Hickey(3)

By: Cora Brent



“Bran?” said Cecily in a worried voice as her hand touched my naked back.

“I’m okay.” I spit out the last of the bad taste and wiped my mouth on the back of my arm.

The fire was growing by the second, powered by the wind. The big building that had been the heartbeat of Hickeyville for decades would be lost. No matter what anyone did, there was no stopping it.

“Bran?” Cecily said again, but then her hand dropped from my back. I could feel her pulling away.

Next door more lights clicked on, including the front porch and the room on the ground floor where my stepsister slept and schemed. My father exited the front door and I pitied him in his robe and his thinning hair.

“Let’s leave,” I whispered but the words were smothered by another round of howling sirens approaching from the east.

Maybe we could run away. We could scrape together what pennies we had and go somewhere else, somewhere that had no history for us, a place we could build a new life. I wondered why the hell I hadn’t thought of the idea before.

Then I dismissed it almost as quickly. Running away together wouldn’t fix what was wrong with us. We’d just be struggling and fighting somewhere else. Cecily still wouldn’t be any closer to the artistic dreams that she’d abandoned.

Her shoulder brushed my arm and I thought I heard her sigh as she turned away. I thought about telling her how I really felt about her, about us. But she was already so stiff, so closed off from me. That was probably for the best anyway.

So I didn’t touch her and I didn’t talk to her. We didn’t kiss or fuck or whisper nice things and try to clutch at the vines of whatever had brought us together.

The end was coming for us. I knew it as I watched the fire burn.

Not long after that night I did something unforgivable and I did it on purpose.

And Cecily did leave me, just like I planned.

The last time I looked into her eyes I could see her hatred.

She left town and I joined the Army and that was the end of our story.

I was sure it was the right thing because it hurt so fucking much I could hardly breathe every time I thought of her.

But then the years started stacking up and something funny happened; the things I was sure of when I was eighteen weren’t the same ones I understood by the time I turned twenty-five.

By then I knew how wrong I had been.

I also knew I’d never quit loving her, never stop wanting her.

I knew I wanted a second chance.

And I knew that nothing was ever going to go right in my life until I told Cecily the truth about what really happened seven years ago.





CHAPTER ONE


Cecily



A college dormitory is kind of like a zoo, only less organized and with different unpleasant odors.

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I signed up to act as a Resident Advisor to a floor of freshmen. Since I was already up to my eyeballs in unsubsidized student loans and regularly dining on Ramen noodles with the occasional treat of boiled chicken thighs, two semesters of free room and board seemed like a godsend.

However, within the last few days I’ve started wondering if I’m really up to the task.

A week ago I was excited for all of them, a pack of gawky eighteen-year-olds who tiptoed to their rooms all uncertain and gulping as their teary-eyed parents trailed close behind. They listened politely throughout the very first orientation meeting and even looked up from their phones long enough to squint at the Pyramid of College Success I’d spent two hours painstakingly detailing for them on the enormous white board in the lounge.

They bought stacking crates at Target and constructed bedside tables that balanced soda pop cans, phone chargers, pens and tissue boxes. They thumbed little gumballs of blue poster putty to the walls and decorated their rooms with music posters and Disney cartoons and bullshit motivational sayings like ‘Be the best YOU that only YOU know YOU can be.’

They were polite. They were eager. They were charming.

But once the parents were gone and freedom was tasted, all hell broke loose.

Now they swallowed gallons of Schnapps in their rooms, pounded on my window at 3 a.m. screaming “Boogie, boogie boogie!” and sucked on each other’s genitals in the study lounge in the middle of the night.

One of them even defecated on the bottom step of the east stairwell. I hope that the offender was at least drunk at the time.

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