth twitching. It was clear he experienced some sort of morbid pleasure in my misery.

He stood and strode from the room, brushing past He stood and strode from the room, brushing past Mom, leaving me in a pile on the floor, trying to piece myself back together.

I was furious. My hands fisted as angry tears flowed down my face. How had I all owed it to get back to here? How had I all owed him to get this control? I was worse off now than I had been when I’d started. The worst part was that Mom stood just ten feet away, her face pale, trembling, frozen in fear.

I felt the break, the way her mind snapped into action, and she rushed to me. “Melanie.”

I tried to pul myself from the floor, but it was harder to do than I had anticipated. My feet wobbled beneath me, and I had to reach out to steady myself on the wall. I was having a hard time making my limbs function, not because Nicholas had physically harmed me but because of the emotional trauma he’d inflicted.

Mom reached to help me, her face stricken with grief. “Melanie,” she said again, “Are…” I put my hand out to stop her, feeling horrible for doing so, but I couldn’t handle talking about this with her yet.

I had to figure out what in the hel I was going to do. I had been thrown back to square one, and I had no idea where to go from here.

Chapter 23

Slamming the door behind me, I fel onto the unmade bed and buried my face in the pil ows in an attempt to drown out my cries.

Nicholas’s threats played again and again in my head. I snaked my arm under my chest and up to the fiery skin, bruised at Nicholas’s hand, a concrete warning that his threats were more than just idle. Never had I felt so helpless.

I tried to ignore the tapping against the door but then my mother called softly, “Melanie? Sweetheart? I’m so sorry.”

I tried to hide the hoarseness of my voice. “Not tonight, Mom. Please. I’m okay, I just need some time.” She was probably blaming herself for what had happened, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her yet. This evening was sure to have raised even more questions than the ones we’d had before, and there was no way I could talk to her now, especially with that bastard still somewhere in the house.

There was the quiet patting of the door, a soft soothing sound that promised she was there if I needed her, followed by the sound of her retreating footsteps.

I fel into a restless sleep filled with nightmares where I would never be free to live my life with Daniel.

The sky was still dark when I awoke, the house silent except for the distinct sound of the shower running upstairs.

I swal owed, bringing my fingers up to touch the sensitive skin at my neck, and I fought against the angry tears that pricked at my eyes.

I hated him so much.

The shower shut off, and Nicholas’s footsteps moved heavily on the floor in the room above. Soon, the sound traveled down the stairs, and I waited, tense. After what seemed like hours, the garage door opened and closed, and silence fel over the house once again.

I released the terrified breath I’d been holding.

I was scared.

Standing, I stretched my sore muscles and tiptoed across the floor to open the door just a crack and peeked into the living room. Mom slept on the couch, hugging the blue blanket from her room to her body.

A wistful smile played at my lips as I realized she’d slept there to protect me.

I closed the door, unwil ing to interrupt her sleep, and crawled back into bed knowing I’d never get any more sleep.

About an hour later, I heard movement and then rattling in the kitchen. I shuffled into the kitchen, abashed and unable to make eye contact with mom as I entered.

I had no idea what to say to her, how to explain how I’d ended up like this.

She filled two green coffee mugs as I took a seat atop a barstool at the island, and she slid the mug to me across the smooth surface of the countertop. I mumbled a quiet, “Thank you,” as I rubbed my eye with the back of my hand, trying to clear my head. Lifting the mug, I inhaled deeply and brought the cup to my lips.

Neither of us wanted to have this conversation, especially after last night, but we were out of time. I just had no idea where to start.

Apparently, Mom did.

“Daniel?” she asked, her voice soft.

I made a little choking sound, my eyes wide as I jerked my head up. Mom waited patiently while she stared at me. Finally, I nodded, my voice cracking when I spoke. “I love him, Mom.”

“I know, sweetheart.” She sat on the stool across from me, watching me sip my coffee. Her expression was understanding and without judgment.

“Willyou tel me?” she asked.

I hesitated only for a second before I nodded.

“Yes. I need you to know.”

She listened silently while I told her of the fateful evening that had brought Daniel and I face-to-face, and everything we’d learned since. Her eyes grew wider, and I could see her guilt grow with each account. She seemed to stop breathing altogether when I got to the part where Daniel had gone to Texas.

“I’m so sorry, Melanie. I can’t tellyou how badly I wanted to let you know that he came, how many times I picked up the phone to call. I just couldn’t. It seemed that every time I tried to intervene in your life, I just messed things up more.”

“Like making me go home with you?” I tried to remain impassive, but there was a bite to my words. It still made me so angry.

She sighed and nodded, looking out the window at the still morning before looking back at me. “I never meant to hurt you, Melanie.”

“But you did.”

This was getting hard. No wonder we’d so

carefully avoided it the whole week.

“I know I did, and I take responsibility for it. But please believe me when I tellyou it was never my intention.”

“Mom, you were going to have him arrested! How did you think that wouldn’t hurt me? You treated the one person who loved me more than anyone else like a criminal. Why? Because he was ten-months older than me?

What you did was…was cruel. At one point I would have said unforgivable.”

She winced at my words, and I knew it hurt her to hear it, but she needed to understand what she had done.

“I was just trying to protect you…you and Daniel,” she said as she searched my face for understanding.

“From what?”

Her voice dipped low with frustration. “Your father.”

Anger flashed hot across my skin with the mention of my dad.

“Do you remember how he acted at the hospital?” She hesitated, as if she didn’t know how much she wanted to say. “How you were scared of him?”