The very first thing I was aware of when my consciousness came back was the unbearable pain. My ribs ached with a hurt that I'd never experienced before and I almost wished to be unconscious again. It was with much difficulty that I opened my eyes. Someone was hovering over me, a hand pressing against my ribs, holding white gauze to the wound. Even in the darkness, I could see that it was steadily turning red. At the sight, flashes from the night came back to me and I began to panic, struggling against the person holding me. As if anticipating this, a familiar voice sounded in my eyes, a hand gently resting on my shoulder.
"Stay down, Rosie. It's okay. You're safe. We're here to help you."
I stopped moving at the sound of a familiar voice and snapped my head to my left where curly brown hair came into my line of sight. "Nate?" Now that my heart was no longer pounding in my chest, I was able to note that someone else was sitting next to him, holding my hand. I squinted at the person to whom it belonged in confusion and they squeezed it comfortingly. "Mrs. Johnson?"
They both smiled wide at me and I read the emotion on their faces right away: relief. "Hi, sweetheart. How are you feeling?" Mrs. Johnson asked me, her voice sweet and soothing.
"It hurts," I answered honestly, wincing as I spoke.
Nate's expression was compassionate. "You're going to be okay."
"You've suffered a knife wound," said the man who was still applying pressure to my wound. I focused on him and his outfit and realized that he was an EMT. "You lost a lot of blood, but this should help." He gestured with his eyes to my arm, an IV connected to it, and I craned my head, deducing immediately that I was in an ambulance. "The bleeding's slowed and the cut's deep, but it didn't go past your ribcage. You're going to need stitches, but there won't be any lasting damage. Can you tell me your name?"
I began sitting up in an attempt to feel less vulnerable, which only resulted in me gasping in pain as my skin seared as if on fire. Hands pushed me back down and I whimpered. "Ow."
"You're not going to want to move. It's only going to agitate the laceration." I nodded at the EMT, not wanting to go through that again. "I just need to ask you some questions. Can you answer them for me?"
I nodded again and he began rattling off general and medically relevant questions, which I answered, taking shallow breaths as I fought past the pain. I noticed that my shirt was torn down the middle to expose the wound and the gauze was now very red. The sight made me queasy so I turned my head to look at Nate who smiled down at me. If I weren't in so much pain, I would have been embarrassed at the two of them seeing me like this.
Finally, the EMT finished with his questions and busied himself with checking my vitals and keeping an eye on the wound. I looked back and forth between Nate and his mother, still perplexed. "What are you two doing here?"
They shared a look before Mrs. Johnson leaned closer to me, placing her other hand on top of mine as well. "Sweetheart, do you remember what happened?"
I nodded, a chill creeping up my spine as I remembered what happened earlier that night. Nate, seeing me shiver, pulled the blanket at my legs higher up around me, but the cold was deep inside me. "Callum broke into my house. He wanted to get back together. When I said no, I tried to get away and he cut me." They just nodded like they already knew and I became even more baffled. "Why don't you seem surprised?"
Nate sighed, a hard look in his eye. "Callum came to our house. My mom answered the door, he told her you were hurt and then ran. You were already unconscious when we got there and by the time we realized that we should go after him, he was already gone."
My mind went completely blank. Callum actually helped me? So, he didn't just leave me?
Nate, misreading my expression, patted my shoulder. "Don't worry. The cops will catch him."
"Callum went to you for help?" I asked slowly, still wrapping my mind around the thought.
Nate nodded in response. "And it's a good thing he did, even if he is the one who did this to you," Mrs. Johnson said, her eyes wide. "You were losing so much blood."
I nodded absently, still in shock. I remembered the last thing I'd said to him. If you loved me for even a second, you'll help me. Maybe there was a chance that he actually was being sincere about his feelings for me.
Thinking this, my thoughts automatically went to Caleb. The pit that had begun forming in my stomach when I realized he wasn't with me, deepened. Shouldn't he be here? He was my boyfriend. Wasn't he?
As if reading my mind, Nate continued hesitantly. "We called 911 and they told us someone was already coming. I'm assuming you called before we found you?" I nodded, grimacing as I remembered the effort that took. "When the paramedics were leaving with you, Caleb stayed behind with my dad to fill the police in. He's the one who knows the most about you and Callum."
"Is he going to meet us at the hospital then?" He didn't respond right away, instead looking uncomfortable. "What?"
"It's nothing to worry about. He was just really upset when we got to you."
I studied his face and glanced back at Mrs. Johnson. "What are you guys not telling me?"
"He's just worried about you, sweetie. When Callum came, Caleb seemed very…distressed." I opened my mouth to get more answers out of them. "You'll get all the answers you want later, but, right now, you need to relax." I began to protest, but she fixed me with a stern stare. "That's final."
Reluctantly, I nodded, ignoring the cold feeling that was spreading through my body and I switched gears. "Did you call Seth?"
"Yes, he's going to meet us at the hospital." I nodded my head and the simple action made me gasp. The pain was worsening. "Try not to move, sweetheart, we're almost there. Try to relax."
She smiled at me and I felt her drawing circles on my hand with her thumb, as I shifted my focus from the pain and fear in my heart to the red and white lights flashing against the ambulance wall.
The soft powdery blue walls and white everything else of the hospital room around me were depressing and, unfortunately, a familiar sight to me, having had my fair share of accidents already.
This time when I woke, the person who was holding my hand had his head resting on my legs. I couldn't see his face, but my brother's whole posture screamed exhaustion and I felt guilt settle in my stomach for making a long day even longer for him. My stirring caused him to face me and, upon seeing me awake, his eyes became immediately alert. He stood up hastily, the chair he was sitting on sliding back with a screech, and leaned over me, placing a hand on my forehead and softly pushing hair out of my face. "Hey," he whispered, his voice thick and hands warm. His eyes were red and swollen like he'd been crying, which made a giant lump form in my throat. "Feeling okay?"
I didn't trust myself to speak, so I only nodded. The sharp pain from before was now a dull ache and my head felt muggy, suggesting that I was on some serious pain killers. I was out of my clothes now, instead in a pale blue hospital gown, the same color as the walls. Vaguely, I remembered being hauled in here and getting stitched up before Seth had gotten there. After the nurse helped me into the gown, I'd attempted to stay up until Seth got there, but I was too drained and ended up falling asleep.
Now, he was watching me like he was afraid I was going to disappear. He looked so worried. I attempted to sit up, but he beat me to it, pressing a button next to the bed so it moved into a slightly seated position. He busied himself with adjusting my pillows, sitting down on the bed after making sure I was comfortable. His hand lightly stroked my hair and he leaned forward to kiss my forehead.
He looked me in the eye and I could only choke out his name before the gravity of everything that had happened seemed suddenly overwhelming and I dissolved into hysterical sobs. Without hesitation Seth gently placed his arms around me, holding me tightly against him, trained doctor hands preventing him from hurting me. Ignoring the throbbing pain across my chest, I clung to him, breathing in the familiarity of him. Just hours ago, I was worried that I would never see him again and it was almost surreal that he was sitting next to me.
"It's okay," he said firmly in my ear. "You're safe." As the words left his mouth, I felt wetness from his tears in my hair while he placed kisses in it and I questioned who he was really reassuring. He continued to whisper to me and hold me until the shaking in my body ceased. When he pulled back, his cheeks were wet.
I smiled weakly at him, wiping at my own face. "Sorry," I muttered.
His face crumbled. "What are you sorry for? Rosie, you're lying in the hospital; I'm the one who should be sorry." I tried to interrupt, but he wouldn't let me. "Again and again I keep proving how incompetent I am at being your guardian. You could have-" He cleared his throat when his voice cracked. "I thought I'd lose you."
My heart squeezed tightly in my chest. "So did I." I choked back a sob. "But I'm fine. That's all that matters." I paused. "I am fine, right?"
"Yeah, you are," he said with a small smile. "Just don't do what you normally do."
I made a face. "What exactly do I normally do?"
"Hmm. Let me see. You don't listen to instructions, you don't take care of yourself, you don't pay attention, you don't-"
"Okay, okay, I get it," I said, a smile making its way to my face. I leaned over and punched him in the shoulder, gasping when I felt one of my stitches tug.
I snuck a look at Seth and he looked amused, his eyebrows raised as if saying 'see what I mean?' I laughed softly, happy that some of the tension was lifting. It was short lived, however, when a knock sounded at the door and Nate and his parents walked in, a police officer in tow. Seth stood up and nodded at them. "Rosie, the police need a statement. You feeling up to it?"
I looked at all of them. No, I wasn't feeling up to it. Nate asked if he wanted them to leave, but I shook my head. They helped save my life; the least I could do was tell them what happened. So, I gave a resolute nod and recounted everything that had happened from the moment I saw Callum in my kitchen. When I got to the kiss, Seth stiffened and Nate made a low sound in his throat. "I meant to distract him, so I could get away. I couldn't see any other way out. So I grabbed the frying pan and hit him on the head with it. He was holding the knife between us and it must have slipped against me. I don't think he meant to do this. If he did, I'm sure he would have gotten a better swipe in." When they looked skeptical, I added, "You guys didn't see his face afterward, but I did. He looked so shocked and scared. I genuinely think it was an accident."
"It doesn't matter," Seth said to me, his voice hard. "He broke into our home and he nearly killed you."
"But he didn't mean to! I'm not saying let him go completely, but I want people to know that he didn't come there with the intention of hurting me."
Seth walked over to me, placed a hand under my chin and lightly traced the thin cut on my neck. "It looks to me like he did."
I wrenched my head back, feeling the slice on my torso stretch. "Then why would he go to the Johnsons? Why would he try to help me?"
He sighed. "I don't know, Rosie. But-"
"He didn't mean to hurt me. He's just got some serious issues." I looked at everyone in the room one by one, who were looking at me with confused, pitying expressions. Finally, I looked at the cop. "If you find him, I just want people to know. I think he needs help."
I heard Seth take a deep breath and the cop nodded. "Anything else?" I shook my head. "Anywhere you think he'd go?" Again, I denied it. "Alright. We'll keep you posted with the search."
Seth stood and shook hands with the cop, walking him out of the room. I fixed the three Johnsons with a stare, my stomach clenching uncomfortably. Did they think that I wouldn't notice that Mr. Johnson was here and Caleb wasn't? "Where's Caleb?" Seth walked back in the room and I knew something was wrong when the three of them exchanged looks.
Noticing this, Seth raised an eyebrow, but he shrugged it off. "Thank you so much everyone for all of your help. You've done so much for us and we honestly can't thank you enough. But it's late and I think everyone needs to get some rest," he said to everyone, just as Mr. Johnson yawned. There were murmurs of agreement and I studied the people in the room, feeling a mix of gratefulness and guilt when I noticed just how exhausted everyone looked. Despite how tired they were, they were still here for me. Except for Caleb, I thought with a pang.
One by one, my neighbors came up to me and I shook the thought from my head, instead focusing on expressing to them just how thankful I was for their help. Without them, I assured them, I wasn't sure what would have happened to me. With kisses and hugs, they left the room.
"So," Lana said, getting me to scoot over so she could sit next to me on the bed. "Where's the-" She glanced over at Seth before looking back at me, lowering her voice and raising her eyebrows, "you know?"
Caleb. My boyfriend. She was asking about Caleb. And I had no answer for her. To buy time, I studied the dozens of balloons and flowers that littered my hospital room, a bushel of rosemary lying on a chair by the window as a joke gift from Lana. Nate and Jayden were sitting at the foot of the bed and Seth had a chair pulled up, while he studied my vitals. I was still groggy from the painkillers and, if I moved too much, there was the constant panic that my stitches would tear open, but otherwise, I felt fine. The doctors said I could be discharged in a few hours, so it was just a waiting game now.
Every time someone walked into my room, I felt a wave of disappointment when I realized my boyfriend wasn't among them. Over the course of the day, Alexis, Lana and the Johnsons were in and out of the room, minus Caleb. Despair was clinging to me and I was trying my best to put on a happy face, but it was difficult. And now, the inevitable happened: someone brought him up and I had absolutely no idea what to say.
Lana nudged me and I bit back the tears that were threatening to spill from my eyes. "I don't know," I whispered to her. I sniffled, the drugs in my body making me feel more vulnerable, which made everyone look at me.
"What's wrong?" Seth asked immediately. "Does it hurt? Do you need more painkillers?" I shook my head. "Then what?"
I looked up at Nate and Jay who were both avoiding my eyes now. "Where is he?"
"Oh," I heard Seth say and I looked at him, his expression surprising me. His eyes were hard, but he also looked sympathetic. "I noticed he wasn't here." I looked at my hands, not wanting anyone to see how upset I was. "Some boyfriend."
I looked up in shock and he was looking at me with a small, apologetic smile on his lips. A quick glance at everyone around me and I knew they were all wondering the same thing. "How did you…?"
He chuckled softly, leaning back in his chair. "Come on. You two are so obvious."
"Told you," Jayden said loudly, grinning wide.
Seth smiled. "It started what? A week before school?"
"Why didn't you say anything? How are you okay with this?"
He snorted. "I'm not. But I'll never be okay with anyone. I just figured that I'll have the least problem with him." A beat. "Not sure how long that's going to last now." He looked at Nate and Jayden. "He'd better have a good reason for not being here."
"If he doesn't, I'll beat the crap out of him," Lana piped up, glaring at the other Johnson boys.
They were still avoiding my eyes, but I needed an answer. "Nate," I said softly.
He looked up and held my gaze before sighing. "Caleb's, well, he's-" he sighed, rubbing his forehead with one hand.
"Is something wrong? Is he really that mad at me that he won't come to see me?"
"Why would he be mad at you?" Nate asked, bewildered.
I glanced at Seth who was intently listening. I didn't really want to talk about this in front of him, but I knew it was useless to even attempt to get him to leave. "We got into a fight yesterday. Right after school. It was about Callum. It- ended badly." Serious understatement.
Nate nodded. "I was wondering why he wasn't with you last night." He took a deep breath. "He kind of freaked out last night. While we were waiting for the ambulance, he kept saying how this was all his fault and that he was going to go after Callum. He didn't want to leave until he was sure you'd be okay, so, as soon as the ambulance got to your house and the police took his statement, my dad said he took off. He came home at like four last night."
"He's home now?" Lana asked, angry on my behalf. Nate nodded. "Why isn't he here? Doesn't he realize that the most important thing is that should be here for his girlfriend?"
This time Jay responded. "I don't know what he's thinking. But he's really upset." Lana glared at him and put his hands up to his shoulders, palms facing out. "I'm just sayin'."
She sighed, crossing her arms in aggravation. Meanwhile, I was numb. I just wanted to be alone. A part of me wanted to cry, but I didn't think there was a point. Luckily, the nurse came in at that moment to say that visiting hours were over. They all left, giving me condoling glances as they did.
A week later, I had just finished packing the last of my things. Not that I had many things at my house anyway since they were still at Aunt Suzie's. I was looking around my bare room, brand new walls just needing a coat of paint to be complete surrounding me. Cans of paint that I had picked out were on the floor, but now I just supposed that I would use those in my new room at Suzie's. It was amazing that I had lived there for just a few months, but I had really begun to love it and I knew I would miss it.
After I had been discharged, Seth and I had a long conversation at the end of which we agreed that it would be best for me to move back with Aunt Suzie. This had been after Seth had deliberated with his psychiatrist friend and a social worker friend. I didn't want to leave Seth, but I knew that I would never be able to live peacefully here. He would stay here until the house was finished and he could sell it, but we had no idea how long that would take. The principal of my new school owed Seth a favor, so he allowed me to enroll and, starting Monday, I would be the new kid all over again. This time, I was okay with it. In a couple of hours, I would start my new life.
But first, there were some things I needed to take care of. One day, while Nate and I were hanging out, I had mentioned to him once more how grateful I was to him and his family for coming to take care of me. I told him that I had no idea what would have happened if they didn't come, but instead of taking my thanks, he denied it.
He shook his head firmly and I became confused. "You didn't need our help. You rescued yourself. We got to you a few minutes before the ambulance arrived. We practically did nothing. Even if Callum didn't come to us, the paramedics would have gotten to you on time. I saw all the blood on the kitchen floor and I still have no idea how you managed to drag yourself to the living room, but you're stronger than you make yourself out to be. Remember that."
And I did. I thought about it and he was right. I did save myself. It had taken every last drop of strength in me, but I did it and I could continue doing it.
That was how I knew I would be able to handle a new school and new life. I was strong. Before I could, though, I needed to distance myself from every single thing holding me back. The biggest thing was lying in the top drawer of my side table.
I retrieved the thin sheet of paper that had my father's suicide note written on it from the drawer and held it gingerly between my fingers. It was just a piece of paper, and yet it tore a piece of me into tiny shreds. The only way I knew to be whole again was to return the favor. One piece became two, two became four, four into sixteen, and so on until the note was confetti at my feet. I wrenched the window of my bedroom open, gathered the little pieces of paper and threw them out, the wind catching and carrying the shreds.
I watched them until there were no more in sight and I felt my heart lighten as if it too was being carried by the wind. Finally, I knew in my heart that I had no reason to feel guilty for what had happened to my family. The best thing I could do was move forward.
As I moved to close the window, my eye caught another. Caleb was watching me through his window. Anger, pain, disbelief and sadness overcame me and I slammed the window shut. My first glimpse of Caleb in a week. I had seen each of his family members since the intrusion except for him.
I turned my back to him, grabbed my backpack off the floor and went downstairs. Seth was in the kitchen, making lunch and I almost couldn't believe that this was where my blood was streaked all over the floor just a week ago. But it happened and nothing could erase the memory from my mind.
"Hey," Seth said when I walked in. "All set?"
"Yeah, there's just one last thing I have to take care of."
Seeing the expression on my face, he understood. "You sure you want to do this?"
"No," I said. "But I have to."
When I stepped out of the house and onto the porch, Caleb was waiting for me. There was a long moment where we stared at each other, not saying a word, but we understood everything. My heart ached for him, but I knew we had to do this.
"You're leaving." It wasn't a question; he knew before I nodded. "Can we talk?"
I had wanted to talk civilly and leave things on good terms, but my current resentment for him was bubbling up. I laughed bitterly. "Now you want to talk."
His expression was very serious. "Yes, I do."
I glared at him for a few moments before carefully crossing my arms across my chest. "Fine. Talk."
"Can we talk somewhere else?"
I looked in through the window and saw that Seth was no longer in the kitchen, so there was no one to overhear. "We can talk here. In case you haven't noticed, I was severely injured a week ago and lost almost one and a half pints of blood, so forgive me if I'm not feeling up to taking a long walk."
He sighed deeply as if calming himself. "I have noticed. How are you?"
"Fine," I said stubbornly with a shrug. The action only stretched the skin on my stomach, making me close my eyes with a sharp intake of breath until the pain subsided.
I opened one eye at first, hesitantly, knowing exactly what I would see. Caleb was looking at me with annoyance and he shook his head, pointing at the porch steps. "Sit."
"You can't tell me what to do," I protested, despite wanting to do just that. His expression became aggravated and I sighed before sitting, placing a hand against my cut as it screamed against the action.
He joined me and his eyes fell to my ribs. "How are you really?"
Pursing my lips, I studied him for a moment. After deducing that he was actually asking out of worry for me, I obliged. "Better, I guess. It still hurts if I move around too much, but otherwise I'm fine."
He nodded, but he was still staring where my cut was as if it was still bleeding. "It's really bad, isn't it?"
I toed the ground with the tip of my sandal. "Like you actually care."
"Of course I care." My heart clenched at his tone and, when I glanced at him, he looked wounded.
His expression saddened me, but I gritted my teeth anyway. I may be hurting him, but he did the same thing to me for the past week. "If you cared, Caleb, you would have come to see me. You would have answered my calls and texts. You would have made at least a bit of effort to make sure that I was actually alive."
"I've been asking Nate all week to-"
I fixed him with the angriest expression I could manage. "I don't care. That doesn't count. I love and appreciate your family, but what I needed was you." My eyes began tearing and I looked away, as my voice dropped to a near whisper. "It's been a week. One freaking week. Do you have any idea what that did to me? Waiting for you like that?" He didn't say anything and I trained my eyes on his face. "Answer me, damn it!"
He braced his arms against his knees, lacing his hands together between them. He was clutching them so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. "What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to tell me why. Why would you do that to me?"
There was a long moment of silence, but I wasn't letting this go. Finally, he said, "I was angry."
"Seriously?" I deadpanned with an eyebrow raised. "You were so upset by our fight that-"
"That's not it," he interrupted softly. "Well, not entirely. Jay and Nate told me what you told the police."
"Wait a minute. Is this because I kissed him? Are you seriously that insecure that you think for a second that I would do that if I could prevent it?"
"No, I don't care about that. It's after that. Did you really tell them that they should go easy on him?" I nodded and then winced at the anger on his face. "Why?" he barked out.
"He didn't do it on purpose. Not really."
"See? This is exactly what I was talking about." He shook his head in disbelief. "You've been defending him since day one."
"I know," I agreed, and he looked at me in surprise. "You were right about me. I was still hung up on Callum. Not in a romantic sense, but just in general. I wanted so bad to show him that I had moved on that I ended up provoking him. I was pretending to myself that I was strong, but it was just reckless and stupid."
He scoffed. "You got that right."
His response annoyed me and my tone became angry again. "Is that how you're justify abandoning me? 'Cause that seems like a really lame excuse."
"That and I couldn't face you."
I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion before it dawned on me. "Oh no. You'd better not be giving me that 'I blame myself' crap." A jumping muscle in his jaw was answer enough. "That is complete bull."
"But it's the truth. All I keep thinking is that if we hadn't fought that day, I could have protected you. I should have been there."
"No. You should have been at the hospital with me. You couldn't control what happened with Callum. Listen, I don't care if you blame yourself. I don't blame you. Do you even realize how selfish that is? Do you have any idea what it was like being in the hospital, waiting for you to show up? You should have been thinking about being there for me instead of feeling sorry for yourself. I needed you. I needed you and you weren't there. No explanation, nothing. You really hurt me, Caleb."
"You're right. I did. But you don't think this past week has been killing me too? You're moving away. No explanation, nothing."
"I would have explained if you'd answered my calls!"
"Well, maybe I didn't want to hear it!" he shouted at me, making me shut my mouth.
"So instead of spending my last week here with me, you decided to avoid me."
"What would the point have been? If I spent my time with you, would you have stayed?" I hesitated slightly before shaking my head. "I knew it. I figured I'd get a head start on missing you."
A long stretch of silence came between us as I tried to hold back my tears. He sounded so sad and angry and I wanted so badly to reach out to him, but I knew my resolve would break if I did. So I stared up at the sky instead. The day was beautiful. It was the perfect temperature with not a cloud in sight. The sun streaked between the trees and, when I looked at Caleb, it illuminated his hair and skin.
"How's school?" I asked softly, changing the subject. I hadn't been there since I got hurt.
He sighed. "It's alright. Word got around pretty quickly, especially after Callum got arrested. People keep asking me about you."
I shook my head. "Now they care."
He let out a sardonic laugh. "I know, right?" The atmosphere was almost pleasant just then. Almost. "You're really leaving, aren't you?" I nodded my head. "I can't believe you're just ditching 'cause some guy hurt you."
"That's not why I'm leaving. And you're not just 'some guy,' Caleb." He snorted in derision. "I made my decision before you started avoiding me."
"Jay said it was your choice to leave. That it was your idea first." I nodded and he stared at me in incredulity. "You're seriously just going to run away."
"No. Not running. Starting fresh." He looked doubtful. "I don't really expect you to understand. This hurts me too. I just can't stay at a place where everywhere I go, I'm reminded of how weak I was. I don't want to be that person anymore and anywhere around here, I'll always be known as that girl. Callum's ex-girlfriend who was abused and stabbed."
He nodded, but I didn't think he really understood. "If I knew you would have taken it so literally, I never would have said what I did. That you should have never come back."
"You shouldn't have said it in the first place," I muttered.
"I know. I'm sorry."
It sounded sincere, but it was just one of those things that was hard to forget. "Yeah, me too."
He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. "So, where does that leave us?"
I looked at his handsome profile and my chest constricted in pain, but not from my wound. "You know the answer to that as well as I do."
"Maybe we should have just told people about us and let them tell us to wait. I should have been more patient. We shouldn't have rushed into this." He gave a short chuckle. "Bad timing, Johnson," he said to himself.
I smiled in spite of myself and nodded in agreement. I took a deep breath of the fresh air. I supposed Seth was right; this place did grow on me. Another long silence stretched between us and it amazed me again just how comfortable we were with each other.
"I'm going to miss you, Rosie," he spoke finally, looking at me with those honey eyes.
"Same here," I said with a sad smile, committing every single fleck of brown and gold in his eyes to memory.
I don't know how long we sat there, lost in our own thoughts, but it wasn't until the front door opened behind us that we came back to reality.
"Time to go," Seth said, passing us on the steps with my bags in hand. He stood to face us and when he looked at Caleb, I could have sworn I saw something like pity. "See you around, kid. Rosie, I'm going to be in the car."
He walked away and we stood, me clutching the handrail for support. We faced each other and I gave Caleb a small smile. "Bye, Caleb."
I began walking past him, but a hand on my wrist stopped me. A lump formed in my throat and I turned to face him. He didn't say anything, but he was watching me with such an intense longing that I felt my heart clench painfully. Slowly, he reached out and placed a hand on the side of my neck, tracing the line on my neck from Callum's knife with his thumb. Not being able to take his gaze, I launched myself into his arms, burying my face into his chest and taking a deep breath of his scent: clean laundry and light cologne. He clutched me tightly and I only pulled away when I heard a honk sound in the distance.
"Seth," I explained softly with a short laugh. He nodded with a small grin, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, his eyes so sad. "I should go." Again, he nodded, but he didn't release me, so I reached up and brushed my lips gently against his. It really was just that, a brush of lips, but in it I could feel his pain and affection as he ran the pads of his fingertips along the edges of my bandage. I was still angry at him and hurt, but I loved him all the same. It was for that reason that it would be best to let him go. For both of us. "Take care, Caleb."
I began taking tiny steps back until he had no other choice but to let me go. As soon as I was out of his reach and had my back to him, I felt a strange combination of relief and sadness. It was the last thing I needed to do before I could move on with my life and accept that that part of me was gone.
We left the house shortly afterwards and, as the distance between the house and me increased, I knew I would be just fine.