“Hi, Mom and dad.” I whisper.
It’s been almost a month since I was shot. It’s been almost a month since Bash was arrested, along with everyone involved in my parents’ murders. It was almost surreal. The stitched-up wound in my side is the only reason that I know it’s real.
It’s gotten colder since I was released from the hospital; the winter months are fast approaching. I tug my thick cardigan closer to fight the breeze. Orange and red leaves blow around my feet. I take in a deep breath and kneel in the cold grass. I reach forward and place the bouquet of flowers on the ground.
“I miss you.” My voice gets caught in my throat as I stare at the names etched onto the headstones.
Now that my parents’ murderers were behind bars, I was permitted to visit where my parents were buried. Turns out they were laid to rest in North Dakota, where my mother was originally from. They were given a nice gravesite: under a weeping willow in the center of the cemetery. Mom would’ve loved it.
“I’m doing okay.” I whisper, reaching forward to run my fingers across their cold names. I know they’re not really here, but I instantly feel more at ease. A smile crosses my lips, “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through these last few months, something straight out of one of mom’s action novels.”
I sit there a moment longer, starring at the words etched on the marble. It’s plain and simple. I wish I could’ve picked the words out. Mom would’ve wanted something funny like, “Can you move, you’re blocking my view?” Dad would’ve wanted something deep like, “The journey is the reward”. Maybe I’ll ask if I can have them changed, I have the money to do so now.
After it came out that the VP of the company my father worked for was the one that had him killed, the company was closed for an investigation and the court hearing went by fast. They wanted to get it done as quickly as possible to keep it from the media’s eye. I wanted the whole world to know what they did, but I was advised to take the settlement that I was offered from the company for my “pain and suffering”. I was probably one of the wealthiest seventeen-year old’s in the U.S now. Of course, I wouldn’t see the sum of the money for a few more months, not until I turn eighteen.
I stand back to my feet, reaching up to wipe the tears from my eyes. I might have lost the two most important people in my life, but I’d also gained some new ones. Turns out, Arden was smaller than I thought. It had barely been a week before the whole school knew who I really was. Leo couldn’t stop it, no one could. The rumors flew wide and fast, and most of them weren’t actually rumors. It had been less than a week when Adam showed up at the hospital, feeling extremely guilty and not exactly sure how to handle things. In the end, he said it was the coolest thing that happened to Arden Prep.
Suddenly, someone’s strong arms wrap around my waist from behind. My smile brightens. I clasp my fingers between theirs and rest my head against their chest. “They would’ve like you, you know.”
“Your mom would’ve loved me, all moms do.” Kaleb Nixon teases in my ear.
Kaleb Nixon flew to North Dakota with me to visit my parents for the first time since they were buried. I couldn’t do it alone, and I was grateful that he offered to come along. He’s barely left my side since the night that Bash shot me. He’s been an ever-reassuring presence in my life lately, one I was hoping would stick around for years to come.
When I’d first met Kaleb Nixon, I had hated him. But maybe that was because we were so much alike. We each had a past that we’d been running from. We didn’t want to let anyone in, didn’t want to let anyone see the real us. But slowly, we let each other in. And it had been the best thing I could’ve ever done.
Kaleb Nixon was good for me.
He was good.
In return, he said that I made him better.
For the first time in a while, we were each planning for a future that we knew we could have. We didn’t just think about a few minutes in advance. We thought years ahead, years that we knew we’d spend together.
“You ready?” His voice whispers, tickling my ear.
It’s then that I realize that we’ve been standing in the graveyard for well over an hour now. I don’t want to leave, but I feel better about doing so. At least I know where they are now.
“We can come back whenever you want.” He reassures me.
“Yeah, now that I’m rich.” I tease.
“Say that again.” He purrs.
I spin around in his arms, sliding my hands under his shirt and pressing closer to him. I lean my head back so I can look into his eyes. “I’m rich.”
His lips meet mine a moment later. I can feel his smile against my mouth. His fingers press deeper into my skin and Kaleb shivers. “You’re so hot.”
“You just like me for my money.” I laugh.
“Yeah, but I like you for other things, too.”
He kisses me again, ”That.”
“So, you like me for my kisses and for my money. Anything else or just those things?”
He shrugs and takes the longest time to answer, “I guess your personality’s okay.”
I scoff and push away from him, but a bright smile crosses my lips. “You’re such a jerk!”
“And you’re a dork.” He teases back, taking a step towards me to close the space again.
“I hate you.” But there’s no conviction in my voice.
His fingers are on my skin again and his body is pressed flush against my own. “No, you don’t.”
“You’re right, I don’t.”
“Then how do you feel about me?”
“It’s easier to tolerate you now, if that’s what you’re asking.” I laugh.
“I want a little more than that.”
“I think you’re funny.”
He pulls me closer, ”More.”
“I think you only annoyed once so far today.”
“Just say it, Greer.” He pleads.
“No way, Nixon. You say it first.”
We stand there in silence for a moment, the breeze kicking up around us. It’s so quiet here that I’d be okay with spending the whole afternoon, but we have to get back home. It’s my first day back to Arden on Monday.
“Why are you so stubborn?” Kaleb shakes his head and his eyes take in the graveyard for a moment. His hold on me tightens, like he’s afraid to let me go. That’s how it’s been since I woke up in the hospital bed. It’s like he has to keep a hold on me at all times or I might disappear, like if he lets go my name will appear on one of these headstones. Maybe it’s because he held me in his arms while I was dying. I glad I don’t remember it. I’m glad I don’t remember the look in his eyes in that moment, the moment when he knew he was about to lose me. ”I love you.”
His words are quiet, but not like he’s afraid of them. At one point, he had been. Kaleb had been afraid of getting too close to anyone, afraid that he would ruin them because he had too much darkness inside. This time when he said the three words, they were meant only for me. Like it was something that only I got to cherish and protect forever.
“Kaleb Nixon, how embarrassing. I can’t believe you just said that in front of my parents.” I tease, playfully hitting his shoulders.
“I think they’ll forgive me.” He says, keeping his eyes trained on me.
I kiss him, hoping he can feel the words I’m about to speak. I grip his shirt tight and realize that maybe I’m afraid to let him go, too. ”I love you.”
He kisses me one last time before he starts to lead me away from my parents. We both wave goodbye as we go. His hand is clasped tight in mine as we step onto the foot path. “Let’s go home.”
And for the first time in a long time, I know where home is.
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