“See you later, Cal. Are you sure you don’t want to go?”
I look up from what I’m doing to see my brother in the salon door.
“I’m sure,” I answer quickly. “I need some time alone. Go ahead and meet your friend.”
“He had to cancel,” Finn scowls. “So I guess I’ve been stood up. Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
I groan internally because I’m not a fan of Quid Pro Quo, but Finn has been looking forward to this concert for months. There’s no way I can really say no.
But then my mom walks in and rescues me.
“I’ll go,” she volunteers, and Finn crows.
“Sa-weet!” He glances over at me. “You snooze, you lose, Cal. We’re blowing this joint.”
I have to smile a bit as they walk away because this one small thing makes him so happy, because most guys our age would never go to a concert with their mom. But Finn isn’t most guys.
I sink into the window seat, leaning my head against the glass as I watch their tail-lights disappear down the driveway.
Especially now, after what Dare told me…after his confession, I need my brother.
Finn and I can’t be separated. I know that more now than ever. We have to protect each other. We have to keep each other sane.
I pick up the phone.
Mom has to know, and it’ll be late when they get home, so this can’t wait.
But mom doesn’t want to hear it right now. And then she screams.
Loud and shrill, in my ear.
“Mom?” I ask, the dread curling around my spine with icy fingers.
There’s no answer.
“Mom!” I demand, scared now.
But there’s still no answer.
Everything swirls around me, pictures and smells and sounds, and somehow, I know she’ll never answer me again. In my mind, I see her face, and it’s bloody and battered.
I can’t breathe and I know in my heart she’s gone as I race out to the porch, as I stare at the smoke winding its way into the night sky, just a little ways down the mountain.
I know it as I sink to a heap on the steps, gripping the phone.
I know it as nausea overtakes me in jagged waves and the world spins.
I know it as Dare limps across the lawn, his forehead bloody.
I know it as he stands in front of me, battered and raw.
“Calla, are you ok?” he whispers, his hand on my shoulder.
There’s blood on his fingers.
“Are you ok?” he repeats.
I somehow manage to move my head, to look up at the man I love, the man I hate, the man I’m afraid of. Through it all, through all of the blood and the smoke, I can only concentrate on one thing.
“Why are you here?” I ask him stiltedly. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“You know why, Cal.” A drop of blood drips from his forehead.
Suddenly, I don’t know anything.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
My thoughts are jagged pieces.
“Where’s Finn?” my lips move.
Dare stares at me, his dark eyes guarded and urgent.
“We’ve got to call an ambulance.”
I’m frozen, so Dare grabs my phone and punches at the numbers.
His voice blends into the night as he speaks to the dispatcher, but one phrase penetrates the fog of my consciousness.
“There’s been an accident.”
I wait for him to finish, I wait until he hangs up and stares down at me before I finally speak.
“Was it?” I ask him, my voice shaking and frail and thin. “Was it an accident?”
He closes his eyes.
Everything is in slow motion.
The waves, Dare’s mouth moving, his words. I stare at him, at the dark stubble on his jaw, at the way he swallows. At the way his dark eyes are impaling me, holding me, scaring me.
“You’ve got one question left, Calla,” he reminds me now. “Ask it.”
The past year swirls through my mind in blurs and snippets. Through everything, Dare has been here. He’s been with me, he’s held me, he’s loved me.
Or has he?
My lips tremble as I try to move them.
“Why were you there that night?” I finally ask, choosing my words carefully. “You weren’t supposed to be. But you were.”
Dare answers my question with one of his own, staring at me cautiously.
“Which night, Calla?”
I’m speechless as I stare at him.
“You know which night. The night. The night my brother died.”
Something wavers in Dare’s gaze, but he gathers himself.
“Do you remember now? Do you remember how bloody I was?”
I’m already shaking my head from side to side, slowly, in shock. Not because I don’t remember, but because I don’t want to.
“There was a lot of blood,” I recall, thinking about the way it’d streaked down Dare’s temple and dripped onto his shirt. It’d stained the t-shirt crimson, spreading in a terrifying pool across his chest. “I didn’t know if it was yours or… Finn’s.”
And for one scant second, I had forgotten that Dare had confessed something to me.
I’d forgotten that I was terrified of him because of it.
Because amid all of that blood, all I could see was my fear of losing him, because heaven help me, I loved him anyway.
“You held me up,” my lips tremble. “When I was falling down. You held me while I waited for… Finn.”