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Here eyes widen to saucers. “More like me? What does that mean? William? Is that what you’re telling me, I should go back to someone like William?” Her voice is growing louder with each response.

The mention of William’s name from Elle’s lips strikes me harder than any physical blow. The thought of that pretty boy anywhere near my Elle makes me froth at the mouth. I’m angry. Angry at just hearing her say the words. But maybe that’s really where she belongs.

“You want William, Elle?” Seething, the words make me sick to even her myself say them.

“I want you. I want to help you, damn it!”

“You can’t help me, Elle. I’m f**king broken. I killed a man. With my own two hands, I took another person’s life. Only a monster does that. A monster that will rot in hell. It’s where I f**king belong!”

“It was an accident!” We are screaming at each other now. Completely and totally screaming at the top of our lungs, each trying to get our point across by yelling louder.

“It was my hand that dealt him what killed him. That’s not an accident, it’s murder. And murderers are unredeemable.”

Elle looks up at me and she’s pale as a ghost. For a second I think she might pass out.

“You really think there’s no forgiveness in what happened?” She’s no longer yelling, her voice is low and breaks mid-sentence.

“Forgiveness from who, Elle? The only person that could grant me absolution is dead.”

Tears are streaming down her face as she runs out of my loft and rips the elevator door down. I watch as she frantically presses the button to make her escape. She’s desperate to get away from me, and I don’t blame her one bit.

Chapter 36


I have no idea how I even made it home. The tears blurred my vision so badly, I could barely see. Panic seizes me as I think about how much worse it could have been. The only saving grace is that I never got to carry out my plan to tell Nico why I can help him, what makes me so uniquely qualified to understand what he is going through. I sob as I recall his words over and over in my head, “It was my hand that dealt him what killed him. That’s not an accident, it’s murder. And murderers are unredeemable.”

I don’t know why I thought we were the same. We’re not. I’m so much worse. Yet, he thinks he’s a monster for what he did…and what happened to him was truly an accident. Unlike me. I’m the one who is unredeemable. If he hates himself so much for what he did when he didn’t intend for it to happen, what would he think when he found out about me? Mine wasn’t an accident.

I’ve suppressed emotions for so long, that it’s like a dam breaking when the tears start to come. They flood me like raging waters. Uncontrollably, I cry and cry until I finally feel like I’m drowning and sleep takes me as I surrender, my mind hoping to find peace at rest.

“You stupid whore. I told you not to go running to your sister’s house again.” My father grabs a fistful of my mother’s hair and yanks with all his might, sending my already frail mother across the room. The pot on the stove makes a loud clank as she hits into the stove. My mother’s face is already black and blue from last time and her nose is probably broken. Although she can’t be sure since she stopped going to the doctor a few years ago. Doctors ask too many questions.

“Did you think I wouldn’t find you, you worthless cunt? I’ll always find you. When are you going to learn your f**king lesson?” My father takes two long strides toward my mother and she folds her body into a ball to protect herself, bracing for what she knows is inevitable. I watch as he rears his leg back and kicks her in the side with all his might. Her body falls to the side, but she’s still huddled into a ball, her tiny arms straining to cover her own head.

It’s not difficult for my father to lift my mother, he’s six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds and she’s tiny. The last year has been so bad that she keeps getting tinier. She thinks I don’t notice, but I do. Her clothes are all too big and she barely eats anymore. She’s always sad lately.

He reaches down and grabs her off the floor by her neck, lifting her upright and off her feet in one swift motion. Even when he’s this drunk, it doesn’t seem to lessen his strength. Sometimes I think it gives him more. More power. More hatred. The evil that’s always lurking in the depths finds its way to the surface and then it’s even worse. Almost as if the evil gets bottled up so long that it explodes when it finally comes out.

It wasn’t always like this. My father wasn’t always the monster he is today. I remember him coming home after work and sitting on the couch. He would playfully pull my mother onto his lap when she came to bring him a drink. She would giggle and they would kiss. I thought it was gross. But I’d give anything to go back to those days now. We were happy. And he wasn’t drunk and angry all the time.

But then things changed. He lost his business and we had to move. Move out of our big house with the pretty green lawn and into a small apartment with a concrete patch for a yard. My father hated to move, it made him really angry. At first he would just yell a lot. And drink. He started to drink a lot. Sometimes I would get up for school and he’d have liquor in his coffee mug instead of coffee.

Then one night mom burned dinner while she was trying to give me a bath at the same time. And when Dad saw the mess, he smacked her across the face. Hard. I remember him telling her she was wasting his money. She cried and apologized. The next morning he was still passed out. Mom told me Dad was under a lot of stress and he didn’t mean to hurt her. It was just an accident.

But then it happened again. And again. And again. And the hitting got worse. The smacks turned into punches and punches turned into kicks. Until it got to the point where he was beating her almost every day. She almost always has bruises and she didn’t go out much anymore. We tried to leave a few times. But he always found us and brought us back. He would apologize and say it would never happen again. Then when we went home, it usually got worse. Like this time.

Mom’s feet are dangling and her face is turning bright red. I’m afraid and I don’t know what to do. He really may kill her this time. “Stop! Stop! You’re going to kill her.” Desperately, I beg my father. Tears are streaming down my face as I grab his arm, frantic to get my mother air. He swats me away and I go flying through the air, but at least I’ve managed to make him release his death grip on her throat.

My mom falls to the floor, her hands holding her neck as she gasps for air. She’s making a loud wheezing noise with each breath as she tries frantically to bring air into her lungs. My father turns and looks at me, sitting where I’ve landed after his push. His eyes are dark and crazy and I begin to tremble. I’ve never been so scared. He’s going to kill us. Both of us. I can see it in his eyes. Whatever semblance of a man that remained from what used to be my father is gone. A monster has replaced him.

I think he’s going to come after me, but then he turns. His focus back to my mother, still gasping for air desperately on the floor. With one arm he grabs her hair in his fist and hoists her back up, slamming her into the refrigerator. Everything resting on the top falls, some of it landing on my mother. But it doesn’t distract him. Holding her head steady with a fistful of hair against the refrigerator he leans his head into my mother’s, his once handsome face contorting to the point that he no longer even resembles himself. “What did I tell you I would do if you tried to leave again, you stupid little cunt? This is all your fault. You bring it all on yourself, you worthless whore. You’re garbage.”

Then he pulls his face back and winds up before slamming his fist square into her cheek. I hear a loud crack and I’m not sure if it’s my mother’s face or my father’s hand, but the sound makes me sick. Physically. I vomit all over myself.

My father punches her again and this time there’s no crack. All I hear is a noise that sounds like a seal barking. It’s my mother, she’s crying out in pain, but her voice is still gone from when he choked her. It’s a horrible sound. A horrible, horrible sickening sound. She can’t breathe and the sound is getting more desperate, but lower at the same time. Like she’s running out of time. She gasps again and I hear that sound again. It’s the most horrible noise I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s also the last thing I remember until the gun blast jolts me.

I tried for months to remember what happened. I remember the sound, my mother trying to breathe. Then I remember the gunshot. It was so loud it hurt my ears. The ringing won’t stop. I remember watching my father fall and seeing blood start to pour out of his head. There was a lot of blood. More than I’ve watched my mother clean up of her own blood after the beatings. It pools into a circle that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Then the pool reaches me and it starts to seep onto my bare feet. But I don’t move. I have no idea where the gunshot came from. Until I look down and realize I’m holding the gun in my own hands.

I wake up holding my ears. For a long moment I can actually hear the ringing. It’s exactly the same as that day. Only when I sit up the sound disappears and the room is silent. Eerily silent. I slap my hands together just to hear sound. I need to be sure I’m awake and the monster is really gone.

Chapter 37


It’s been three days and Elle still won’t answer my calls. I know I f**ked up, and I’ll understand if she never wants to see me again, but I need to see her. Need to apologize for how I treated her. She only wanted to help me, and I was too busy wallowing in self-pity to accept it. I’m a total ass**le.

I’ve called and texted. The flowers that I tried to have delivered were returned to the shop twice because no one answered. I banged on her door myself, apologizing and asking her to give me just two minutes. Either she wasn’t home or she hates me so much she won’t even waste her breath to blow me off.

Swallowing my pride, I finally head to her office. I just need to see her. I promise myself that I won’t make a scene.

“Hi Regina.” I try to sound casual, instead of the desperate loser that I really am.

“Hi Nico.”

I can tell by her face that she knows something happened. She tries to smile, but she looks sad.

“Is Elle around?” I glance over Regina’s shoulder, hoping to catch sight of her.

“No, I’m sorry, she’s not.”

Fuck casual. I’m desperate. “Please Regina. If she told you to tell me she isn’t here, go tell her I need to see her.”

There’s something I think might be pity in Regina’s face when she responds. “She’s really not here. She took a few days off.”

“Is she okay?”

“I think so. She just needs some time. There’s a lot you don’t understand.”

“I’m in love with her Regina. I need to see her. Tell her I’m sorry.” Until the words come out of my mouth, I hadn’t even admitted it to myself. But damn it, it doesn’t even scare me. I need to fix this. My own shit isn’t even important anymore. I just need to get to Elle.

Regina looks into my eyes, assessing my sincerity. She looks conflicted, but then I see her smile and shake her head. “She’s going to kick my ass for this. But, here.” She scribbles something on paper and offers it to me. “Her stepfather has a cabin out in Spring Grove. I’m supposed to head there after work.” I go to take the paper from her hand, but she pulls it back and looks up at me. “You have until midnight. If she doesn’t text me not to come by then, I’m coming and you are leaving. Got it?”

“Got it.” I’d make a deal with the devil to get that paper from her hand.


I make the three hour drive in just under two and a half hours. The house is in the middle of nowhere, on a big lake. It bothers me that she’s up here all by herself. The closest house is probably at least a mile away. The inside door is wide open, only a screen door keeping out the unwelcomed.