Reaching up slowly, I force my numb fingers to unlock the box with a loud click that makes my heart pump hard, so hard it feels like it’ll stop beating altogether.
As I lift open the top, the light filters in and I squint. It fucking hurts. My eyes feel like they’re burning, but I force the top open further as Addison stands up in front of me on shaky legs and wraps her arms around me. I hold her back tighter, gripping on to her and bunching the thin cotton of her shirt in my hand as she pulls me hard into her chest. “It’s not your fault,” is all I can say, and the words are so flat, so lacking to my ears, that I harden them, pulling her back and staring into her forest green eyes.
“You did nothing wrong,” I tell her.
She stands there with a troubled expression, wiping away her tears and shaking her head. “What did he do to you?” she asks me softly, still holding on to me as I climb out of the box on shaky legs, staring at the closed door. I feel cold; it’s so cold.
There’s not a piece of me that doesn’t think Carter’s watching. I know he must be. My first instinct when thinking he knows I’m out of the box is to hold myself. To wrap my arms around my shoulders and wait for him to punish me. I can barely stand looking at the closed door.
Addison grips me with a bruising force, shaking me until I stare into her eyes. “What did he do to you?”
I just want to cry. I don’t know where to start, but the shame clogs my throat and keeps me from speaking at all.
“It’s okay to tell me,” she whispers although the words barely come out. Fresh tears leak from the corners of her eyes as she speaks so calmly to me. “Whatever he did, you can tell me. It’s okay.”
“It’s my fault,” I start, and an awful gasp leaves her as she covers her mouth. It hurts, everything hurts, but the way she looks at me like I’m wounded, and I don’t know any better, I can’t explain the pain it causes.
She shakes her head violently, staring back at me.
“You don’t understand,” I try to reason with her but my voice cracks and all I can think is to keep repeating that it’s my fault. It is, truly.
“I knew he’d hate me. I knew…” I can’t finish the sentence as the door to the office opens. Fear spikes through me and I jump back, hitting the back of my legs against the box and nearly tumbling in. Addison guards me against whoever enters as if she’s my protector.
“Get out!” she sneers at whoever’s entered and with equal amounts of curiosity and terror, I peek over her shoulder. Even though I’m feeling weak and pathetic, my fingers numb and my chest heaving in air.
It’s only Daniel.
“Addison, please.” Daniel’s eyes are red-rimmed, and I’m shocked. “Let’s get out of here, okay?” He talks softly with his hands held up, approaching us like the two wounded animals that we are. “We can leave,” he offers her.
“I’m sorry,” I say and can barely get the words out, seeking Daniel’s gaze so he knows I mean it. “I’m so sorry.” My voice is wretched.
“Look at her.” Addison’s voice ricochets in the office as she steps toward Daniel. “Look at her!” she screams in his face and he lowers his head, shaking it and trying to speak. Addison doesn’t understand; all she sees is the pain. And there’s so much of it.
“It wasn’t my place,” Daniel tells her sternly, but his expression is begging her to understand. How can she, when she knows nothing?
“She’s not okay and your brother did this to her.” She takes another step forward and points to me, still standing behind her. Her bottom lip trembles as she shouts, “You did nothing!” I grip on to my shoulders tighter and feel so small. It’s hard to know what to think anymore, but I know what she sees, and it breaks my heart.
“He didn’t have a choice–”
“Bullshit!” she cuts him off, screaming louder and louder, “You let him hurt her!”
Silence compresses the time, forcing the clock to tick faster. The moment passes quickly as my head feels woozy and I can’t stop my breathing from coming in just as fast.
I hold onto myself tighter, struggling to remain upright.
“I’m leaving and I’m taking her with me.” The anger is gone; there’s only resolve in Addison’s voice. “So help me God, if you stand in my way, I’ll never come back to you. Never, Daniel.”
“You’re leaving me?” he asks, the look in his eyes hardening, the silvers sparking even as the tremors of intense emotion run along his hard jaw. His determination is still there, still unyielding.