Home > Damaged (Damaged #1)(14)

Damaged (Damaged #1)(14)
Author: H.M. Ward

I stare at his face. I stare and drink him in like I’m dying of thirst. Shock has rendered me silent. My hand drops from the door. My lungs heave in air as I turn to lean back against the door. I hit it too hard and my weight pushes the door open. I start to fall backward. Peter reaches for me. His hands slip around my waist and he pulls me toward him, pulling me upright. The door clicks shut. He doesn’t let go. His eyes are locked with mine. His body is pressed tightly against mine. Our gazes meet.

“Don’t tell me that you’re all right. I know you aren’t... There’s something about you.” Peter takes a deep breath and lowers his gaze. When he looks up again, he says, “And I can tell.”

My lips twitch like they want to spill my guts, so I lock my jaw. I shake my head and try to pull out of his arms. Peter doesn’t allow me to step back. “Part of the poem is about you. Part of it isn’t.” Part of it’s about Peter, and part of it’s about them.

I’m hyperaware of my body, of my breaths that seem too long, but not long enough. I can’t breathe. I haven’t spoken about that night since it happened.

Peter’s eyes remain fixed on my face. “The part at the beginning of your poem—the starting over, the tender kisses, the girlish giggles—that part is about me?” I nod. I hate myself, but I nod. “The part after that with the starving kisses, clawing hands, the taking without giving…” he’s breathing hard. Peter’s lips mash together before he speaks again. “This is about rape. Sidney, if some guy did something to you—”

I lean into him. I press my face against his chest. Peter’s heart is beating so fast. “They’re old wounds,” I tell him. “I wrote without thinking. It’s what poured onto the paper.” I take a deep breath and pull away. Peter releases me. “That part had nothing to do with you or your coffee from that night.” The corner of my mouth tugs up into a lopsided smile. It’s the saddest smile ever. Peter’s expression says as much.

He searches my eyes for a long time. We’re no longer touching. I wish we were. After a moment, Peter offers me the paper. “I didn’t read the whole thing. I don’t think I was meant to see it. I didn’t mean to…” he searches for the right word.

I take the paper and cut him off. “It’s fine. I’m fine now.” He gives me a look that says he doesn’t believe me. “Really, I’m okay. I’m over it. Almost. Well, most of the time. Today just threw me, that’s all.”

“Why? What happened?”

I shrug and remember the letter in my textbook. “Remember how I told you that my family was pissed when I left?” He nods. “Well, that’s true, but it was more than that.” I glance up at his face, debating whether or not to tell him. The way he looks at me makes the words dislodge from my throat. They’ve been stuck there for years.

Before I realize it, I’m telling him my story. “I left. As soon as I got my scholarship down here, I packed a bag and drove away. I never went back. I didn’t tell my family anything. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter. I picked the worst place I could imagine to make sure they didn’t find me. I did everything short of change my name. I thought it worked. No one found me. No one has called or said anything to me in four years...”

I slip the envelope out of my book and hold it between my fingers. “Until today. My brother sent me a letter. I got it right before class.” I’m saying too much. I shouldn’t tell him this, but I can’t stop.

Peter watches me as I speak. I haven’t told anyone any of this. No one here knows I was raped. No one knows anything. Shame flushes my face red and I look away from him. I hand Peter the envelope and sit down on top of my desk. My legs dangle down in front of me.

Peter takes the envelope and flips it over in his hands, before looking up at me. “What are you going to do?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. Throw it out. Change my name.” I stare at my shoes.

“Will he hurt you?” Peter is looking at the envelope when I glance at him.

I shake my head. “It wasn’t like that. Oh God, I don’t…” I stutter and rub my face with the heel of my hand. When I look up at Peter, I want to tell him. He makes me feel irrationally safe, as if nothing will hurt me.

“I never told anyone, besides my family.” I’m quiet for a moment, remembering too many things that I want to forget. “I knew him, the guy that…” raped me. I still can’t say it.

I suck in air as though there isn’t enough and look away from Peter. “We were dating. I wasn’t ready to have sex. He was. He took what he wanted. He said he’d do it again—that no one would believe me.

“I found my mom after the first time it happened. I told her. She told my dad. They did nothing. They said it was a date, that maybe I misunderstood or mislead him. My brother found out—I was dating his best friend—and said his friend would never do anything like that. They blamed me. All of them. They said it was my fault.” My gaze lifts and connects with Peter’s. “That was my senior year of high school.” I smile, but it’s angry. “You don’t even know the sickest part. My parents liked the guy that did this to me. After that, they tried to keep us together.”

“So, it didn’t stop?” Peter’s arms fold over his chest. His muscles bulge under his shirtsleeves.

I shake my head. “No,” my voice is a whisper. Memories slam into me. I see a flash of silver as though it’s really there. The story is so much darker. My fingers touch my throat, feeling the necklace that hides the scar. I can’t tell him that part. I refuse to relive it. I push the thoughts back. My voice is soft. I twist my hands in my lap. “I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get away from him. And I didn’t tell anyone else. My parents didn’t believe me, why would my friends?

“So I switched my college without telling anyone. I found this place and they gave me everything I needed. I ran away and haven’t looked back.”

Peter says nothing for a long time. “You’ve had a hard life and I made it harder.” His blue gaze pierces mine. “I’m sorry.”

I swat away his apology. “You don’t have anything to apologize for.”

Peter shakes his head as he wraps his arms around his middle. “I led you on the night I first met you. I was going through some things, but I shouldn’t have. And I sure as hell shouldn’t have asked you to leave.”

“You didn’t.”

“It was the equivalent of kicking your ass out.” Peter sighs and runs his hands through his hair. “Listen, it’s not an excuse, but you should know that it wasn’t you. About a year ago, something happened. I lost someone. I’m not over her.” His voice catches. Peter doesn’t look at me. “I tried to move on and I wasn’t—I couldn’t. That’s what happened the night we met. I couldn’t tell you, then. I’m not sure I can tell the whole story now—”

I slip off my desk and walk over to Peter. Placing my hand on his, I say, “Then don’t.” I hear the pain in his voice. “You have a friend here, you know. University guidelines be damned.”

Peter smirks and looks down into my face. “You care about me?”

“Maybe. A little bit.” I hold my fingers really close together and grin. He smiles. I love that smile. “Well, that’s not entirely true. I might like you—”

Peter cuts me off. “You like me?” Now Peter’s grinning so wide that his dimples show.

“Not like that.”

“No, you said it. University be damned. You like me. You like me, like me.” Peter waggles his eyebrows, smiling at full wattage.

“I did not!”

“I believe you did.”

“You’re such an ass.”

“Call me whatever you want, beautiful, but I know you like me.” Peter walks behind his desk, bouncing on the balls of his feet with his hands behind his back.

“You’re so arrogant. What makes you think that I like you? Maybe I’m just being friendly.”

“Mmm hmmm,” he says shuffling through some papers after he sits down. When Peter looks up at me, he adds, “You were very friendly, although I would have called being topless and in my lap something else.” My jaw drops open. Peter grins. “Oh good. I was afraid that kind of friendliness was your typical MO. By the look on your face, I’m thinking that’s not the case.” Peter glances up at me. I sense the hesitancy in his voice. He wonders if he should tease me about it, but I’m glad he is. It finally throws the whole damn situation out in the open.

“I was trying something new that night. You seemed to enjoy it.” Heat flushes my face and I can’t hide my wicked grin.

He winks at me. “I did.”





“Agh!” I say, and stomp my foot.

Peter laughs. “Temper tantrum? Really, Miss Colleli?” Peter cocks his head to the side and looks at me. He’s jotting something on a piece of paper and stashing his lesson plans back in his satchel.

“You infuriate me.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere.” Peter picks up his things and adds, “Come on.”

“Where?” I feel light and happy, like I might break my face if I keep smiling this much. Peter brings out the best in me. The teasing has been going on for a while, but there hasn’t been any mention of our sort of nak*d night before today. I don’t know how he did it, but Peter chased away my demons. I feel as though I can handle things again, and I’m genuinely curious about where he wants to go.

“You owe me dinner and a glass of wine. I’m driving.” Peter walks toward the door and looks back at me. I want to go, but we shouldn’t. I hesitate. Peter gives a wry smile. “What happened to damning the university? Are you really all bark and no bite?”

“I’ll bite you,” I mutter under my breath and grab my stuff.

Peter grins. “You should. I’m very sweet, or so I hear—like candy.”

“You probably painted yourself in chocolate.”

“That’d work, but no. I’ve got this naturally sweet thing going on.” He grins at me.

“You’ve got this naturally annoying thing going on. Have you been holding back for the past few weeks or what?”

“You’ve barely said two words to me since I took over for Tadwick. I thought you’d castrate me with the letter opener.”

I choke on my spit and hack up a lung, before saying, “You did not think that!”

Peter shrugs and holds out his hand to the door, indicating that we should go. “What about the class?”

“There are directions on the desk. I’ll come back later and pick up the papers.”

“What about the University? Seriously, Peter, I don’t want you to lose your job.”

“I won’t. I can have dinner with my students. It’s not forbidden.” Peter’s serious for a moment. “I’ll tell you what happened the other night. I owe it to you.”

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