Home > Damaged (Damaged #1)(12)

Damaged (Damaged #1)(12)
Author: H.M. Ward

“Yeah, right. You know you won’t let me down.” Millie shifts in her bed and sits on her knees. She looks at me funny for a moment.


Her pretty face is all scrunched up. Millie holds a pillow to her chest and gives me a serious look. “You never let me down. I mean, you always try to do what I want.” She picks at the corner of the pillow, not looking up at me.

Something doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sound like praise, like oh Sidney, you’re the bestest friend I ever had! It sounds as though she’s worried or something. It makes me nervous. I have no idea where this conversation is going. “So?”

“So, I have a question for you.” She takes a deep breath and jumps in. “Why do you go on dates with me if you have no intention of dating? I mean, we’ve been roommates since freshman year and you haven’t hooked up with a guy once, but you always come out with us when I ask you.” Her voice is too serious.

Worry pinches my throat, making it hard to swallow. My mouth goes dry. I wonder if she knows what happened. My ex wasn’t stupid enough to post what he did to me on Facebook, but there were pictures. They were the type of pictures that look wrong.

I feel her gaze on my face. I don’t look up.

Millie finally asks, “Sidney, do you have a crush on me?”

Shock shoots across my face. I glance up at her and blink. “What?”

There’s a half smirk on Millie’s lips. Her eyebrows are doing this weird thing where one is up and the other is down. She looks right at me and adds, “I mean, if you’re into girls, that’s okay. I mean, I’m not—not that I don’t like you—well, not like that. I was just—”

My eyes are too big for my head. She’s rambling. Oh my God, this is so not what I thought she was going to say. My jaw drops open. I listen to her eat her foot and finally blurt out, “I’m not a lesbian.”

Millie counters, “But it’d be okay if you were.”

“But I’m not!”

Mille presses her lips together and considers me for a moment. It’s as if she can’t figure me out. Damn, have I become so dysfunctional that she can’t tell I’m into guys?

She finally asks, “Then, what’s up with you? Did your parents send you down here with a chastity belt or something?” She leans back against the wall and pulls her knees to her chest. “You don’t date, unless I drag you with me—and honestly, straddling teacher-guy was the most action you’ve gotten since we met.”

My face flames red. “This conversation passed the acceptable limit before it started.” I laugh nervously and stand. I walk over to my closet and fish through it, looking for PJs.

“I’m serious, Sidney. It’s like you don’t think you should be happy or something. There’s always this massive weight on your shoulders. I used to think it was because you’re from New Jersey and everyone there must be super pissed-off all the time, but that’s not it. Is it? You lit up when you were dancing tonight. I saw another version of you that I haven’t really seen before. It’s as if there’s another Sidney locked away somewhere.”

I stare at her. This isn’t something I talk about. It’s not something I share. Not after what happened last time I told someone. Part of me wants to say it. I want to know if she thinks that it was my fault, but I couldn’t bear that. Not again. Shaking my head, I look away. “I just like dancing. It makes me forget to scowl all the time.”

“One day, you’ll tell me. And when you do, I’ll be a good friend. You’ve been a good friend to me. You deserve to have someone to tell your secrets to, no matter what they are.” She smiles sadly at me.

I can’t. I feel the words lodged in my throat. I feel the bear at my back, but it doesn’t matter—I can’t say it. I can’t tell her what happened to me, what he did to me. There’s a span of silence. Neither of us moves.

Finally, Millie’s gaze drops to her bedspread. “I think he might be the one.”

Shocked by the abrupt conversation change, I don’t follow at first. “Who? Brent?”

She nods. “Yeah. We get along really well—better than anyone else. I really love him.”

“Have you guys said that to each other, yet?”

Shaking her head, she says, “Not yet. I nearly said it tonight. I’m thinking about it. It’s hard, you know. Being the first one to say I love you is rough. I mean, he might not say it back.”

“He’ll say it back.” There’s certainty in my voice. I smile at her and she looks less fragile.

“How do you know?”

“It’s all over his face, Millie. He adores you, even if he can’t say the L-bomb, yet.”

She smiles. Hard. It lights up her face. Millie leans back into her pillows. I change and then grab my books and try to get some reading out of the way, but my mind is elsewhere. I wonder how long it will be until Millie figures out what happened to me. Maybe I should just tell her and get it over with. When I realize that I’m no longer reading, I shut the light off and climb into bed.

This time when I close my eyes, I’m granted a reprieve. Instead of reliving the same nightmare over again, I see Peter’s easy smile. I fall asleep thinking about my body twirling and his strong hands guiding me.


A few weeks roll by and the last of the winter weather is gone. Spring is here. Trees are budding and there are flowers everywhere. The campus is covered in bright, beautiful, colors. It seems to make everyone extra smitten. Couples walk around totally love-struck, not paying attention to anything but each other.

Working for Peter has gotten better, less uncomfortable. I hate to admit it, but I like him. He’s a good teacher and laid-back most of the time. It works out well since I’m usually as tense as a totem pole. Being around him soothes me. I don’t feel as on edge as I usually do. I wonder if he notices things like that. Sometimes I think Peter doesn’t notice much, but I think that’s what he wants me think.

It’s nearly dinner time. I’m on my way to my night class, but stop to check my mail first. I wave at a few people as I walk into the campus center and find my mail box. I turn the little lockbox dial, pull open the door, and yank out the mail. I slap the door shut and walk over to the table to sort it and toss junk mail.

Dusty sees me. He walks over and stands at the table opposite me. “Hey, Sidney.”

We haven’t spoken since our ill-fated date, which has been hard to pull off since he’s in one of my classes. “Hey.”

“I need to apologize. I screwed up the night we met. I shouldn’t have—”

I so don’t want to talk about this. I wave my hands, motioning for him to stop. “No, it was my fault. I—”

“It was not your fault. Come on. Let me say this. I’ve been trying to say it to you for way too long.” I look at him and nod even though I want to bolt. “I was an ass. I shouldn’t have assumed anything, but I did. I’m sorry, Sidney.”

I glance at the mail in my hands as he speaks. Dusty’s words are familiar. I’ve heard them before from another set of lips, from someone equally sweet. Appearances can be deceiving. I look up at him and nod. “Okay. Do me a favor though and let’s just start over?” I don’t want to start over, but he’s been following me around, trying to apologize for too long to blow him off.

Dusty smiles. “Sounds good.” He looks at the mail in my hands and then back up at my face. “You headed to class?” I nod. “Me too. I’ll walk over with you.”

Great. “Uh, okay. Sure.” As I wait for Dusty to check his mail, I look at the letters in my hands. I toss a bunch of junk mail and then freeze on the last envelope. I recognize the handwriting. I stare at it, unblinking. A wave of shock nearly knocks me over. He found me.

“Ready?” Dusty asks.

I stuff the letter into my book, and nod. As we walk to class, I don’t say much. Dusty talks and I listen, or try to….but that letter. Oh my god. It’s been over four years. Why would he send a letter? Why now? I’m nervous, so tense that I don’t realize that we’ve entered the classroom and that Peter is talking to me.

Peter’s hand lands on my shoulder and I jump. My feet literally trip back and I gasp. Peter steps back and lifts his hands, showing me his palms. “Easy, Sidney. Are you all right?” He looks concerned.

The class is watching us. I feel eyes on me. Too many people are looking. I find my plastic smile and put it on. I nod and laugh about being spaced-out. Dusty laughs with me, but Peter doesn’t buy it. He doesn’t tell me, in fact, he says the opposite. Peter even smiles, but I can read him. He’ll ask me about it later, after everyone leaves.

It feels like I’m wearing a turtleneck made of thorns. I can’t swallow. I can’t breathe. Every time I touch my textbook, I feel the letter through the pages, burning a hole in my hand. I shouldn’t read it. I shouldn’t.

But what if it’s important? What if—?

Don’t read it. It’s not worth it.

The internal debate continues in my mind. I stare blankly. The lesson continues around me, but I don’t notice. Students talk. Someone laughs. A girl’s voice rings in my ears a few moments later, but I have no idea what she said or what Peter said. The letter consumes me.

My palm is pressed to the pages. My fingers twitch. Halfway through class, Peter calls on me. I don’t hear him. My gaze is on the floor and totally vacant. I don’t realize he’s standing in front of me until I see his shoes. I look up. “Sorry. What was that?”

He smiles at me and points to my textbook, which is open to the wrong page. Peter gives me a look, but doesn’t say anything. “We’re talking about poems. Dusty said they’re emotional crap used to lure in women, that no guy in his right mind would ever write a poem on his own without an incentive.”

I blink. “An incentive?”

Dusty is sitting two rows behind me. “He’s saying it nicely. What I said was that no guy would write a poem for no reason. The poet in this case obviously wanted to get laid.”

“Very eloquent,” Peter says, and shakes his head. Folding his arms across his chest, Peter looks down at me. “And what do you say, Sidney?”

I make a face and look back at Dusty. “Not that.” I turn back to Peter. “A poem is an expression of emotions. It’s condensed language. At its core…” My vision goes black at the edges. I wrote poems. I vividly remember what happened the day I wrote the last poem. The choking sensation doesn’t stop. I can still feel his hands on me. I swallow my gasp and ignore the cold sweat on my back. Clearing my throat, I add, “At the core of poetry is purity—pure emotion, pure desire, pure elation, pure—”

Dusty speaks out, “So a poem can’t be filled with lies? What if the guy just wants to nail you? What if it’s all pretty words? You really think that ancient guys didn’t write this stuff to get a little action? Come on, Sidney, you’re smarter than that.”

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