Authors: A.J. Lape
It was Friday evening, and vacation was all but over. Cisco had been returned to Hank, Lola was turning state’s evidence, and the Medinas weren’t hiding out in nearby Ocala anymore. I got to see Cisco for a few moments this afternoon, and what the heck, I added another brother to my clan. He was a brainy little man and said he held onto what he knew was true … his family loved him, and they’d find him.
Lola was allowed to speak with him once during his captivity, but it had been so disturbing, Eleanor cut the call short—unfortunately, it never grew into another occurrence. Lola was always told she had “one last game,” but Eleanor’s greed for the win couldn’t be sated, and Lola, unfortunately, trusted no one enough to confide in them.
Cisco ended our meeting by interviewing me on my likes and dislikes, bound and determined to tell me how he’d survived. This dark, eerie feeling descended on me while he’d spoke, as if someone skipped across my premature grave, and I’d one day need his words to survive. I shook off the thought, convincing myself that my imagination—once again—operated in the Grimms’ Fairytale world.
Needing to find my other half, I rolled my luggage to the front door, peeking in each room along the way. The bulk of the family partied poolside, along with Paddy and some other badges that were friends of Lincoln’s. No Dylan was in sight. I felt a nagging pang of imbalance and loneliness. If I had to think about it, he was the one element in my universe that remained as essential as air and water. He made my life easier, he made me feel blessed, he made me feel special when there really wasn’t anything to feel special about.
, I thought, that occasionally Dylan was just downright dumb.
Migrating toward his room, I found the french doors wide open with Dylan sitting in the grass, relaxing back on his elbows, watching and drinking in the sunset.
Dylan looked like …
, I sighed: plain gray t-shirt, red athletic shorts, long, muscular legs, and barefoot. As a cool breeze blew through his raven-black hair, he closed his eyes—like he drank in the last bit of daylight in what had been a record high 103 degrees.
I rested against the doors, reflecting on our relationship. The last thing I’d ever want would be to jeopardize what we had together—even if it sometimes seemed unidentifiable. Would a relationship with Kyd—or a relationship with anyone—jeopardize or place a strain on it?
It would … by God, it would.
“Come sit with me, Darc,” he murmured, not turning around or opening his eyes.
“How’d you know?” I laughed. Dylan rose up, still not turning, tapping the space next to him.
“I’ll never need anything or anyone to point me in your direction. I always …
Walking outside, I let the grass swim and plunge deeply between my toes. Inching up behind him, I dropped down, molded myself to his back, my arms and legs wrapping around his waist. “I love you,” I whispered into his neck.
Dylan leaned into me and reached back, sliding the fingers of his left hand through my hair. “Always,” he murmured. “I swear, sweetheart, it will forever be
, and I’m so,
” he paused, breathing deep, “proud of you.”
Dylan’s voice pulsed about an octave deeper than everyone else’s, but when he spoke, it always rang soft and soothing. For a brief moment, it almost lulled me to sleep. I’d never truly felt proud of myself. Not really. My mother—how do I phrase this, “went away”—when I was nine. Working through that grief was like cutting your fingernails too short. Nothing would feel better until you sucked it up or applied nail lengthener. Trouble was, it had been six years, and I was still working with nubs. Things happened to me then … things no one should have to endure … at least not publicly. My self-esteem plummeted to the lowest depths imaginable as a result. And Dylan? He never left me … he held out his hand and pulled me back.
I whispered, “I miss her, D. Do you think she’d be proud? Did I do the right thing?”
The air went quiet for a few breaths as Dylan collected his thoughts … and probably emotions. Bad memories did that to you, and frankly, he probably tried to gauge whether this would be a good conversation or an A-Bomb of tears. Sometimes, the emotions of my mother struck hard and merciless, and he was left putting the wreckage back together. Others, I could focus on one recollection and smile for days.
“Yes,” he finally said quietly. “Your mother would be unbelievably proud of you. What you did is more than I’ll ever accomplish, Darc. Mothers across the world are thankful for you. You were smart, fearless, and convicted. You can’t teach that. You’re either born with it or granted it by God. So yes,” he paused confidently, “you did the right thing.”
That answer alone was the hallmark of Dylantopia—good always wins in the end. Trouble was, many people met their end before they ever saw their happy ending. Those were the situations I couldn’t reconcile. At times God seemed far, far away in some distant land and the innocent were left unguarded. Or, at least it seemed like they were, and in my experience, feeling abandoned was as bad as being abandoned.
The larger my doubts grew, the more I found myself hanging tighter to him. As usual, his touch brought a beautiful energy and that reminded me how “dead” I felt when he wasn’t around. I’d already begun to feel the dull pain of an overwhelming numbness encase my body. The problem with all of my escapades was that the buzz seemed short-lived. Heaven help me, this one hadn’t even lasted 24 hours.
I kept the laugh to myself.
“You scared me,” he murmured. How did I feel about this vacation? Fan-
-tastic stuff. Dylan, however, would need to be institutionalized by the time we graduated.
I turned his face to meet mine, but his eyes were misty, unsettled, and raw with fear. Three short gasps escaped his lips as he looked to the sky, blinking away tears before they fell.
I couldn’t find the words to respond, so I tenderly kissed the back of his neck.
, I kissed.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry
, I finished three more times. Nothing was suggestive or compromising or outside our normal boundaries; I merely wanted to love on him and kiss away his worries.
After a dozen more heartbeats, Dylan murmured, “It’s never enough, is it?” speaking of our time together.
Nope. Not by a long shot. “One day you’re not going to want me around, D, and it’s going to break my heart,” I whispered. Ironically, the wind kicked up a notch, sending blue-green, feather-veined leaves to weep and float to the lake before us. A storm was brewing, just as in my heart.
“Shh,” he said, reassuring me, “that will never happen.”
“But what if it
?” I protested. “I’ll always be Darcy Walker who looks at the sunset and remembers this might be her favorite vacation with the best friend she’s ever had.”
My God, my idea of fun wasn’t normal … I needed to figure out what that meant.
Dylan’s back tensed in hesitation, as though his body decided not to voice what his mind had dictated. “What?” I asked, tightening my grip. “You seem like there’s something you want to say, but you don’t. Full disclosure, right?” A grim nod was all I received. “D? Ripping off the Band-Aid is usually your department.”
He sighed … long and hard.
“I’m aware of the irony, Darcy,” he murmured. “I’m usually the open one, but I don’t know how to talk to you about the changes between us. And when I muster the courage, I fail miserably at every turn. My personality is not to allow feelings to lie dormant, and when I force them to, I literally feel sick inside.”
I wanted to crawl inside his soul and have him promise that things would never change, but parts of our lives were off-limits, even to one another. I couldn’t find any anger. Look at me, I’d never divulged what I’d been doing right under his own nose—things that included Kyd. Even though I had no plans to take things further with Kyd, in all honesty, Dylan didn’t know that.
“He’s nothing to me,” I blurted out. “And neither was Liam Woods.” Dylan briefly stiffened but didn’t add anything of worth to the conversation. The longer the stillness spread, it felt like I’d been skinned and boiled alive. My eyes close briefly. Open. Wince at the subject matter. I couldn’t take the obscurity anymore, and if he wouldn’t do anything to paint this black and white picture in color, then I would. “Did you ever go out with Yankee?”
Dylan inhaled sharply, stiffening even more. “Yes,” he said on the exhale.
“Did you like it?”
“No,” he answered quickly.
“Did you ever go out with Brynn Hathaway?” Silence. A raw and painful silence. And that silence spoke for itself. “Answer me, D. I’ve answered the biggest things that I know have been on your mind. Turnabout is fair play.”
Dylan expelled what not only sounded like the last breath in his body, but the weight of the fact that he’d been keeping something hidden he wished he would’ve shared. Jeez, guess this was out-with-secrets night. “Yes,” he murmured, gently stroking my hands with his thumbs. “I did recently go out with her, and I do like her a lot, Darc … just not enough.”
My heart began to hurt, like someone ripped it out of my chest and left it to shrivel up and die. Oh, crap. Oh, crap, oh, crap, oh crap. “Not enough for what?” I whispered.
“To take me away from you.”
Keeping the tears from falling proved futile. So Dylan’s not the kiss-and-tell type … how quaint. Pain hit me at my very core. It struck me in the center of my chest and kept growing … until every part of me ached, even my hair. “That hurts me,” I whispered.
“Hurts you because I did it, or hurts you because you didn’t know?”
“Does it matter?” I sniffed quietly.
Dylan responded, even quieter. “It matters … it matters to me.”
“Then yes,” I whispered, pain catching in my throat. “Yes, to both.”
Dylan tenderly squeezed my hands in his, and I knew that was an apology. “I’ve done a lot of things,” he murmured, “allowed a lot of things to happen, but they’ve all been to get your attention, Darc. I apologize that I wasn’t more direct. Our relationship has never been about games … and I don’t ever wish it to become that.”
On that we were in agreement. “What are we to one another, D?”
It felt like weeks had passed. Months. Just the two of us together, dissecting what had always been simple. “Ah, sweetheart,” he finally answered softly, “it’s more than I am with anyone else. You’ll always be the girl … I can’t live without.”
Those words used to be enough, but seasons changed. And people changed. “You’re going to college,” I said panicked. “My guess is some place far away. Perhaps even here. You’ll meet girls,” I choked out, “you’ll like them, you’ll love them,” I whispered, “and you’ll want to spend time with them. I don’t know, D, maybe even me, too.”
Nooooooooooo. No, no, noooo. I only said that because my ego poked me in the ribs to not sound so desperate.
We both sat there absorbing what we knew was the next logical step in our relationship. Our lives were changing and neither of us felt comfortable with the change.
“Why do you think that circumstances leave you the only one feeling vulnerable?” he asked, an emotion tickling his voice, I couldn’t quite put my finger on. “My love for you is bigger than any circumstance, Darcy, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only one that battles the uneasiness.”
, I thought,
. He’d enjoy the college life; I’d flip burgers in a fast food joint. Great things would be written about him in the paper; I’d do my best to dodge the obituaries and prison roundup. That didn’t add up to the HEA, or happily-ever-after. It seemed more like inequality and reason for revolution.
“Things change,” I kept insisting.
His breathing intensified, like he was one synapse away from a panic attack. “They’ll change only if you desire it,” he murmured. “I’m not going to get star struck by some unknown girl or some girl that I already know. I’ve got the brightest star in the universe hugging me, and I don’t want anyone else’s arms to take her place. Trust me, honey, there is no Dylan without Darcy, and no one will
fill my heart like you do. But promise me,” he murmured seriously. “Promise me, you’ll just … think about … us together … consider it, sweetheart … please … it’s what I want…”
I have brain damage. Maybe when I fell off that barstool at Cowboys, my brainstem disconnected because Dylan almost sounded like he’s asking me to consider dating him. While I sat there speechless, he murmured more comforting words in Greek. Sometimes I asked for an interpretation; others, I merely liked the way Darcy resonated from his lips. He said it differently, thicker and deeper—like we both were someone different within the confines of somewhere else. Tonight, I listened to it over and over, knowing it held a meaning I probably should inquire about, but the deepest part of my soul told me it promised always.
EPILOGUE: JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT’S SAFE
Break it to Me Gently
. That ringtone was a tad morose, but dude, that day was comin’ soon.
“Morning, Vinnie,” I giggled, punching the speaker.
“Morning, Dolce. I need to see you tonight. I’ve got a lead on that yellow Dodge Charger.”
“What do you mean you’ve got a lead?”
“Christ, Dolce. Don’t you know what ‘I’ve got a lead’ means?”
“Yes, nimrod, but you don’t need to bring Christ into the picture.” My God, Vinnie Vecchione was basically begging for a lightning bolt to incinerate us both. “Besides, how can you be back in town tonight?” I asked confused. “You
still at college, right?”
“Um, yeah,” he answered evasively, “but the Bug lost a few eyelashes, and I need to get them fixed.”
Well, God forbid, the Bug couldn’t see…
Vinnie drove a Pepto-Bismol pink Volkswagen Bug—with black plastic eyelashes. He won it when he plastered his hand to its hood all night in a Breast Cancer Awareness Marathon. He also picked up two dates that evening and a bad case of jock itch … I didn’t ask questions.