“Have you ever felt pain so immense that you literally felt your heart crack?” I asked no one in particular. Well, obviously I couldn’t ask anyone because I stood in the center of the Brooklyn Bridge and watched random cars honk as they zoomed past me.
The tattered hem of my jeans dragged against the cold wet tar, my jacket was long gone, and my makeup dried against my face from the tears and the rain that had stopped half an hour ago. I was a mess to put it lightly.
You can’t go with me where I’m going…
All this waiting is blindly optimistic and naïve…
I love you enough to be truthful with you…
I love you…
Maybe we should continue as we were and see where this takes us at the end of the year…
I tried to shake off the battering of his words from my head. I hated him more than I had ever hated anyone. I knew I hated him in that moment even while every part of me still screamed out how much I wanted to convince him that I was the better choice. I wanted to prove to him that no one could love him the way I have.
It didn’t matter to him though, did it?
He knew what he wanted all along. I was just the challenge that he accepted and completed. I was nothing now. He always had a plan.
My life is going a certain way…
I was good with that. I was good with him ending things all those months ago. He decided that he wanted to continue trying. He decided to talk to me every day even when I ignored him. He used his words to flatter me even when I tried to steer it into a joke. He kept at it. He pretended as if nothing had changed, and I… believed him.
I was such a stupid idiot. I was a fucking idiot. I was all the words that were associated with the words fool, idiot and naïve. He was right in that respect. I was so fucking naïve. I saw all the signs. My friends saw all the signs and even my family saw it.
All this waiting is naïve and blindly optimistic…
I refused to see it.
I glared down at the sparkling black water below me, the bridge was lit, and the sky had cleared from the passing storm.
If you think you know where this is going, don’t fret yourself. I was not going to throw myself from the bridge for a coward who had no fucking balls to break up with me before moving on to his next. No. if I did throw myself off, it was going to be because I realized I was a failure.
At twenty-five, I had nothing to show for my life. Not like other people my age had. I was still struggling to make my rent, even though my parents would never hesitate to help me. I was still working a boring nine-to-five job, even though I had the degree to get something within my field of expertise.
I no longer had a nine-to-five job because I had a mental breakdown at work and ended up swearing at a colleague. I should have stayed and explained myself. I should have been honest with my boss and told her the truth that I was going through a mental and physically emotional breakdown. Instead, I decided to take my bags and leave. I was incredibly tired of being the slapping boy in that place.
I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no idea which way to turn. I lost everything. In my head, I was crumbling and all alone.
Yes, I knew there were people I could call and who would help me within seconds. Yet, we all have those moments of self-pity. To be honest, even when we have a team of people willing to see us through our hardest times, there are still things we reserve to go through all by ourselves.
This happens to be one of those things. I mostly did not want to share this with anyone because everyone and their dog had warned me about Holden. Everyone, even my parents who had never met him, had told me that there was something wrong in the way he treated me.
I believed in a telephonic relationship for the last three years with the optimism that everything was going to work out the way we had planned it. I was holding on to the fact that one day he and I were going to fulfill the future he often spoke to me about.
I thought twenty-seven-year-olds were done with playing games.
I should’ve known though. I saw it in his behavior. He liked the idea of having complete control over a person’s mind and body. He enjoyed the fact that he changed me from the strong person I was into a sniveling broken doll.
My reservations and aloof nature intrigued him. He couldn’t believe someone was as closed off as I was. Then he decided to gut me and change it all. He decided that I needed to express myself more. He made me believe that he would always be there for me.
Realizing that this was not in any way helping my state of mind and that if I thought anymore about the situation I may just really jump off, I turned around to head back home. Walking around like a lost soul on the bridge was just me asking to get robbed, raped or a combination of the both. I’m pretty sure Brooklyn was only made to be safe on tv. I took one step off the pavement and not ten feet away from me I watched my life take a turn I never saw coming.
A black Audi TT raced down the wrong side of the road while a smaller car which looked to be a KIA, or something swerved to avoid it. The small car was no match for the 420 horsepower under the hood of the black beast.
The impact was thunderous. The tiny car didn’t stand a chance. It flipped over a few times before landing on its roof. I started running even as the other cars stopped to avoid contributing to the collision. My bare feet slapped against the cold tar as I watched two people pull a surprisingly uninjured woman out of the small car.
I hesitated for a second before I took off towards the TT which was stationary at an angle with smoke wafting from the bonnet. The tire tracks are something I would always remember from that night.
I grabbed the handle of the driver’s side and gasped as the driver’s body fell out.
His forehead was bloody, and his eyes were fluttering open. I tried to hold up his massive frame, but I was too weak to even try.
“Hey,” I whispered. “Stay with me.”
His eyes popped open at my voice and bright green pupils surrounded by bloodshot veins stared up at me in a dazed and confused wonder. “Emma?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m… I’m Aria…”
He frowned at me. I was pretty sure it was from the pain or the confusion going on in his head, or maybe it was because I wasn’t Emma.
“Story of my fucking life,” I muttered. “I’m never the one people are looking for.”
He chuckled slowly. “Don’t worry, I’m not that person either.”
I shake my head. “You almost cost someone their life and nearly ended yours at the same time, now isn’t the time for humor.”
“I hope the other person is okay,” he said in a gruff voice.
“Surprisingly,” I said as I pushed away a lock of matted hair off his forehead. “She seems to be fine, not her car though.”
“If I make it out alive, promise to make me regret every moment of it.”
“That is a strange promise to ask of a stranger,” I raised my brows down at him.
“You’re not a stranger,” he protested. “You are Aria.”
“Ma’am,” a voice interrupted our bizarre conversation.
I looked up to find a paramedic standing above me with a clipboard. “Finally, he is conscious… sort of.”
“We will have a look at him now ma’am,” the paramedic smiled at me with a look of compassion.
“Make your promise, Aria,” the driver shouted from the passenger seat as a team of paramedics swarmed around him to put him onto a stretcher.
I shake my head at him. “I’ve recently learned that promises are meant to be broken.” With a few minutes of silence from his side and a hesitation from my side, I shouted out, “I promise.”
“So, which part of you thought it was a brilliant idea to drive on the wrong side of the road, Dasher?” my mother’s angered voice grated on my nerves.
My head felt like someone took a club to it a few hundred times. “Neither part of me, mother. I looked away to reach for my phone and had no idea I veered to the wrong side of the road.”
My mother’s long dark hair looked just as angry as her face did while my older brother’s disapproval filtered through the room like smoke from a cigarette.
“Speak, Travis,” I sighed. “You obviously have a lot to say to me.”
“I actually don’t know what to say,” he gritted at me with disapproving brown eyes. Travis had the ability to make a person shiver and shake where they stood, right now, he made me feel like I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole.
“That’s a change,” I raised my brows and looked at my fuming mother. “Look, the lady is fine, her car is banged up and my insurance will cover for it. The Audi also survived so there is no stress.”
“No stress?” my mother screeched loud enough for the busy hallway outside to quiet down. Fuck. “You could’ve killed someone or yourself for that matter. You could have caused irreparable damage! You had a stroke of luck. This behavior has to stop, Dasher!”
I held myself straight and ran my fingers through my dark hair. I knew this lecture. I received it many times over the last two years. They always threatened to sort me out or teach me a lesson. It never came though.
Apparently, not until today.
“We’ve decided that you have been too reckless, and you take our threats, so to speak, lightly,” Travis ran his hand through his blonde hair with frustration. His lean physique was probably half the size of my body, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in being the media mogul of New York. He was David Camden’s right hand. I hated that bastard. Both of them.
“Trav,” I frowned. “What are you saying right now?”
“I’m saying that you are cut off,” he glared at me. “You have been living off the strength of this family for too long.”
“I don’t take a cent from you!” I shouted.
“I’m not talking about money, Dash,” he shook his head. “I’m talking about the support you seem to take for granted.”
“What fucking support do I take for granted?” I seethed. “I’m trying, okay! I’m fucking trying!”
“It has been two years,” my mother answered from my bedside. “Two years too long.”
“You can’t just get over the death of your family with a snap of your fingers,” I snapped mine for emphasis. “Even you cannot be that cruel.”
“At some point you have to realize that being sad or grieving does not have to result in you being physically harmful to yourself or others for that matter.”
I clenched my jaw in frustration. They did not get it. “So, what do you plan on doing with me?”
“You need a rehabilitation center or even a therapist at least,” my mother’s eyes pleaded with me.
“I need the two of you to leave me alone right now,” my usually soft and lilting voice was gruff and filled with anger.
I squeezed my eyes shut like the pussy that I am, and I shouted, “Get the fuck out!”
I kept my eyes closed as they left. I felt my mother lay a kiss on my forehead, and whisper how much she wishes I would understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
How was I supposed to ignore what they were doing or understand for that matter? Two years or ten… there was no way you could get over death. I’ve been a ticking timebomb in their eyes. I couldn’t understand how neither of them got it. My mother was a heartless bitch, that I had come to accept in the last twenty-five years, but Travis? Travis seemed worse than he was two years ago.
I glanced up at the doorway, ready to swear the nurse, only to find a very familiar and attractive blonde. “Can I help you?”
Her brows rose as she sucked in her bottom lip in obvious embarrassment. “Wow, I’m gonna try not to take that as an insult.”
“I’m sorry …” I trailed off watching as her very pouty lips stretched out into a seductive smile. I don’t think she did it on purpose. I think her face was naturally that way. “I have no idea who you are.”
“I’m Aria Thorne,” she smiled with a shrug as she awkwardly put down the bouquet of white roses on the breakfast tray. “I guess I found you after the accident.”
I drew blanks so instead I said, “I’m Dasher Camden, nice to meet you.”
She grinned as if she caught on to my failure of a play along. “So, I was coming in and heard the lecture, maybe I should?” she gestured with her thumb at the door.
“Nah,” I shook my head. “I’d rather have company that cannot judge.”
“Not in the mood for someone who knows you but really doesn’t?” she muttered. “Especially when they presume to know you better than what you know yourself?”
“Same issues,” I said more than asked.
“Not same issues,” she laughed. It really transformed her gorgeous face. “But same ways of dealing I guess?”
“You mean the self-destructive way of dealing?” I gave her a skeptical look.
“That’s the one,” she sat at the corner of my bed and took in everything before her. “So… what are your plans? From the scene I walked in on, I would assume you’re on the defensive now?”
I watched her with a fascination that I had not had in anyone else. It wasn’t lust or love or anything remotely romantic. It was appreciation for how real this woman was. It was as if she knew exactly what I felt, probably, she did. In just a few minutes a complete stranger understood my head space, when for the last couple years my family couldn’t grasp my reasons for behaving the way I did.
“What did you do when you went on the defensive?”
She laughed. “I’m still on the defensive.”
I ran my fingers through my hair and winced when my fingers got tangled in it. “I first need to find a place to stay. I don’t think I could bear the disappointment of my family right now.”
“Did they kick you out while you were still in hospital?” she asked with no judgment, just a lot of confusion.
“Yeah, almost killing someone or myself for that matter seemed to have pissed them off,” I shrugged.
“Well, yeah,” she rolled her eyes, she already felt more familiar to me. “What are you going to do about living arrangements? Want me to help you out?”
“No,” I smiled. “Don’t get tangled up in my shit. Hopefully the doctors are going to keep me for a day or two, so I can get a call to one of my buddies.”
“Hate to break it to you, pretty boy, but they’re signing your discharge papers out there.”
Fuck. I closed my eyes and breathed through my nose to calm myself down before I completely lost it. I needed to call Parker or Clay and see whether they could put me up for a bit.
“I’ll figure it out,” I finally said.
Aria nodded in understanding as she took my features in. Once again there was nothing romantic about it. I clenched the coarse hospital blanket in my fist to keep from checking whether I still had a cock. Maybe the accident broke it or something. The woman was stunning, a little on the skinny side, but she was attractive nonetheless.
“You could stay with me,” she said, breaking me out of my thoughts.
“Sorry,” I blinked. “What?”
She tilted her head to the side with an amused smirk on her face. “Your responses are making me feel really loved right now.”
I chuckled uncomfortably. “We don’t know each other.”
“We do know each other,” she said incredulously. “You’re Dasher!”
I frowned and wondered what that was supposed to mean. Her face once again caught on to my lack of ability to pretend.
“Besides,” she continued. “Do I know you any better than the people around you do?”
Impulsivity was my strongest suit. I knew this was a bad idea. This girl was a stranger to me. Her bright blue eyes told stories of pain and sadness.
I watched her until I noticed her become visibly uncomfortable and finally said. “Okay, Aria.”