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.My eyes flicked between the two before settling on the object in my hands.And it really was a Christmas card.I saw that once it was open all the way.“Yeah,” Ridley said.“That’s us.Ian, Aunt Penelope and me.But that man’s not my uncle.”I sullenly refused to take the bait.“So?”He raked his hand through his hair.“Let me tell you a story about an eleven-year old kid, Brenna.He lives with his drunk-ass dad who regularly kicks the shit out of his mom.Until one day, his dad is just gone.The kid has a huge fucking chip in his shoulder.Roughly the same size and shape as his dad, as you can imagine.”“Ridley, it’s—”“Shut up and listen!” he growled and tears pricked my eyes.“The kid’s mom gets her shit together.Finally, the kid thinks.He’s almost thirteen when she meets his stepdad and for a little while everything is good.Then the baby comes.At the same time that stepdad loses his job.Suddenly the kid finds out that stepdad is also a raging alcoholic whom his mom met at a meeting.And the recovery isn’t going well.So one day the kid’s pseudo-family goes on an outing, maybe it’s a ball game, maybe it’s bowling – the kid has never been able to remember accurately no matter how hard he tries.Stepdad has been drinking a lot during the day and has an open bottle in the sedan too.He’s angry.He’s reckless.He’s screaming and tossing things around and he’s already given the kid’s mom one backhand.The kid can’t take it anymore, and when stepdad stops at a stop sign, he jumps out with the intention of running as hard and as fast as he can in the other direction.He doesn’t get very far.”I wanted to cover my ears before he could say what happened next.The tears that had been threatening overflowed and fell down my cheeks.Ridley ignored them and went on.“The kid went a block.Or maybe half.Then he had to turn around and look; he needed to see if his mom was coming after him or if he’d enraged his stepfather a little too far.What he sees instead is this: the family car shoots away from the stop sign just as a semi-truck barrels down the road.In his head, he wonders why a truck so big is driving on the residential street.He never finds out.The truck smacks into the car.They all die on impact.Mom.Stepdad.Maya, who is two.The truck rolls and the driver dies too.They fucking die.”He didn’t tell me it was him.He didn’t have to.I knew it was him before he looked me in the eye and spoke again.“But I didn’t fucking die.Not physically anyway.For two years I tried my damnedest to get there.I drank and I smoked and I fucked anything that walked.I didn’t think about legal shit or long-term consequences or any fucking thing at all.I bounced from foster home to foster home and still…I didn’t die.When I was seventeen, my Aunt Penelope took me in.Not because she wanted to.She could’ve stepped in when they all died, right? Nope.She didn’t want my shit-crazy self ruining her kid, Ian.She’d been sober for years and she’d washed her hands of my mom too.But Aunt Penelope got diagnosed with cancer – terminal – and the universe told her she had to bring me to live with her and Ian.I went.Not because I wanted to.Because the terms of my release from the juvenile detention centre required me to have a capable adult supervisor.So we had an agreement.Which grew into something more.She loved me and took care of me and it didn’t take all that long for me to love her back because essentially I was just a broken soul waiting for someone to help me.And Ian? He was a sweet kid.But the sicker his mom got, the worse he got too.And the better I became.Which may have been Aunt Penelope’s real plan.She knew what her son was going to be like and she needed someone like me to watch out for him when she died.Which is exactly what I’ve been doing for five years.That Christmas card photo was taken three weeks before my aunt died.”Ridley’s speech finally ran out, and with it, the heated expression on his face.He took the photo-card from my hands, closed it up and set it back on the mantel very carefully.Without looking at me, he sunk into the couch.“I’m sorry, Ridley.”My voice wavered pathetically at the end and I had to wait a very long moment for him to answer me.When he did, he sounded exhausted.“I’m past pity, Brenna.Yours or anyone else’s.All I wanted was to show you that I do know what it is to suffer and to be obligated.”I stared down at his face, taking in his features in a new light.The mussed hair.The ever-present crease in his brow.The hard-won muscles and the tiny scar on his ear and the guarded hurt I knew was in his slate-coloured eyes even though I couldn’t see them right that second.His heart was layered and scarred and imperfect.Ridley was a body of work.An emotional tribute to his past.A hard-fought war of a man who rose above everything that should have destroyed him.My heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces – one for each bit of pain that he had suffered.Dear, God.I’m in love with him.And he can never know.Because even if there was a chance that he loved me back, I could never ask him to take on Ian’s baby.My breath cut away at the simultaneous, definitive realizations.The shards of my heart glittered and danced inside my chest driving the agony deeper.It felt like an infinite number of tiny deaths.Again and again.And again [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]