Legend (Page 42)

“My parents realized what was going on about two years in. They might have suspected for a while, but I think they chalked it up to me being young. Two years my addiction was permanent, and they finally got me help. It was difficult at first. I started eating a little more in the beginning, to help curb my anxiety. I gained some weight, which I’ve been slowly losing at last. I have,” she looks at me, “a few friends now. But I am my own friend now too. I want what’s best for me. I want to be known for who I am, who I consciously choose to be, work hard to be. I’ve been sober for one year, and every day I beat this is a win for me. Thank you.” She nods, and before she leaves the podium, she’s looking at me. Just me. Eyes hopeful and bright, and a little apologetic too.

She ducks her head and leaves the stand, and then she takes her chair.

Too far away from me.

Too f*****g far away from me, a world away, when I want to crush her in my arms and tell her she’s amazing.

All this time. Reese quietly fighting her fight.

I sit here, still a moron, staring at the back of her head, reeling and knowing for a damn fact that I’m in love with this girl.

I want to set up house.

Pop out a couple of babies with this girl.

I want to protect her from a bottle or a man or a word or a f*****g raindrop or from f*****g me.

That’s how much I care about this girl.

Guess I’m not emotionally stunted after all.

Guess it just takes a second to realize what stares you in the face, slamming you like a punch in the gut.

She wanted a friend in me. I’ll be her friend, but I want so much more.

“You see her,” I whisper to Oz, and he frowns and nods. “That’s her. That’s my girl.”

TWENTY-SIX

UNVEILED

Reese

The room starts emptying when the session ends, and I find myself on my feet, unmoving, as the wall of lean muscle at my eye level starts coming toward me. I know this chest. I’ve touched it. I scratched it in o****m. I know its owner, and for some reason I still can’t find the courage to look into his eyes.

Until Maverick stops before me.

Tall, that chest broad and big and begging me to get close to it if only to borrow its strength.

I inhale, and force my eyes upward.

Something happens when our eyes meet. The air shifts and whirls between us. Everything falls away until it’s just me, raw and bare and naked and without any real secrets left, and him.

I don’t expect what he does next. He wraps his arms around me and gives me this huge hug, pressing me to him until we’re like one big entwined tree, the kind of hug my father or mother would give me when I was “brave,” and when he kisses my forehead with such passion I feel his hot, wet mouth on my skin, I want to kiss him so bad I ache inside. “You’re incredible,” he whispers in my ear.

Oh god.

For some reason, I want to know why I hadn’t told him. Why I don’t ever tell anyone. Even the Tates only know because my mother wanted to be sure I made at least one AA meeting per city, and I resented that they had to know. If only because I didn’t want to look weak in the eyes of people who are strong and nearly perfect to me.

But they didn’t judge. They didn’t look at me with pity. They welcomed me into their team, their home, their lives, and let me get close to the most precious thing they have: Racer.

“I didn’t want . . . to be someone who was recovering to you. I wanted to be me. The new-and-improved me that I’m working on.”

“You are you,” he says fiercely.

The way he says this pushes an emotional button, and I swallow. “I wanted to be special on my own, without a bottle or a story about me, just me. This trip . . . was about that for me.”

Until it became all about you.

“I was sixteen. When I started, and then I . . . stopped completely at nineteen. I’m not even at a legal drinking age and I’ve already vowed not to do it again,” I say, smiling wanly into his face. “I’m not even tempted. I want what it gives me, maybe, to feel free and . . . But I don’t want it.”

I glance at the door where Oz left. “He didn’t want to talk?”

“Not yet.”

“Does he need a sponsor?”

“Maybe.”

“If he takes those twelve steps, they’ll be the first steps to a new him.”

Maverick won’t take his eyes off me. His arm is possessive around my waist. And then, Maverick slips his hand under my hair, his eyes dark and quietly loving. “I’m on fire when I look at you,” he says, his voice reverent and his gaze electric on me. “You decimated me just now.”

I exhale and blink back the emotion in my eyes. Not everybody sees this, when they see someone recovering. They see someone who could fall again. Who could be weak again. Who already fell. They don’t see the strength it took to overcome it and push through, sometimes they don’t see the humanity, and sometimes they don’t know that to someone who’s recovering it’s hard to stay in a world and a reality where the reflections of themselves they see mirrored in others’ eyes are so lacking.

“Do you need to get back?”

I nod, regretfully. “I said I’d just come to the meeting.”

“I’ll take you.”

I smile, and duck my head. “I’m glad you brought Oz.” And I add, “I’m glad you know.”

There is something about telling someone a secret that binds and locks you together. And there is something about somebody knowing everything about you that makes you aware of how much work you still have to become a better you.