Edge of Recovery (Love on the Edge) (10 page)

BOOK: Edge of Recovery (Love on the Edge)
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7
Remove shortcomings


Y
ou have a visitor
,” Conner said after opening my bedroom door, not bothering to knock. We had an open policy during the day. I trusted the guy more than any blood I’d ever known.

“Who?” I asked, closing the book I’d been reading that Charlie had left with me that morning. I’d never understood the draw to reading if you weren’t forced to but with the time I had secluded in here, I was quickly learning the pleasure in it. It was an intimate act, connecting with the characters, or not connecting but hating them. Either way, it was another
legal
form of escape, as Charlie would say. I sat it down on my nightstand right next to the stack of letters from my aunt I’d collected—one every week since I’d checked in. I hadn’t written her back, but I’d called her last week for a quick and painless progress report.

Conner shrugged. “You have a brother you didn’t tell me about?”

I scrunched my eyebrows together. “No, man. You’re the one with brother issues.”

“I don’t have brother---“

“Justin.” A male voice I didn’t recognize cut Conner off. “Good to see you.”

Conner arched an eyebrow, a silent question of it if was cool to leave or not. I nodded, and he shut the door behind him, leaving me and the stranger in my small and suddenly crowded room. He was as big as a wrestler and kind of reminded me of…

“Shit.”

“Devlin says hello,” he said, sitting in the metal folding chair on the opposite side of my bed.

“We’re not due for a supply boost for another two weeks. And you’re new.” I always had the same, much smaller and less imposing delivery guy since I’d been here.

“I’m not here for that. More like an employee review.”

“Okay.” I kept my face even. Something was off. I could feel it in my over firing nerve endings that had me cracking my knuckles.

“Devlin says it’s been two weeks since you checked in. You’re supposed to make weekly calls. This worries him.” Damn the dude sounded like a robot.

“Are you two related? Because you look so much alike.”

“He’s my brother.”

I nodded, no wonder he was acting as one to pass judgment while his brother was locked up.

“The calls?” He asked.

Every muscle in my body tensed. I hadn’t pushed one pill—despite begging and pleading on my customer’s end—since I’d flushed that stash in the art room toilet with Charlie. The same day I’d realized I wanted to be better, and only one week before actually asking for help to get there. And I’d known then, just like I did now, that this portion of the process would be harder than any other to get over.

“I’ve rethought our arrangement.”

“And?”

“I don’t like it. I’m taking all the risk.”

He crossed his massive arms over his chest. “You want a higher cut?”

I shook my head. “Nope. I just want out. It was easier in prison to move this shit. If you can believe that.”

He glared at me before laughing as he stood up. He shoved the chair back as he moved slowly toward the door. “I’ll tell Devlin to expect your call tomorrow regarding stock.”

“What?” I asked, bolting off the bed. “Didn’t you hear me, man? I’m done. You can send your errand boy to collect what I have left, or you can take it right now, either way, I’m not moving one more pill.”

He moved away from the door, stopping an inch away from me. I stilled my body, focusing on every movement, preparing for a fight. He’d end me easily, but I would go down swinging.

“I heard you. Trust me. You don’t want to do that.”

“You going to force me to change my mind?” I raised my chin, daring him.

“I don’t have to. Devlin already has.”

I arched an eyebrow.

“He always has a contingency plan in case one of his employees gets cold feet.” He shrugged. “Occupational hazard.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“That pretty little brunette of yours? The one you had pictures of in half the boxes in that shit storage locker where all your stuff is currently being held?”

The floor dropped out from under me.

“Yeah, we know all about her. Know she’s some hot shot chaser, currently tracking on the alley.”

My blood sizzled.

“So you want me to go ahead and tell Devlin you’re out? Cool. Just be sure you know which hospital to send your girl flowers.”

I slammed into him with the force of a Mack truck, shoving his ass against the opposite wall so hard his head smacked against it. A few blinks and he hurtled a meaty fist into the side of my head, and stars burst behind my eyes, my ears ringing with nothing but static for a few moments as I tumbled to the floor.

“Fuck,” I managed to say as he stood over me.

“That one is free, Justin. Act out like that again and I’ll
end
you. Then your little chaser too.”

I started laughing hysterically as I gripped the side of my head, my fingers coming back sticky with my own blood. “You’re a fucking idiot.”

“Come again?” He snapped, grabbing the collar of my shirt and hoisting me to my feet.

The truth of him getting the wrong girl was on the tip of my tongue before I realized the fact would only make him dig deeper into who would be the
right
girl. Charlie’s face filled my vision and the idea of her being at risk over something I’d done on my own hurt worse than the hit the Hulk had just delivered. And despite everything that had happened between us, I still didn’t want Blake to get hurt either. I hoped her chasing on the alley would be enough to distance her from this danger, and give me enough time to figure a way out of it.

“I said tell Devlin we need more valium.”

He released my shirt, and I took a step back, swiping at the blood still trickling down the side of my face. “Good. Smart. Didn’t peg you for that.”

“I’m nothing if not surprising.”

“You may want to put some ice on that,” he said before walking out my door.

I flipped him off before sinking back on the bed.

Fuck. My. Life.

The shit storm just turned into a shit tornado, and I was in the fucking middle of it. How the hell could I protect a girl I hadn’t spoken to in over a year? One I’d hurt so badly she’d put so much distance between us I’d been sure I’d never hear her voice again? And how could I get out of Devlin’s drug business without hurting her, myself, or someone else I cared about?

The notion that I had more than one person on my care list would’ve been a victorious moment for me after the lonely year I’d had, but the situation didn’t really allow for celebration.

I was so fucked.

* * *


D
id Thomas do that
?” Charlie asked, sinking onto the same metal chair the Hulk had set in hours ago.

I dropped the ice pack on the stand next to my bed. “He wishes he was that strong.”

“Justin,” she chided.

“Charlie,” I mimicked her, glancing down at the legs she had crossed over one another. “Are those moons or circles of cheese?” I asked, trying to focus on the pattern on the tight fabric rather than her appraising eyes.

“Obviously, it’s cheese. Now, what happened?” She stood up, retrieving the pack and gently placed it against the knot that had formed near my left temple after the blood had dried.

“I ran into a doorknob?”

She pinched the skin of my neck so hard I flinched. “Okay, okay.” I raised my hands in defense, taking the pack from her as she sat down next to me on my bed. “I had a disagreement with someone.”

She reached out to pinch me again, and I blocked her, intertwining our fingers and lowering my voice. “My
employer
wasn’t too thrilled at my request to be let go.”

Realization clicked in her eyes before they widened. “Oh my God.” She covered a gasp with her fingers. “I’m so proud of you.”

I tilted my head, cold water dripping down my arm from the pack. “Seriously? I got my ass handed to me, and you’re proud of me?”

“You’re out! That’s huge.” She squeezed my hand. “I hate that you’re hurt but, Justin, this is amazing.”

My stomach rolled for the hundredth time since the douche had left, the happiness and pride in her eyes crushing me. I opened my mouth to tell her the truth—tell her that I hadn’t gotten out yet and that there was a very large ax hovering over not only my head, but Blake’s as well—but I choked on the words. No one had ever looked at me the way she was looking at me now. She was honest to God
proud
of me, and I selfishly chose to live in that world where I was a man to beam at.

Charlie shifted next to me, releasing my hand. “What’s wrong?” She asked, noticing my lack of enthusiasm.

I retook her hand. “Nothing, just…beat.” Damn I hated lying to her. Wow, I actually hated it…like it left a shitty taste in my mouth. The more I thought about it, though, the more I was happy about my impromptu plan not to tell her about the threat. She didn’t need to get any closer to this mess than she already was. And I
would
get out. I would figure a way out of this where no one would get hurt.

“Don’t lie to me, Justin. You know how much I despise people who lie.” She glared at me, reading me as well as she had since day one.

My chest wrenched as I worked up another lie. “I know. I’m just…worried. I don’t want them to retaliate on someone I care about.” I pressed my lips together knowing she knew it was her I spoke of.

She sighed. “What are we going to do?”

Her use of the word
we
both warmed my insides and frosted over my heart—fear over what would happen if anyone caught wind about how much I cared for her. I reached up, tracing the soft curves of her face with my thumb.

“Maybe they won’t.”

“What can
I
do?” She leaned into my palm like it wasn’t even a thought.

“I need you to leave.”

“What?” She jerked out of my touch. “Why?”

“I can’t have anyone realize what you are to me.”

Her shoulders dropped. “I’m just your sponsor.”

“You know you’re so much more than that.”

Her lips parted, unspoken words caught in her mouth.

I wanted to kiss them out of her. Wanted to feel her body against mine even for just a moment. I leaned closer, moving slowly to give myself time to come to my senses.

She closed the distance between us, her lips touching mine with the lightest of pressures. The tip of her tongue barely grazed the corner of my mouth before she stood up and walked to the door. The absence of her heat left me cold.

“I’m your sponsor,” she repeated. “You know we can’t keep doing this.”

“I know,” I said. And now, with the mess I’d gotten myself into, there was more at stake than just a professional line.

I crossed the room, stopping an arms length away from her just to be safe. “I’ll still see you, Charlie…right?”

“Of course. We’ll keep it public. Nothing intimate.” A piece of her hair fell in front of her face. I reached out to her but quickly jerked my hand back.

“Right.”

She turned to leave, but I stopped her. “Charlie?”

“Yeah?” She asked, glancing over her shoulder.

“That part of my life is over now. For good.”
Just keep driving it home, asshole.
God, why did I have to open my mouth? Why did I have to crave her approval, her pride in me?

She pursed her lips. “I know. Like I said, I’m proud of you.”

I shut the door behind her and leaned my forehead against the cold wood, my heart racing at the glowing look in her eyes, at the sensation of something so good and pure on the horizon. My stomach twisted, reminding me of all the ways I was good at fucking things up when they turned great.

8
Amends


I
might puke
,” I said and rubbed my slick palms against the top of my jeans. Did Charlie’s car have to be so fucking tiny? I couldn’t get a decent breath in the small bug, and my chest was aching for release.

“Then open the door and do it,” Charlie said, patting my shoulder lightly.

I tried not to glare at her. This wasn’t her fault. I mean—yes, she was the one who had gotten me the twenty-four-hour pass from the clinic so I could properly carry out step eight in the program—but she wasn’t the source of my problem. Sucking in a sharp breath, I forced myself to look up from where I’d had my head tucked down, and acid crept up my throat.

“Fuck, there she is.” Everything inside me went still and shook all at the same time, my body a battleground of confliction. My heart soared at the sight of her long brown hair, those dark brown eyes I’d sought comfort in since I was a kid. Then, it quickly iced over as a barrage of images beat upon my memory like a flock of crows swooping to pick my eyes out. All the fights, the tears, the
hurt.
And it was all my fault.

Funny, I could see that clearly now, when two years ago I would’ve denied I was anything short of a
real boyfriend
to my grave. The night of my awakening—that awful night—had stripped me of every sense of denial I had about my identity, exposing my darkness like a raw nerve, and I’d done nothing but sear it off with liquor until my aunt had found me. And here, now, with Charlie next to me, and over eight weeks sober, I felt nothing shy of terrified.

“She’s gorgeous.” Charlie’s voice was quiet but in the silence of the car, it boomed.

“Yeah,” I said, sighing.

She stood on the front porch of a two-story house, leaning against the wooden railing, her hands hanging over as she wrung them out. I don’t know why or what force on this earth made her agree to this meeting…but seeing her so close…I was frozen.

“You should go. I’ll be right here,” Charlie said, touching my arm.

“This was a mistake. I can’t do this.” My fingers shook against the door handle, nothing but the echo of Blake’s screams ringing in my ears from that night.

“Justin Hobbs,” Charlie snapped. “You suck it up and go talk to her. She managed to meet you half-way, do you know how hard that must have been for her?”

“Yeah, and I’ve never been as strong as her either.” I snapped back, locking eyes with her. The flecks of gold burned amber as she shook her head and cupped my cheek.

“You are no longer that person. She’s never met
you
, Justin. Or perhaps, she knew you long ago, when you were kids, but you’ve been gone a long time. It’s time to re-introduce yourself.”

Her words soothed over my frayed nerves like a sedative, and I took a deep breath. “What if she calls me out for the monster I am…was? What if she says she hates me and is plotting my murder? What if”

“Then you
let
her say those things. Let her get it out but then you say what you came here to say. That’s all you have to do. It doesn’t erase the past. It only helps you create a better future. Understand?”

My knee bounced up and down uncontrollably, and I raked my fingers through my hair. “Charlie,” I groaned. “I really want a fucking drink right now.”

She grabbed my chin, her delicate fingers digging into my scruff just enough to bite. “I know you do. I know you think it would make this so much easier, but it would only make it worse. You know why?”

I sighed, my face still firmly in her grasp. “It’d only feed the monster I used to be.”

A breathtaking smile took over her face. “
Used
to be. That’s right.” She glanced down at my lips for a blink before releasing me. “You can do this.”

“I have to do this.”

“Yes, but more importantly, you
can.
And I’ll be right here waiting for you.”

“Promise?” I hated that I sounded like a five-year-old boy begging for reassurance, but I needed it. If it weren’t Charlie who’d driven me to Blake’s agreed upon meeting place, if it wasn’t Charlie who was giving me all the words I needed to hear right now, then I probably would’ve bolted. Quite possibly found the nearest bar too.

“Tick, tock. Tick, tock.” She chuckled, and I nodded.

My stomach rolled over and over again as I stepped out of the car, and when Blake’s eyes locked with mine across the distance? Well, I’m shocked I didn’t fucking puke right there. Each step I took toward her felt like my boots were encased in cement, and my heart pounded against the weight. The closer I got, the more my limbs shook, so I shoved my hands in my pockets and locked my muscles as much as I could.

I took the three steps up to the porch, glancing around at everything—the wooden swing, the crystal clear windows that opened up to a large, clean living room, to the red door—anything to keep my eyes off of Blake.

“You look different,” she said. Always so much stronger than me, she’d opened the door for me to speak before I could do it myself.

I trailed my eyes up to her slowly, like if I did it too fast, she’d disappear. She was still incredibly beautiful, maybe more so now through this clearer set of eyes I had. A tiny part of me had wondered on the way over here if I would want her as badly as I’d used to. If seeing her again would resurrect the deep and twisted love I’d had for her for so many years…but it didn’t. I loved her, still. I would always love her, but it was far from what I remembered. More careful, contained, and simply with the wish for her to be happy…to be undamaged by what I’d done to her.

“I need a haircut,” I said then glanced around the porch again. “This your place?”

She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head.

“Is it…” I couldn’t say the dude’s name. I didn’t even want to think it. The second he came into her world I was forced to see parts of myself I wished I hadn’t. Of course, I owned that darkness now, but it didn’t make me hate him any less.

“Yes,” she answered when I didn’t continue.

“You live here now?” I quickly clenched my eyes shut. “I didn’t mean that like an accusation…” Fuck, it was hard trying not to sound like an ex-boyfriend. “I was just curious, honestly”

“It’s all right, Justin. Breathe.” She took a step closer to me, and her scent enveloped me even from a foot away. Not the one I remembered but a
new
one. She smelled like a rainstorm. Figured. “And no, I don’t live here. We’re taking a break.”

My eyebrows shot up. “Sorry to hear that.”

“No,
we’re
not taking a break.” She sighed. “We’re on break from chasing. That’s why I was in town when you called.”

I nodded. She’d been with him for over a year. Maybe she was happy. Maybe I could be too someday.

“I’m glad you weren’t hurt,” she said. “When I got the call…I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you.”

“Are you serious?” I shook my head. “Fuck. If I were you, I wouldn’t be sorry. I wouldn’t have even called my aunt like you did. I would’ve left my ass there to rot in prison.”

Her mouth popped open, but she shut it, shaking her head. “I…I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever know how grateful I am that you called her, Blake.” A sharp pain wrenched through my chest as I said her name out loud. I glanced over my shoulder, where Charlie sat parked on the street, before returning my focus to Blake. “The program…it’s helped me realize so many truths I didn’t want to ever acknowledge.” I pulled my hands out of my pockets and raked them through my hair, my fingers still trembling. “I needed to see you today, to make amends. That night”

“Justin,” she cut me off and the pain in her voice ripped through me like a time-portal straight to that night. To the sound of Hail’s whimper, her rib cracking underneath my kick. To Blake’s cries, to her vulnerable flesh puckering under my forceful hands. “We can’t”

“I have to.” I stopped her. “I have to tell you how deeply I regret what happened. And the hell I put you through before then. I have no excuses,” I said, the reasoning I had in my head rushing through like bright neon signs. Sure, Thomas may have helped me work some shit out, and even Charlie had helped me realize why I’d behaved the way I did, but Blake didn’t deserve to hear excuses. She deserved only the truth that mattered, and that was my apology. “I know
sorry
is a pathetic word that will never make up for what I did to you, but I hope you know I mean it when I say that I have spent every night since trying to undo what I did…what I almost did…”

“Blake are you” His voice cut through my apology, one I’d been giving with my eyes firmly secured on hers, so I saw nothing else, including him opening the front door. My skin tightened like hackles raising up on the back of my neck.

It’s not his fault.

But he’s still a tool.

I couldn’t help my internal reaction to the guy. He simply would never be on my care list.

“I didn’t realize this meeting had already started. I thought you were going to come get me?” He looked at Blake with so much concern I nearly puked again. He wrapped an arm around her waist, planting a kiss on her neck.

“I told you I’d get you if I needed to,” she said, and I may have imagined it but the tone had bite to it.

Trouble in paradise?
That was so not my business, and thankfully, I didn’t care. Not anymore. The ease the two had about them didn’t bother me because I knew how it felt to be like that now. Charlie and myself clicked. Just like Blake had with…well, the tool. Hard to blame her for wanting out of something so toxic, especially if she’d felt even a percentage of what I did for Charlie.

“So you’re okay?” He asked her and she squeezed his hand before peeking over his shoulder toward the house.

“Ugh,” she huffed and pulled away from him, motioning inside the house. “I thought you told them to take the day off?”

I followed her gaze, spotting three movie-production cameras hoisted on top of three different sets of massive shoulders.

“Shit!” he snapped. “I did. I swear…” He turned out of her embrace and stomped back into the house, slamming the door.

I arched an eyebrow at her. “Making a movie now?”

She shook her head. “Dash’s team got optioned for a reality series on the Weather Channel.”

“No shit?”

She cracked the first smile I’d seen in over a year. “Yes. He’s quite charismatic. The test audience is in love with him…the show.” She shifted her weight. “Sorry about that. You were interrupted.”

The chick was still saying sorry over
everything.
I’d assumed after having the perfect relationship that would’ve been worked out of her. Maybe some habits really did die hard. I rubbed the back of my neck where a knot had formed, totally lost in my thoughts.

“I’m not going to pretend like I want to be friends, Blake.”

She raised her eyebrows, and her smile cracked into a laugh.

I couldn’t help but chuckle too. “Honestly, you know that would never work,” I continued.

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I know.”

“So I didn’t come here to work my way back into your life. I came here to apologize. To let you know I’m actively working toward becoming a better man. Not for you, though I do wish I would’ve caught on much sooner…would’ve spared you some pain…but in the end, this is for me. Another selfish act. Wanting forgiveness I know you can’t grant.” I shrugged. “You just
had
to know. I don’t sit alone at night relishing the way I hurt you. It haunts me, and it should.”

Tears glittered in her brown eyes, but she didn’t let them drop. Add it to the long list of the many times I’d made her cry…but was she…was she smiling?

Yes. It was faint, but it was there. And it gave me the hope I so desperately needed but knew I didn’t deserve.

She sucked in a sharp breath. “It’s been such a long time…”

“Over a year,” I said when she didn’t finish.

Smashing her palms into her eyes, she shook her head. “No. It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen you. The boy I grew up with. I’m happy you found your way back, Justin. I really hope you can maintain this new balance you have.” I didn’t miss the doubt in her voice as she looked over my shoulder, motioning toward Charlie’s white bug. “Does she have anything to do with your new transformation?”

An unstoppable grin shaped my lips. “Some of it, yeah.”

“Good. That’s really good.”

A bubble of awkward silence encompassed the porch as I realized I’d said what I’d come to say to her. Now for the final step.

“Blake?”

“Yes?”

“Could I speak with…
Dash,
alone, please?” I nearly choked on his name, and I’d honestly rather get hit over the head with a thousand empty vodka bottles than talk to him, but this wasn’t about me. This was about Blake’s safety.

Her eyes popped wide, and I rose my hands in defense. “I just need to talk to him. I promise.”

She slowly opened the door, clutching the knob as she looked back at me. “I know what you said wasn’t easy.” She took a deep breath. “And I want you to leave here knowing you have my forgiveness. It’s not selfish to want to move on, especially when you’re rediscovering yourself like you are. Just…please stick to it. You’re better this way. I could see it the second you walked up here. You’re…clear.”

I nodded, swallowing the massive rock lodged in my fucking throat. Always bigger and better than I’d ever be…Blake. She’d granted me the one wish I never thought possible, offering me more kindness than I’d ever deserve, but of course, she was sharp. She tacked on a price with her offering…stay clean. Keep at it. Stick to it.

“I will. I know my word means shit but I will.” I put every ounce of belief I had in to the words, begging her with my eyes to believe me. I doubted our paths would ever cross again after this and I wanted her to know I wouldn’t shit on the gift she’d just given me.

She gave me a closed mouth smile and walked into the house, her long brown hair lifting in the wind behind her. I shifted my weight, the desire to bolt to Charlie overwhelming but I resisted it. As much as my heart wanted to race at the new freedom it’d been given and relish the feel of the absence of heavy ass chains that had encased it, I had to hold my ground. Because while this was an enormous step toward me reclaiming my life, I still had a huge blemish to take care of, one that Charlie didn’t know about, and one that
he
had to know about.

BOOK: Edge of Recovery (Love on the Edge)
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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