Sugar Free Page 13

He pulled back, and for a blessed moment, the pain of what I revealed to him fifteen minutes ago is gone and he’s looking at me the way a man looks at the woman he loves, in a way that shows her he will die protecting her.

It humbled me as nothing has ever done, and equally as much made me very sad that Beck even has to protect me in this manner. I didn’t deserve his consideration or his security, but he was making it very clear I was going to accept it.

I nodded at him and he gave me a soft kiss goodbye, saying, “Be back later.”

I didn’t ask him what his plan was. No clue if he was going to chuck the letter opener off the Golden Gate Bridge or bury it deep in the woods. I trusted he’d do it right though, and those items were never going to be found. It brought him one step deeper into the pile of shit I’d created for us, and made him more complicit in my crime.

Which means my guilt compounded even more.

Beck took off and I was left with the prospect of sitting in an empty condo and worrying myself about all the ways in which this whole house of cards could come tumbling down at any minute. I didn’t even have the benefit of school to keep me occupied, as I was on break. However, the spring semester was due to start in two days and I had no clue if I’d be attending or in jail. The thought was abysmally depressing.

But it was only one thing upon me that was depressing, and even if I didn’t have that, I’d have a million other things. Which meant I needed to square up my shoulders, assume that Beck would be fine today, and do something that would make a difference to myself.

Maybe another.

I called Caroline and asked if she could have lunch with me today.

We met at Willie’s Seafood and Raw Bar, which was only a few blocks from where Caroline worked in Healdsburg, where she and Ally live. She looked lovely and chic in a camel wool skirt that came down to her knees, a cream turtleneck, and plaid scarf. I didn’t look chic at all in a pair of well-worn jeans, a turtleneck from Old Navy—again to hide the bruises—and cheap black vinyl riding boots. She didn’t seem to care, so neither did I.

I watch as Caroline peruses the menu and takes a delicate sip of water. We made some pleasant small talk until now, and as I look at her, it’s hard to believe less than twenty-four hours ago, she was scrubbing the shower down with bleach to erase away any evidence of JT that I brought into her brother’s condo.

She closes the menu, sets it down in front of her, and gives me a sympathetic smile. “How’re you holding up?”

I shrug, needing to talk things through but dreading it at the same time. “It is what it is.”

Caroline nods in understanding.

So much understanding.

“I’m sorry what happened to you,” I tell her. “We didn’t get a chance to talk…with everything that happened last night.”

She reaches her hand across the table and takes hold of mine. “We’ve both been through something horrific. No one can ever know what that feels like. But I’m glad we now have each other.”

“If you ever need to talk about it,” I say to her candidly. While I can’t ever let her know the identity of her rapist, I can offer her everything else under the sun if it will help her.

She nods. “Same here.”

We both smile at each other, understanding the tentative friendship we first formed at Thanksgiving a little over a month ago is now infinitely stronger by the bond we now share.

“But getting back to my original question,” Caroline says wisely—and by that I mean she was wise to the fact I was evading—and gives me a very pointed look. “How are you holding up?”

I reach for my water, trying desperately to still the shaking of my hand, but it won’t cooperate and Caroline notices. I take a small sip, set it down, and clear my throat. “I don’t know whether to feel guilt or vindication,” I tell her truthfully.

“I’m going to suggest vindication,” she says pertly. And if there’s one thing I can be happy about, it’s that I’ve avenged Caroline although she’ll never know it.

“For the longest time, I felt it was my fault, you know?” I say pointedly, knowing Caroline will understand I’m talking about my rape. Although Caroline and I have not compared details, I think I have a pretty good idea of the emotions a rape victim goes through, and I bet she feels the same.

“Yes,” she says with a sad smile. “Always wondering what I could have done to avoid it.”

“It haunted me for a long time.”

“Me, not so long,” she says matter-of-factly. “Beck wouldn’t let me, and I made peace with it, especially after Ally was born. She was something so good that came out of something so bad, I had to believe that it was supposed to happen because I was supposed to have her.”

I duck my head, make pretense of rearranging my napkin on my lap so I can furiously blink my eyes, which are welling up with tears brought on by such a well-balanced and loving perspective. When I have myself under control, I look back up at her to find her staring at me with understanding and empathy.

Empathy that perhaps I didn’t find peace as easily as she did.

“You know my original intention was to kill JT,” I say as I lean forward across the table and lower my voice. “I was going to torture him for the other attackers’ identities, and then I was going to shoot him between the eyes.”

She blinks at me in surprise.

I nod. “Months ago, when I learned his identity…I had plotted to murder him.”

“Oh wow,” she mutters in dismay, but leans toward me to hear more.

“I had a gun in my purse and walked into a Sugar Bowl Mixer. I was going to entrance him and get him alone, then I was going to kill him. Simple as that.”

“But nothing is ever that simple,” she hypothesizes.

I give a short laugh. “Exactly. Beck North intercepted me and then sidetracked me, and then eventually made me realize it wasn’t the way.”

“Well, I’m his sister, so you don’t need to convince me how great he is,” she chuckles.

“No, I think I do,” I say urgently as I bend in closer and whisper. “He’s out right now, disposing of murder evidence to protect me. I can’t let this go on, Caroline. I need to go to the cops and confess what I did. Beck has been protecting me from the moment we met, but this is too much. Too dangerous. Risky. I can’t let him put himself out there for me like that.”

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