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Chapter 43: Chapter 43

1 year later

"Alex!"

That night still plays over and over again in my head. Nothing could ever compare to that fear. There's nothing that could stop your heart faster than watching a bullet speed to your chest.

The entire time waiting for the impact, all I could think was "Is this death? Numb, shocking, calm? Am I dead?"

It took awhile to build up the courage and look. I was expecting blood, I was expecting the pain to hit me like a freight train. What I saw was almost scarier than being shot.

I remember Alex grabbing my by the arms and pulling me back towards him, the second he did the bullet that had been hovering and inch from my chest fell to the ground. I still felt numb. I still felt dead, there had been no impact, no blood, but I still felt dead.

I'd never seen a man angrier than the devil had been when that leathal piece of metal fell to the ground, useless.

"You can't touch us, you son of a bitch!" Alex's words ring over and over in my head. He can't hurt us ever again. It was over. Two months of fear and running, and it was finally over.

"I'll get you someday Alex Monroe, mark my words, someday I'll make you pay!"

My shock made it hard to process anything as Alex had dragged me out of the building and into a crowded street. He held me close against his side, my backpack in his hand as we pushed through the crowd. At one point I looked up and found myself staring at the Hollywood sign.

The trip home, I just processed everything. Alex had taken me to the train station to get back to our motel in San Diego, but we found a car waiting for us with all our stuff. It had taken us to the airport where we got on a private plane. We were home before I knew it.

I guess it was a good thing I took my keys with me out of instinct. Mom wasn't home to let me in, and I really needed my bed. Alex stayed with me until she got home, helped me put away my stuff, kept watch while I took a nap, and then of course watched me cry like a baby in my mom's arms.

She believed everything we told her. I elected to not tell her about meeting dad or his deal. I guess it wasn't the right time.

Alex left while we caught up and I started makeup work. He came back that night, smiling like an idiot saying his bike was there when he got home. He took me for a ride and out for dinner. I gave him the house phone number and he called every night for the rest of the week checking on me.

Getting back to school was hard, but with Alex, Jen, and mom helping, I got back on track and graduated.

Alex and I also started publicly dating. It was a major adjustment, to say the least. Mom wasn't sure how she felt, until she saw him taking care of my after a nightmare. I guess she was afraid he'd be like dad, and needed that reassurance.

Two months after graduating, my dad showed up at our door, broke and desperate. He didn't want to be an errand boy so he came to us begging for money. Mom slammed the door in his face, and that was when I decided to tell her everything. It really helped her move on, realizing how little he cared, it motivated her. She graduated a month early and got a really good job.

Alex and I are now taking a gap year, trying to calm ourselves and readjust. We've been at each other's houses a lot, and his parents seem to like me, especially since I've pushed the three of them to reconnect.

Tonight we're at his place watching a movie. I lay with my head in his lap while his fingers run up and down my arm, he's slowly lulling me to sleep.

"Do you want to rest? I can take you home," He whispers.

"No, no I'm ok here."

He squeezes my arm gently before continuing his careful caressing. I don't realize I'm asleep until I feel it. The gentle touch of Alex is replaced with deep burning.

I look down and see hot, red circles appear up and down my arm. The pain makes my body shake as I choke on my own screams. Laughter fills my ear as my vision goes black.

"This will be fun!" The voice taunts as a sharp pain runs down my neck.

I feel tears run down my cheek as my skin heats up and I start screaming.

I start shaking again, I— Wait, no, I'm not shaking, someone is shaking me. Finally able to open my eyes again, I see Alex watching me.

"Are you ok?" He whispers, gently pulling me closer. I can see the worry in his eyes.

I look down at my arms and feel my neck. There's nothing. No burns, no cuts, they're gone. I let out a sigh of relief as I nod.

"You didn't tell me you were still having nightmares."

The first few nights after being home, mom had to call Alex in the middle of the night because I'd wake up screaming. She says I'd be screaming about blood and guns and she wouldn't know what to do so she would call Alex. I got it under control... Well, enough so that I wouldn't have to keep letting Alex see me that way.

I shrug it off, curling back up against him. He doesn't seem convinced, not in the slightest, but he lets it go for the time being. Adrenaline keeps me awake for the rest of the movie, even though I'm not paying attention.

As Alex helps me gather my stuff he stops with his keys in hand.

"You've been checking your arms all night. There are no burns." He sounds distant.

"I know," I attempt to laugh it off, "It was just a dream, probably from one of the movies we watched."

"I may have been blind enough not to see how you felt about me but I'm not blind enough not to see you're not getting better. How long have these still been going on? Did they ever stop?"

I can't help but freeze as he watches me. Lying to him is something I've never liked doing and I've become pretty terrible at it over the past year.

"Not really, no. They just have become less of a shock." I go back to what I was doing, I check to make sure I have my keys as I pull on my jacket and avoid eye contact.

"Why didn't you say anything? Why not let me help?"

"It's been a year Alex, I'm ok. It's not a big deal, I'll get over it."

I hear him toss his keys on his kitchen table. "Damnit, why are you like that? Why can't you just fucking let people in? I just want to help you!"

I'm caught off guard. He's learned that catching me off guard can do one of two things; it can make me lash out and shut down, or it can make my walls weak and make me open up. I feel my lip start quivering but I'm not sure if it's because he's upset or because I am.

"It's been a year."

"I know that Jules."

"It's been a year," I repeat, "And I still hear his laugh, I still feel my heart stop thinking about that bullet inches from my chest. I still think about the pain and the crying and the hunger, I still think about how I was too weak to stand. It's been a year, I should be over it, I want to be, but I'm not."

His eyes soften as the rest of him stays rigid. The way he watches me makes me want to cry or yell, it makes me want to scream at him to say something. Why isn't he saying anything?

I don't want to start crying. I'm done crying, I had two months of constantly bawling my eyes out in front of him. He doesn't need to see it anymore, plus he's probably sick of this by now. A year of my walls and my nightmares and my issues is more than anyone should put up with, he's probably starting to see that.

Grabbing my bag I head for the door, as I pull it open I feel his hands on my waist.

"What are you doing?" His voice is soft and warm as he wraps himself around me and buries his face in my neck.

"I'm going home." I hate how my voice wavers.

"Why? I thought we were still talking, I want to help."

"You don't need to help, I can figure it out. You shouldn't have to deal with it, it's been too long to ask for help."

He turns me, moving swiftly but trying to be gentle. "Julianna Woodrow, I've said this so many times over the last year, I said it more times that I can count when we were on the road, but you're not hearing me so I'll say it again: shut up, stop saying dumb shit."

"Alex—"

"No I mean it! You don't have to do this alone, no one wants you to. Me, your mom, Jen, we want to be here for you but you won't let us in! I don't know why you can't let us help. We all love you."

"It's not fair to put on you guys, it's not fair of me to ask and if I do who's to say you all won't take off running?"

His lips meet mine as he pulls my hips in and let's his body merge with mine. I love the feeling, but it only makes me want to cry more. I push away gently, causing him to ease up, leaving a pattern of tiny kisses on my cheeks before smiling at me.

"It took one glance to fall for you, two years to talk to you, two months to go head over heels, and way too long to finally have you... I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying by you until you tell me to go, and even then I'm sure I'm going to put up a fight. Nothing you can do will scare me away, that's what love is. I love you, Jen loves you, your mom loves you, we want you happy. We won't leave you in the dark."

My eyes sting.

"No more crying, no more crying, no more..."

I start crying. He pulls me into a tight hug, and I try to squeeze him and bring him closer. Lifting me in his arms and taking me back to the couch he cradles me in his lap and holds me, petting my hair and whispering in my ear.

"It's ok," He says, "It's alright. I'm here. We're here. Nothing else will happen to you, you're safe. I'm going to keep you safe. It's ok. I'm going to help you. You aren't alone."

His words fill me up as I relax in his arms. I'm left half asleep in his lap, hiccuping and trying to calm down as he stars rocking.

"It'll get better. We'll get through this... Together."


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