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Flock
Author: Kate Stewart

 

I GREW UP SICK.

Let me clarify. I grew up believing that real love stories include a martyr or demand great sacrifice to be worthy.

My favorite books, love songs, movies, the ones that resonated with me, have kept me grieving long after I turned the last page, the notes faded out, or the credits rolled.

Because of that, I believed it, because I made myself believe it, and I bred the most masochistic of romantic hearts, which resulted in my illness.

When I lived this story, my own twisted fairy tale, it was unbeknownst to me at the time because I was young and naïve. I gave into temptation and fed that beating beast, which grew thirstier with every slash, every strike, every blow.

That’s the novelty of fiction versus reality. You can’t re-live your own love story because, by the time you’ve realized you’re living it, it’s over. At least that was the case for me.

All these years later, I’m convinced I willed my story into existence due to my illness.

And all were punished.

That’s why I’m here, to feed, to grieve, and maybe to cure my sickness. It’s here that it started and it’s here where I have to end it.

It’s a ghost town, this place that haunts me, this place that made me. A few weeks shy of my nineteenth birthday, my mother had sent me to take up residence with my father, a man I’d previously only spent a few summers with when I was much younger. Upon my arrival, I’d quickly learned that his stance hadn’t changed on his biological obligation, and he doled out the same rules as he had when I was small—to rarely be seen and never heard. I was to uphold myself to the strictest of morals and excel in school while executing his standard of living.

In the months that followed, a prisoner of his kingdom, I naturally did the opposite, ruining myself, and further tarnishing his name.

Back then, I had zero regrets, at least when it came to my father until I was forced to deal with the aftermath.

Now at twenty-six, I’m still living in it.

It’s clear to me that I’ll never outgrow Triple Falls or outlive the time I spent there. After years of fighting it, this is the conclusion I’ve drawn. I’m a different person now, but I was before I left too. When everything happened, I was determined I’d never return. But the infuriating truth I’ve discovered is that I’ll never be able to move on. It’s the reason I’m back. To make peace with my fate.

I can no longer disregard the greedy demand of the vessel beating in my chest or the nagging of my subconscious. I’ll never be a woman capable of letting go, of leaving the past where it belongs, no matter how much I want to.

Navigating my way through the winding roads, I roll down my window, welcoming the cold. I need to numb. Since I hit the highway, my mind has been reeling with memories I’ve desperately tried to suppress during waking hours since I fled.

It’s my dreams that refuse to set me free, my dreams that keep the war raging in my head, the loss shredding my heart, forcing me to re-live the hardest parts, over and over in an agonizing loop.

For years, I’ve tried to convince myself that life exists after love.

And maybe it does, for others, but life hasn’t been so kind to me.

I’m done pretending I didn’t leave the largest part of me between these hills and valleys, between the sea of trees that hold my secrets.

Even with the cold whip of the wind on my face, I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. I can still sense his frame blocking out the light, feel the prickling of surety the first time he touched me, and the goosebumps that touch left in his wake.

I can still feel them all, my boys of summer.

All of us are to blame for what happened—all of us serving our sentences. We were careless and reckless, thinking our youth made us indestructible, exempt from our sins, and it cost us.

Snow drifts toward my windshield in a lazy fall, dusting the trees and covering the surrounding ground as I exit the highway. The crunch of my tires in the gravel has my heart pounding in my throat as my hands start to shake. I sweep the endless evergreens lining the road while trying to convince myself that facing my past head-on is the first step in confronting what’s plagued me for years. All I have left is dwelling within the prison I’ve built. It’s the truth I’m determined to face that’s the most definite, the most crippling.

Most consider knowing all-consuming love a blessing, but I consider it a curse. A curse I’ll never be able to lift. I’ll never know love again as I did here all those years ago. And I don’t want to. I can’t. I’m still sick with it.

There is no question in my mind that for me, it was love.

What other pull could be so strong? What other feeling could addict me to the point of insanity? Of doing the things I did and living with these memories within this ghost story.

Even when I’d sensed the danger, I gave in.

I didn’t heed a single warning. I went in a willing captive. I let love rule and ruin me. I played my part, eyes wide open, tempting fate until it delivered.

There was never going to be an escape.

Stopped at the first light at the edge of town, I press my head against the steering wheel and inhale calming breaths, hating the fact that I’m still so powerless to the emotions this trip has stirred within me, even as the woman I’ve become.

Exhaling, I glance back at the bag that I tossed in the backseat after my decision mere hours ago. I thumb my engagement ring, rotating it on my finger as another stab of guilt runs through me. All hope of the future I spent years building was lost the minute I ended my relationship. He’d refused to take the ring, and I have yet to take it off. It hangs heavy, a lie on my finger. The time I spent here before has caused another casualty, one of many.

I was engaged to a man capable of keeping his vows, a man worthy of commitment, of unconditional love—a loyal man with a steadfast heart and warm spirit. And to him, I’d never been fair. I could never love him in the way a wife should love a husband.

He was a consolation, and accepting his proposal meant settling. One look at his face when I called off our upcoming nuptials let me know I had destroyed him with the truth.

The truth that I belong to another. That whatever remains of my heart, body, and soul belongs to a man who wants nothing to do with me.

It was the agony on my fiancé’s face that aided to my breaking point. He’d given me his love, his devotion, and I’d thrown it away. I’d done to him what was done to me. Disobeying my heart, my master and monster had cost me Collin.

Minutes after I liberated us both, I packed a bag and left in search of more punishment. I drove straight through the night, knowing there was no significance of time, that it doesn’t matter. Nobody is waiting for me.

Well over six years have passed, and I’m back to square one, back to the life I fled, my feelings running rampant as I reason with myself that leaving Collin wasn’t a mistake, but a necessary evil to free him from the lies I told. I’d wronged him making promises I could never keep, and there was no way I was making more, to love and cherish in both sickness and in health because I hadn’t disclosed just how sick I am.

I never told him how I allowed myself to be used, ravaged, and at times debased to the point of depravity…and that I’d loved every second of it. I never told my fiancé how I’d bloodlet my heart—starved it—until it had no choice but to beat in a distinct rhythm that only matched the thrum of one other. In doing so, I’d sabotaged my chances of recognizing and accepting the kind of love that heals, rather than hurts. The only love I’ve ever known or craved is the kind that keeps me sick, sick with longing, sick with lust, sick with need, sick with grief. The distorted kind that leaves scars and jaded hearts.

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