Fall Back Skyward (Fall Back #1)(8)
Written By: Autumn Grey
This is awkward. I know she is hurting. I certainly wasn’t expecting this kind of greeting from her. My brain yells, Hug her back, you idiot, but everything in me is ready to push her away. Reject to offer her comfort.
Then she moves her head, burrowing deeper into my chest. Her scent, that combination of vanilla and almond, slams into me and knocks the breath from my lungs.
I can’t do this. She is my biggest weakness and my greatest strength. But how can I not hold her when she’s trembling like she is about to fall apart? When her pain is my pain?
This is not the Nor I knew, the girl I left behind. My Nor was fierce. Her life hadn’t been easy, but she had been a fighter. This girl holding me is broken, surrounded by desolation.
I toss the beanie on the chair and wrap my arms around her. The feeling is so familiar, it physically hurts remembering how long it’s been since I held her like this. I squeeze her tighter and bury my face in the crook of her neck just below her ear, my body seeking comfort and familiarity.
God. She smells fucking amazing.
I should kick myself in the balls for thinking shit like this.
As though she’s been waiting for my arms to hold her, her knees buckle. I scoop her up and stride across the room to the cot she was sleeping on and lower myself on to it. She sobs openly, her arms banded around my neck and her face burrowed in it. I hold her tighter as she curls her tiny body up on my lap. Right now, holding each other like this, we are two people grieving over someone we both love. Gone are the differences that drove us apart.
Just a brother and a wife comforting one another.
I rub my hand in circles along her back taming the storm raging inside her, until the sobs turn to little hiccups and her breathing evens out.
She stiffens and sits up on my lap. She seems to remember who I am. Who she is.
She quickly swings her legs to one side. Her dress rides up her thighs in the process. My arms tighten around her on reflex as my gaze zooms in on the pink scars on her thighs. These scars look different than the white ones on her arms. She tries to pull her dress down quickly, her gaze averted from mine. Had she relapsed again after I left?
Obviously seeing my shock, her cheeks flush as she scrambles off my lap. I let her go as she stands up, wiping her face with the back of her hand. She leans down and grabs a pair of pink Keds from the foot of the bed and slips them on.
She’s still a Keds kind of girl, even after all these years.
Her gaze darts around the room. Everywhere but at me, her chest rising and falling rapidly, but I cannot stop staring at her. My eyes can’t get enough of her now that she’s standing in front of me. I give her time to collect herself. Finally, she focuses those wide, beautiful eyes on me, searching my face. I have a feeling that if I mention the scars on her thighs, she will run. So I hold back and wait for the pain in my chest to subside. The air around us is weighted with awkwardness and unspoken thoughts. I hate this so damn much.
She bites her cheek, uncertainty flooding her features. Her lips part as if she wants to say something, but they fall closed again.
My body is coiled tightly, waiting for her reaction.
Her gaze leaves my face, taking in the rest of me for the first time. They widen when they reach my arms and I know the moment she recognizes the words ‘Silver Lining’ intertwined within the red rose petals imprinted across my skin, an exact copy of one of her doodles. Her mouth parts on a breath as tears fill those eyes that have haunted me for years.
“Cole. . .” she signs again, but pauses again. She lifts her right hand, the palm facing inward and moves it clockwise in front her face, ending the gesture with a closed hand. “It’s beautiful.”
I pull the picture of our daughters from my shirt pocket and turn it around to face her.
Her gaze bounces between my hand and face. She exhales, her shoulders slumping forward as if a heavy weight has been lifted from them. “You received the letters.”
Before I can answer her, she glances way, focusing on something beyond me, then signs, “Josh is awake.”
She wipes her cheeks quickly with her palm, pastes a smile on her face and skirts around me. Turning around, I stare after her as she hurries toward the bed and sits on the chair I vacated just moments ago. Josh’s features soften as she leans forward to cover his hand with hers. Their lips are moving but I can’t read what they’re saying, given the angle of their faces. Pain pierces my chest just watching them. She lifts her hand and strokes his face then gently touches her palm to his forehead as if checking him for fever.
“Hey, sleeping beauty. How are you feeling?” I ask, gently touching his face to check for fever. He grabs my hand and bats his lashes at me.
“Oh, my pretty prince, you came to rescue me,” he says, his lips tugging in a teasing smile.
Tears spring to my eyes. I sob and chuckle at the same time. “I wish I could rescue you from this, Josh. I wish I could save you just like you saved me.” I lift a hand and swipe the tears on my cheeks then clear my throat, then whisper, “Cole is here.”
His eyes widen and his hand tightens around my wrist. “What? Where?”
I pull one of my hands from his grasp and lean back so he can get a clear view of Cole.