My gaze falls to the polaroid pictures laying haphazardly on top of a stack of papers. Pictures I brought out days and days ago to show Aria. Pictures of the house she says is so familiar. And one of them has my father and mother on the porch.
He loved her. Anyone who looked at them could see it. My father loved her with everything he had.
When she died a slow, slow death, he died with her.
I never learned how to love, only how to survive.
Maybe that’s what Aria’s been doing. Thinking on the past makes me reach for the tumbler again. The liquid burns as I swallow more down in large gulps and remember how she lay on the sofa in the corner of my office that first time.
She was so tired, but well fed and well fucked. The effects of what I’d done to her were still evident. Her skin lacked color and her ribs still poked through her flesh.
I did this to her. I put her in this position to simply survive.
That day she lay on the sofa, she slept off and on. Each time she woke startled and terrified until I went to her. I calmed her. I took her nightmares away.
Tears prick in the back of my eyes as I struggle to breathe. Yes, I hurt her, but I took it all away. All the pain, all the fear.
I thought it counted for more than it did.
As she slept that first day, I couldn’t do a damn thing but watch her and every small movement of her body. I remember every inch of her frame. I’ve never felt so sickened by who I am like back then.
But I tried to take it all away.
My elbows slam down harder than I wanted on the desk as I rest my forehead in my hands and let out a heavy sigh, burdened by all the sins I’ve committed against Aria Talvery.
It’s too much. Tonight has been too much.
I search the top right drawer for the small vial of sweets, but I don’t find it. The papers are scattered by the time I’m done, but I don’t care. When I slam it shut, the one below opens and I pull it ajar to find what I’m looking for right on top.
I know the liquor will numb me enough to sleep, but I never sleep long and tonight I need it. With a full vial, I swallow it all and when a moment passes and sleep doesn’t come, I grab another vial and take more of the drug.
My legs are heavy as I move to the sofa she slept in and lie in her place.
I don’t know if I would take it all back. I don’t know how I can ever have her. All I wanted was her, and I still do. I can’t help it. All I want is for Aria to be mine.
I hear her shuddering breath first. And when I lift my gaze from the floor beneath the desk to her flushed cheeks and then those gorgeous eyes, I feel a weight lifted from me.
Like the pain doesn’t exist anymore. Because she’s crawling to me. She’s coming to me. My songbird.
“Are you still angry?” I ask and my voice feels rough, as if it’s been unused for a long time. I can feel my brow pinch in confusion at the thought, and it’s then that I realize I feel cold. So cold.
None of it matters when Aria shakes her head. The messy hair around her face lets me know she’s been sleeping here in this room. She was waiting for me to wake up.
“I’m not angry.” Her voice is soft as she reaches me, but the tears don’t stop. My fingers splay in her hair as I cup my hand behind her head and pull her closer to me. I don’t even remember what the fight was about when I touch her. Nothing else matters when I touch her. She clings to me, her hands on my thighs as she lifts up her lips and kisses me.
With her lips to mine, everything feels right again and the pain doesn’t exist. Not until I feel the wetness from her tears on my face and she shudders in my grasp, pulling away to whisper, “Please forgive me.”
It takes me a moment, the haze of the whiskey dulling my thoughts as I struggle to remember tonight. How she lied, how she said it wasn’t her.
“Why did you lie?” I ask her, but she doesn’t answer. She only pleads for me to forgive her.
Her voice is wretched as she says, “You never told me that you did and after so long … please, Carter. Please forgive me.”
My head pounds with a pain that comes from drinking too much and it takes me a minute to register what she’s said. I ask her, “What do you mean ‘after so long?’”