She'd meant to tell him. She'd wanted to do it for days now. To come out, be honest and finally tell him how broken she was. That she couldn't really fix him because she couldn't even fix herself. But every time she got close, every time she opened her mouth he'd smile at her and she'd forget, for a second, how broken she was. Between Cain and her horses she was alive again. Not barely scraping by, but truly living. Risking all she had for that next jump, that next moment.
Living like that had been a shock to her system. It was like she'd been buried so deep in the ocean she hadn't realized it and now her head was above the water she was gasping in air, desperate for oxygen. In a matter of weeks she'd turn into a romantic fool… again. And that thought, right there, scared her senseless.
Even if Cain hadn't realized how her behavior changed around him Daymian, someone who know her little more than a week, had found it so drastic he'd had to comment on it. In front of Cain. Cain had laughed, said he couldn't blame Carmen if she didn't trust him after all the stunts he'd pulled, and brushed it off. Save it wasn't that she didn't trust him that caused her to desperately seek something to argue with him about. It was that she did trust him.
And that broke every rule she'd ever made to protect herself. Helping people sort through their problems. Sure, whatever. So long as people wanted to change it wasn't easy but it was manageable. But the moment you got caught up in wanting somebody to change so they'd stop hurting you… that was when things fell apart. She'd done it before, she was doing it again.
It started with Shy's death, or maybe that was the catalyst that sent the world spinning out of control, time spent together. Her crying in a corner, trying to shove him further away, him laughing with her during the day only to drown in his sorrows late at night were no one could protect him. And so they forged a tentative peace. He'd distract her during the day if she stayed with him through the night, holding him like a child.
And it had worked. They'd soldier through reliving the pain of loss. But somewhere in that time Carmen had seen something in Cain… something kind. Something special and worthy of friendship if not love. And she'd done the forbidden. She fallen for him. With his dark eyes, French accent and bad-boy attitude. If she'd thought she'd grown up at all in the last few years her hopes were shattered. Grown up? If anything it had gone from bad to worse.
She'd tried solving it the easy way. Shove him away and he can't get close right? Wrong. If anything Cain seemed even more determined to keep her around, despite her best attempts. She considered getting Josef on her side, the blonde hated Cain, but she liked both of them more when they weren't trying to knock each other's teeth out. And so she'd soldiered through, pretending it was all okay. Pretending the every morning she woke up, slumped against the foot of Cain's bed that she didn't rub at imaginary scars on her skin as if they were causing her agony.
And then leaving before Cain could wake up and see the tears in her eyes. Her hiding place would change every time. Sometimes she'd hide in one of the stalls or in her room. Once she'd been found by Daymian making cookies with Edith, a very un-Carmen like activity. Today though she was hiding in Liam's room. The goth/punk/heaven knows what had found her wandering the halls and understood. He was, after all, one of her best friends. His brother, Kolbey, slept one of the single beds snoring noisily while Carmen and Liam sat, quietly exchanging childhood stories.
Liam was telling her one about how, when he was younger, he'd had a hamster and 'accidently' convinced his little brother that those little brown things in the cage were raisins… his mother had grounded him for a month. Carmen smiled and laughed, muffling it as best she could so she didn't wake said brother.
"That's the first time I've seen you laugh in days. What's Cain done?" Liam said, his words weren't cold like they would have been coming out of Josef's mouth but they made her feel like a child being scolded for playing with fire.
"Liam, if I told you I was the biggest coward in the world, would you believe me?" Carmen said, staring at the hardwood floor, tracing the grain of the wood beneath her fingers. Liam looked at her carefully.
"No. I'd believe that you'd finally found something that scared you enough to make you seem like one but no equestrian is a coward. It takes courage to hand your life over to animals that weight ten times what you do." Liam said slowly. Carmen nodded.
"I wish Shy was still here. I wouldn't be in this mess if she was." Carmen sniffed. The door opened and Josef walked in, still in the sweats he slept in, and collapsed on Liam's bed.
"What are we talking about?" He asked. Liam sighed and flopped flat onto the floor.
"Carmen. Cain. May drift over to Daymian at some points. What's new?" Liam said toward the ceiling. Josef snorted and Carmen could almost hear him roll his shockingly blue eyes.
"My underwear but that's not very interesting. What's the gangster wanna be done now?" Josef said bitterly. Carmen huffed. If only they knew.
"Nothing." Carmen growled.
"Fine. Who wants to see if Edith will do Dutch babies for breakfast. I'm starving." Josef said, springing off the bed and leading the way out of Liam's room. They ran into Cain in the hallway. And it all went downhill from there. Carmen could see the thin layer of sweat covering Cain's dark skin, the furrowed his brow. Nightmare. Which meant he was going to be a in foul mood. In hindsight she wished she could have done something to avert the situation. Tell the boys to go wash their hands, or get dressed or something, anything, to avoid the confrontation that morning.
"Cain!" Carmen said warily, pleading with her eyes for him to just let it be, for one moment. Cain ignored it, and sent a jab at Josef that had the blonde whirling on him, snarling. Carmen watched Josef swing at Cain, as if in slow motion, the blow glancing off Cain's nose. Bleeding not broken. But the anger that shot through her veins was enough to make her stagger.
"Enough!" She roared as Cain's fist connected with Josef's high cheekbone with a heavy thwack. And then, with an almighty grunt, Josef had tackled Cain and the two were rolling down the stairs, still brawling, kicking, punching until they hit the bottom. Carmen slid down the banister, a skill honed over years at her father's mansions around the world, and pulled Josef off Cain with the strength of an angry bear.
"Get up." She snarled at Cain, shoving Josef into Liam's sturdy frame. Grabbing Cain by the arm she dragged him back upstairs into his room and shoved him roughly through the doorframe.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Carmen demanded, slamming the door and rounding on him. The man visibly bristled, pulling himself up to his full height of six foot and glared at Carmen.
"What the hell is wrong with me? You want to know what my problem is Carmen?" He spat. Carmen shrank back, afraid of his anger. And yet on he raged.
"Cain, I'm just trying to help? And every time I make progress you purposefully backslide. It's like you're sabotaging your own happiness. Like the teenage drama show that wouldn't end and it's driving me to distraction." Carmen pleaded, running her hands through her hair, trying to keep it together. Trying to ignore the moment when she'd wanted to kill Josef over one tiny drop of blood.
"Oh, well that's fantastic Carmen. I'm self-destructive? Call me all the names you want Carmen but it's not going to change the fact that I will always, always be the one who wasn't afraid of life. I can still love Carmen but you… you're the shell history left behind. And you don't even have the courage to admit it." Cain snarled.
"What's your problem? I have never done anything to hurt you. All I've ever done was stand by you in the past few weeks and give you a leg to stand on. Why are you attacking me." Carmen asked in desperation. A little voice in that back of her head was chanting: Not again. Not again. Not again. As if voices could keep her internal demons behind bars.
"You! You're my problem. You're so sure you can right all the wrongs of the world, fix everyone's problems. Well I'll tell you what. I don't need to be fixed you self-loathing, hypocritical little–"
"You've said enough." She snapped, her blue eyes cooling until they were like the surface of a frozen lake. Cain realized precious seconds to late the words that had escaped his mouth. And just as he was about to open his mouth to say something, anything to take it back she left. Wrenched the door open and walked down the hallway to her room.
As soon as she'd slammed and locked her door Carmen slid down the wall, clutching her chest, as if by sheer force she could hold back the memories. The hurt. All over again. The pain and agony and hate filled words. The screaming matches. The tears wouldn't come though. All she could think was she wanted out. She wanted to get as far away from Cain as she could and rub it in his face when she found herself a happy, fulfilled life.
Pulling out her phone she glanced at the background. It was one of those stupid 'were-all-buddies-here' pictures and her, Josef and Liam standing in front of the Lion Ridge sign. God, it had been so much simpler back then. They all hated Cain, and that alone drove them to protect one another. Now… They're going to hate me for this. Was Carmen's one thought before pressing the number four button and dialing. Three rings and a female voice answered.
"Carmen?" The voiced asked.
"The one and only. Hey, are there a couple stalls open at Divine Alexandria?" Carmen said evenly.