Home > Taming Cross(9)

Taming Cross(9)
Author: Ella James

Lizzy makes a tsking sound. “I sense some bitterness.” And then, in all seriousness: “Really, Cross. You still don't like him, do you?”

I stand up and start pacing like a caged lion. “You tell me he's a fine guy.”

“But you don't believe me.”

“So what, Lizzy? I'm gonna forever hold my peace. Isn't that what matters?”

She stands up, coming over to me, but instead of hands on hips this time, she wraps her arms around her waist. “You know that's not what matters. Cross, we’re family. I don't want you to be unhappy whenever you think of me. I want our friendship to stay good.” She exhales, looking miserable. “If there's something I can do, something that will make you feel more open to—”

I toss my arms out. “There's nothing you can do, Lizzy. You've done nothing wrong. Neither has West, at least not to me. And before you ask, I'm fine about the money thing.”

Lizzy sold her virginity at a brothel in Vegas so she could help pay my medical bills after my motorcycle wreck. The story had a happy ending—for her, at least. Hunter West, her soon-to-be hubby, was the highest bidder.

She did this while I was in my coma. When I first woke up, I was pissed, but I’ve gotten used to it now.

Lizzy comes a little closer, and I can smell her lotion: gardenias and maybe roses. I stare into her face, so different than it was before my wreck. She looks thinner... Less like the grown-up Lizzy I knew and more like the girl I knew in high school.

“It's okay, Liz. I'll learn to like West. I can even show him how to fix that banged up Roadster he's got in the garage.” I paste a smile on, hold my arms out, so she comes in for a hug. “Friends forever?”

“BFFs,” she says warmly, pressing her cheek against my chest.

I open my eyes and pull away first, then walk back to my Sunkist and ease down on the floor. I motion to the chair. “Sit down and stay for a little while.”

And Lizzy does. We talk for two hours—longer, I think, than we have since before the accident. We talk about everything but the pain attacks; she doesn't ask, for once, and I don't tell her that they're getting worse.

I wait until she's almost out the door to drop the bomb: “Wanted to mention I might be headed down to Mexico.”

Her eyes pop open wider.

I shrug one shoulder. “Biker thing.”

I can see the approval on her face—the relief that I'm finally living life again.

I shut the door behind her, grab my soda, and head up to my room to read the folded papers in my pocket.

I surprised myself, too, with that little revelation. I'm going to motherfucking Mexico.

 

 

6

 

 

Merri

 

 

“BLESS ME, FATHER, for I have sinned. It has been more than three weeks since my last confession.”

I press my butt more tightly down against the backs of my shins—my legs are folded under me—and glance through the curtain of my strawberry hair at the sheet of thatch that stands between me and the priest. I can't see his face, but I assume because it's the second Tuesday of the second week of the month, that it's Father Mendez, the traveling priest from Fresnillo.

“Yes, child.” The gravelly voice confirms my suspicions. Definitely Father Mendez. His advanced age—eighty-one, the nuns say—means he's one of the few I trust not to have ties to the Cientos Cartel. So I shut my eyes, inhale deeply, and try to really pour my heart out.

“I must confess many sins,” I whisper in soft Spanish. “The first is envy.” Another breath to rid myself of my embarrassment—the embarrassment of being totally open and honest with a virtual stranger—and I plunge forward. “I envy the nuns who are able to leave the clinic when I can't. I feel like a prisoner, and rather than being thankful for the second chance I've been given, I'm...frustrated. I know I have no one to blame but myself, so I just keep praying for forgiveness and hoping I’ll find a way to feel more grateful.” I’m silent only long enough to clear my throat. “I definitely need to feel more grateful for what I have right now. But sometimes…I miss certain parts of my old life.”

I close my eyes, and I can see Katrina, with her sparkly nail polish and kind smile, rubbing my calves and painting my toenails in the beauty parlor in Jesus's mansion. Sometimes when I'm eating rice here at the clinic, I can taste bell peppers and that yummy cheese dip that Arman, Jesus's chef, used to whip up. “I miss seeing the sun, but I miss other things, too, like taking a long bath with soap that smells good.”

I also miss the more forbidden things—like the feel of a man's mouth on mine. That particular desire tosses me all the way back to eleventh grade, the year I lost my virginity to my high school band's assistant director, Sam Kline. Sam was only twenty-two, and he ended up transferring schools at the end of my senior year because he felt so guilty about what we did every afternoon in the instrument closet. But I can still see his brown eyes. Read the feeling in them. When he clung to me after we both got off, he held me tightly, like he was desperate to feel my body against his.

I press my lips together until they sting, because I'm not going to tell Father Mendez any of this; but sometimes when I remember Sam, my chest feels like there's a fire inside of it. That's how much I crave that closeness. After Sam...

There were half a dozen others after Sam, but God is only holding the last one against me—because it’s the only one I’ll never confess. It’s the only one that really feels ‘sinful’. So I skirt it, going as close as I ever do to a confession: “I'm an impure woman,” I murmur, lifting my head and looking at the thatch.

“I know I'm not cut out to be a nun, but I love being here and helping. And that leads me to my worst sin since I've been in this place.”

I hear the rustling of robes on the other side of the thatch, and I push myself to continue, even though I feel like I can't breathe. Father Mendez knows a little bit about me—he knows all my confessions over the last nine months—but he might have heard more. He might know exactly who I am and where I came from. The thought fills me with shame, but not as much shame as I feel for the sin I breathlessly confess.

“I'm afraid some people from my past have tracked me down. I'm afraid the explosion that blew up the cafeteria was a warning. A warning that I need to leave. I've told Sister Mary Carolina but she either doesn't believe me or she refuses to make me go.” I hesitate, trying to think of how to explain, in case he doesn't remember my story or never really knew it.

“Before I was here, I was in...a bad place, with people who were bad. I managed to run away,” I say, frowning at the horrible memory—which is so much more than merely running away.

“I selfishly sought refuge here, and the nuns were kind enough to take me in and train me to do massage therapy for the children. But I'm afraid that if I want them to be safe, I need to leave. But I can't make myself leave. I'm afraid of death.” My voice cracks, surprising even me. “I'm afraid to die without ever really living a life. I wanted a good life, one that wasn't complicated or full of pain, but I ruined everything.” I press my hands over my eyes, trying to compose myself. I take a few long breaths and find my protective shell again, and along with it, my rationality. My sense of responsibility. “I know that this mess is my fault. I didn't use good judgment and I wasn't living my life in a way that would please God.”

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