“I miss him,” she cries softly into my shoulder and clings to me. I’m quick to hold her tightly, hugging her as she breaks down. It fucking hurts seeing her like this. If I could go back, I’d keep her from learning the truth. I wish she’d never seen what happened. I wish she’d never peeked into this world I can’t escape.
She pulls away after only a few seconds, shaking out her hands and walking away, but then comes right back. Her unease shows as she paces like I do but in much smaller circles.
“I feel crazy,” she mutters and sniffles again.
“The Cross boys are good at making the women they love go crazy,” I answer her in a deadpan tone with a weak smile. It takes a minute for her to look me in the eyes, and when she does, she doesn’t accept the humor in my response.
“I swear I didn’t know the things they do. But he told me he’s always been a bad man and that it never stopped him from loving me. Or me from loving him before.”
I rub her arm, feeling like it’s all my fault and hating myself for it. I wish I could go back. If only I could. There’s so much I would change.
“I want to leave with him, but he won’t leave his brothers and I don’t think I could ever ask him to do that, but together they will live like this… rule like this.”
“He’s not a bad man, Addie.” I don’t know where she’s going with this, but I refuse to let her focus on something that will never change. “And what they do… they do because they have to.” I swallow down the pain of the words, knowing I’ve had to choke on that excuse for as long as I’ve lived.
“How can we live like this, knowing what they do? What they’re capable of?”
“We remember why they are the way they are. And we give them the love they need, so long as they give it back to us.” I stare into her eyes, meaning every word.
“I know they need love. They desperately need to be loved.” Tears prick at my own eyes as she looks away from me, but I see from her expression that she knows it’s true. There’s nothing in the world that would deny that truth.
Addison wipes under her eyes with the sleeves of her pajama shirt. She’s dressed for bed, exhausted and dealing with the weight of loving a man from the world I grew up in. Part of me is jealous of her, a very small part, but it’s there. “He loves you, Addie,” I whisper to her, squeezing her hand.
She squeezes mine back and then lets her hand drop to her side. “I know, but if I accept it, I’m no better than he is. And I’ll never be okay with what Carter did to you. I don’t care if you are.”
“Carter and Daniel are different men.” My answer comes out harsher than I wanted, and I attempt to soften it by adding, “And I know Carter’s reason, Addie.” I try to tell her more, but the words won’t come out. I can’t tell her about what my father did and what Carter thinks he heard. If I told her that, the next logical thing to say would be that it wasn’t me he heard. The voice he heard that gave him the strength to keep living didn’t belong to me.
My heart plummets painfully in my chest at the thought of my secret, making me feel sick once again.
“When are you leaving me?” Addie asks, changing the subject again and moving back to the counter to grab a spoon from the drawer. The metal clinks against the ceramic as she stirs her soup. “A secret meeting in the middle of the night?” She tries to add a sense of playfulness into the chide, but it doesn’t come out strong enough.
As I answer her, she lifts the spoon to her lips, blowing on the soup and then swallowing it.
“Not so secret, and I’ll be back soon.”
“Should I ask what it’s about?”
I don’t know what to tell her, and I remember all the times I was curious but too afraid to ask. I wish someone had taken my fear away from me and told me more about the world I was living in. That’s what fuels me to tell her, “I’m meeting a friend I grew up with who’s one of my father’s men.”
Her face pales as she peeks toward the doorway to the kitchen. Maybe she expects to find Eli there, I don’t know, but then she whispers, “Should you be doing that?”
Her eyes plead with me to be truthful and so I answer her honestly, putting a hand on her shoulder and not daring to take my gaze away from hers as I say, “I should have done it sooner.”