Home > Tied (All Torn Up #2)(10)

Tied (All Torn Up #2)(10)
Author: Carian Cole

She nods, smiling at me. “Yeah, for the past…maybe thirty years or so…someone decorates random trees way up in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, around Christmas time. Hikers usually find the trees, and photographers are always hunting for them, which is how we got lucky enough to have these photographs. Nobody knows who actually decorates them so, at some point, he or she was given the nickname Forest Santa. There’s a myth that woodland animals can speak on Christmas Eve, so part of the legend is that Forest Santa decorates the trees with them and they celebrate Christmas together. The little kids love the story.”

“I would like to buy them, please,” I say, not taking my eyes off the photographs. I’m captivated by the magical feeling of the photos and the legend behind them, and now I can’t bear the thought of not being able to look at them whenever I want.

The salesgirl stares at me; then she eyes the four pictures. “They’re quite expensive, two hundred dollars each—”

“That’s fine,” Feather interrupts, suddenly appearing next to me with a big smile. “She’ll take all four. Can you wrap them up for her?”

“Of course!” the salesgirl says, responding instantly to Feather’s confident demeanor, which I know is all an act that she plays very well. “I’ll meet you at the register with them.” The salesgirl carefully takes them down from the wall.

Nerves rattle my stomach. Money is not a concept I’m at all comfortable with, and I just don’t feel like I have a right to spend someone else’s money. Especially my father’s. He barely speaks to me.

“Feather…that’s a lot of money, and I don’t need them. I didn’t know—”

My friend puts her hand up to shush me. “Holly, stop. You’re allowed to have things. I know you probably don’t know this, but your dad makes a lot of money. He took me aside last night, when you were putting your suitcase in your room, and told me to make sure you bought anything you wanted after I told him we were going shopping.”

I bite my lip. “Are you sure? I’m not used to buying things.”

“I know—that’s what I’m here for. I’m a pro.” She grins and loops her arm through mine. “Come on, I’ll let you slide the card. It’s totally addicting.”

It’s nearly eight o’clock by the time Feather and I are on our way home to Merryfield. It’s dark outside but even darker inside her car due to the tinted windows. I squint, my gaze wandering around the interior of the car. The darkness reminds me of being in that hole, the dirt in my nostrils, the sounds of the woods at night frightening me. I could hear things walking around at night, and I never knew if it was my captor or a wild animal. I always tried to hush Poppy by gently putting my hand over his mouth, afraid he would make the bad man mad or bring a wild animal to eat us.

“Did you scream for help while you were in the hole in the woods?” The female officer asked.

“No…never,” I answer.

“Why not?”

“I guess I forgot someone would ever help me.”

I thought we were only going shopping, but Feather surprises me by also taking me to her favorite restaurant for dinner. I look at her uneasily as her manicured fingertips tap out a text message on her phone with one hand as she steers the car with the other. I don’t have a cell phone, and the insane appeal of them is lost on me. What can be so interesting on a little phone?

“Sorry…Steve is telling me about his day,” she says, referring to her sort-of boyfriend, a guy she’s known since she was very young, who is mostly a friend but is slowly turning into more. She puts her phone in the console between our seats, and I can breathe a little easier knowing she actually has her eyes on the road and the traffic around us. “Are you feeling okay now? I’m sorry about the lipstick thing…”

“It’s okay. You had no way of knowing. I just feel bad I embarrassed you.”

“The guy…he made you wear lipstick?” She’s the only person who ever asks for any details whatsoever about what happened to me, and I usually don’t mind telling her.

I chew my lip, torn between wanting to tell her and not wanting to remember any of it. “Yeah,” I finally admit, feeling ashamed, even though the logical side of me knows it’s not my fault. “Bright red lipstick. He’d put it on me before he…touched me.”

She grimaces. “God, that’s fucking sick. That’s like the shit you see in movies. I’m so glad my mom’s husband didn’t do weird shit like that with me. He just liked to get drunk and grope the hell out of me.”

Just thinking red and lipstick starts to make me panic, and I break out in a cold sweat. I clamp down on that sensation, force the images and feelings of fear away. I don’t want to freak out again, or Feather may not want to take me out in public again. I use the breathing and visualization exercises Dr. Reynolds taught me to do when I feel overwhelmed with emotions.

Counting to ten, I squeeze my eyes shut. I bite on my lower lip and try to clear my mind. I force my thoughts away from those memories and into less dangerous territory. I think about Poppy, in his new home, happy and loved. I think about my prince, his words promising me I’ll be okay. I think about my books and the stories that always give me comfort. I think about my grandmother’s hugs. I think about my new Christmas photographs. Soon I feel better. Less out of control.

According to Dr. Reynolds, I suffer from what’s called posttraumatic stress disorder, and I’ll likely have to deal with it for the rest of my life. Her focus was on teaching me how to understand the triggers I’ll face and how to calmly deal with them, especially in public. Which I guess I kinda failed at today. Talking about how to deal with triggers in the safety of her office is a lot different from experiencing it in real life, and now I’m completely exhausted from this day.

I open my eyes and glance over at Feather discreetly. She doesn’t seem to notice my anxiety, her attention on the road and the radio. That small bit of information about my past seems to have satisfied her, so I don’t offer any further details. We’re almost home, and I’m looking forward to being alone and forgetting about the bad parts of the day.

Feather seems to have recovered from her abuse better than I have, and I’m a bit jealous. When we first met last year, she was quiet, depressed, and withdrawn. Now she’s much happier, like a lot of weight has been lifted from her. I often wonder how she feels about me as a friend. Does she feel sorry for me? Disgusted by me? Her head is bobbing slightly to the music coming from the car stereo, oblivious to me watching her. I wish I could be as carefree as she appears to be lately.

We stop at a traffic light, and Feather picks up her phone again and types wildly on the tiny keyboard, illuminating the interior of the car. I hope she’s not telling Steve about me and the red lipstick incident.

The thundering roar of a motorcycle pulling up to a stop next to us startles me, and I peer out the window at the rider. It’s early October but, even with a chill in the air, all he’s wearing is a black shirt with the sleeves pushed up, revealing muscular, tattooed arms. A black knit hat covers his head in lieu of a helmet. Long dirty blond hair sprouts from the hem and just touches his collar. He must feel my gaze because he turns sideways toward me.

I gasp—

The lower half of his face is covered by a mask that looks like a portion of a bloody skull. His eyes are hidden behind dark glasses. He grabs the burning cigarette dangling from a hole cut in the mask and blows a puff of gray smoke in my direction before carelessly flicking the cigarette onto the street between us.

But that’s not what’s got me nearly crawling out of my seat and jumping out into the road. I sit forward slightly and lean closer to the dark-tinted window, not sure he can even see me.

“Did you see that creeper throw his cigarette at my car?” Feather shoves her phone back into the console. “I should run that asshole off the road.”

My heart gallops in my chest, and I lean even closer to the window, my breath puffing against the cold glass, my eyes riveted to his tattooed hand, wrapped around the handlebar grip.

The last time I saw that tattooed hand, it was squeezing the throat of the man who had kept me for ten years.

My eyes widen, poring over him. The way his powerful legs wrap around the rumbling motorcycle, the broadness of his shoulders, his arm muscles flexing, the colorful ink covering the exposed parts of his forearms, the stray wisps of hair blowing in the breeze. An indescribable ache sears through me, a longing like nothing I have ever felt before.

Look at me, look at me!

I want to scream it. I want him to see me. I need him to recognize me.

I’m right here!

But his gaze doesn’t linger. His head turns away, and he guns his engine.

No! He’s going to leave me again. I’m going to lose him again. There he is, just six feet away from me—the man who saved me. My beautiful, strong prince. My breath catches as he kicks the bike into gear with a scuffed black boot then speeds off down the dark road, disappearing within moments.

I wish I could have stopped him.

I wish I could thank him and tell him I’m sorry for what he went through for me.

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