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how they shine.

By: Alicia McCray

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Table of Contents

Prologue ……………………. 3
Consequences ……………… 5
Coping ………………..…… 12
Escapism …………..………. 23
Attacks …………………… 41
Help ……………………….. 52
Identity………………….…. 72
Deposition …………….…… 92
The Show …………………… 105
Month ………………………...132
Trial & conviction ……………157
Breaking ……………………....172
Buried………………………… 195
Drinking buddies ……….……. 212
Words …………..……………. 245
Seven months later …………... 255

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Prologue

Silent obscenities slipped from her pale pink lips as if they were unspoken prayers to

some deity. Every movement of her lips caused bursts of steam to escape her mouth, warming

the frigid nights air around them. Stars shined luminously above, giving the night a celestial

quality in its beauty, but to her the night seemed infinitely unending. Grass was soft beneath her

deft fingers as she easily yanked strands from the damp ground, she would then repeat the

process. Heavy tears welled inside her eyes, making it unbearably hard to blink them away

without notice. A shooting star streaked across the sky like a speeding bullet, and she wished that

she could be where the star was destined to land. But there was no hope for her, she was stuck in

the empty field, with the moon glowing brightly in the night sky. Pain coursed through her body

but she remained still, too afraid of the consequences.

A realization suddenly struck her, could this somehow be her fault? What was happening

now to her in this field, did she deserve it? Was this a punishment?

Pushing that thought to the back of her mind was harder than she imagined but she tried

valiantly. Even though she was at least a half mile away from the main house, the sound of the

music wafted in waves to reach her ears. All she could do was pray for someone, anyone, to walk

out there and find them in the middle of the detestable act.

Maybe if someone found them, before something unimaginable happened, maybe she

could be saved from his haunting grasp. Blood gushed from lip at the pressure she put it under,

as she bit on her lip a little more heavily, a whimper escaped her pale pink lips. The grass was

gone from beneath her fingers, instead giving way to damp black dirt. Palms black with dirt, she

bunched her hands in the damp earth as her back arched violently in angry pain.

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The moon got brighter with each passing second, and the boy made one last savage

thrust. Then he stood, buttoned his pants and turned to walk away. A few feet away from where

Amber lay on the dirty ground, he shot one last look her way. For the first time, Amber

recognized the look of pure evil in a mans smile. And as he walked away the world faded to

black; leaving her broken, beaten, and alone. Left with only stars and dreams to keep her

company.

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Chapter 1

Consequences

A thin layer of dew lay across the field, and to the naked eye it could look empty. But

when one looked harder, the form of a young woman could be seen curled among the barley.

The sun was rising through the trees and in the new morning light, she stretched. As the

sun got higher in the sky, the dew began to melt away and she woke suddenly with a jolt. At the

speed of her actions she clutched her stomach, a twinge of pain clawed at her stomach and she

scanned the field franticly for her purse.

Every step she took hurt like hell, but she still stumbled in the direction of the house in

the distance. A few feet from where she had woken lay her purse. She groaned in pain at the ache

inside her, but she grabbed her purse and limped further along. The road to her right led her

steadily in the direction of the main house, she strode with purpose towards the house. A car

rumbled down the road behind her, as she moved to the side to let the car by the car instead

pulled to a stop. When she saw it was her best friend Tiffany, the tears began to fall from her

bright green eyes.

“Amber what are you doing here? Your mom has been terrified and everyone has been

looking for you! Why haven’t you answered your cell phone?” Tiffany shouted in anger before

taking in the sight of her best friend. Amber watched Tiffany’s face change quickly from

irritation and into concern.

The petite blonde-haired girl rushed to where Amber stood to grasp her shoulders when

she wavered unsteadily on her feet. Amber cried in relief before throwing her weight onto the

shorter woman’s frame, and the blonde stared at her perplexed.

“Amber, are you okay?” The blonde asked as the woman in question began to weep.

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“Last night, at the party,” She stammered on her words and tried to finish her sentence, “I

need to go to the hospital.” She pulled away from Tiffany and ran to the passenger side of the

blue car. Tiffany stood still for a moment before jumping into the drivers seat to start the cars

engine. After looking in the rear view mirror, the blonde turned around quickly before stepping

on the gas.

The ride to the hospital was quiet and uncomfortable for Amber, but she was glad that her

best friend was unusually silent. She was squirming in the seat, unable to remain still because of

the pain. For some reason she hoped that the words to explain last night would find her, the right

phrase in its simplest form. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Tiffany sneaking glances

at her but she couldn’t manage to return the them. She knew once they reach the hospital, it

would be inevitable that she would repeat her story a million times and she wanted to put it off as

long as possible.

Once they arrived at the hospital she steeled herself for the impending conversations.

Maybe she shouldn’t report it. But she knew there wasn’t much of a choice because if she didn’t,

she would regret not doing it for the rest of her life. And regret wasn’t something that Amber did

well.

She walked silently towards the emergency room with Tiffany by her side. The nurse at

the help desk looked up as her and Tiffany entered the waiting room. Her fingers gripped the

edge of the desk so tightly that blood rushed from them, leaving her fingers stark white.

“Can I help you two girls?” Asked the nurse with a sweet southern drawl. Her eyes flew

between Amber and Tiffany, as if they couldn’t decide which woman was the future patient.

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“Yes, I was…” The words stuck inside her throat and Amber coughed to loosen them. “I

was raped last night.” It was a whispered declaration, but Amber feared it’s meaning. Too many

things were weighing on what she just said… and some unknown strength filled her body.

The heavyset nurse stood from the desk before quietly escorting her and Tiffany to a

private room behind the nurses station.

“I’ll have a doctor in here in a minute.” The nurse gave a tight smile in Amber’s direction

before closing the door shut. An awkward silence filled the white of the hospital room.

Tiffany stood by the door and tried not to make eye contact with Amber as she swayed

from foot to foot. The nurse came back in and handed Amber a flannel hospital gown.

“Now put this on and then lay down on the table. A doctor will be in here in the next

couple of minutes. Your friend is welcome to stay as long as you would like her to.” Then she

left with nothing but a sympathetic glance to Amber and a questioning glare in Tiffany’s

direction.

Amber stood from her seat on the table to change. Her best friend turned around quicker

than Amber had ever seen her move. She groaned as she lay down too heavily on her already

bruised back. Tiffany rushed to her side at the sound but didn’t dare touch her. As quickly as the

tears rushed to her eyes, she blinked them away.

“I shouldn’t have let you go off with that guy. I knew there was something wrong about

him, it’s my fault. I wasn’t there to stop you and I knew that you were already buzzed. I should

have been looking out for you Amber.” Voice tight with unrestrained tears, Tiffany gently

enveloped Amber in her arms. After fifteen years of friendship, the blonde finally admitted her

fierce protectiveness of Amber. They both cried for a few moments before pulling away with

identical sheepish looks.

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“It was that guy, wasn’t it?” Tiffany prodded.

“Yeah, it was that guy.” A tremble of Amber’s lips acknowledged the truth.

“Do you want me to call your parents? What about Derek?” Tiffany’s face knotted in

anger as she ran her fingers through Amber’s tangled black mane. Amber wiped the tears from

her cheeks before answering the blonde.

“Yeah, would you mind calling my parents? Don’t call Derek; I don’t know what I would

say to him.” Tiffany nodded but just as she was opening the door to exit, a woman looking barely

an older than the two girls present walked in. Amber watched the woman with interest as she

strode past Tiffany without so much as a glance in the blondes direction.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Amy Prince and you must be Amber Hallows.” An extended hand was

presented to Amber and she took it hesitantly. After they shook hands Dr. Prince went on, “I’m

going to examine you now but once I’m through a police man is going to come in and ask you

some questions about last night. Do you understand?” Amber nodded and lay back down on the

table. Dr. Prince began the examination without a single word.

Amber’s eyes stayed closed through the whole examination, she fought hard to not

remember the night before. Each passing second felt like a millennia to Amber, a clock in the

corner marked the seconds with a soft tick. Her eyes were shut so tightly that she began to see

colorful spots. They reminded her of the stars that shone so brightly the night before. The stars

in the sky had been so vivid in her mind that she almost forgot where she was for a moment. As

the doctor finished she pulled Ambers leg back down to lay flat and said, “We’re done with the

exam now and I’m going to go get the officer to ask you some questions now.”

Piercing silence filled the room as they waited anxiously for the officer. When the door

finally opened it revealed a giant of a man, with a gun on his hip and bulky shoulders to match.

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Amber watched as he first shook Tiffany’s hand before extending his hand to Amber in turn.

Hesitantly, she took the offered hand.

“I’m officer Shelton, I’ll be asking you about the incident.” As the officer sat down in a

chair, Amber fidgeted with the gown she wore. If only to keep her mind off the memories she

was going to relive.

“Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, let’s just jump right into it okay? Why don’t you

start at the beginning? Where did this take place?” Asked the officer as he took out a pad of

paper.

“The party was at the Henderson Plantation and we got there around 9 pm. There were

already a lot of people there and it took us a few minutes to get into the main house. A lot of the

kids were already drinking and swimming in the pool, so Tiffany and I got some drinks and went

looking for some of our friends.”

“What ages were the kids at the party?” The officer interrupted.

“Oh, well since most of them were from the college… I would say twenty or older.”

“Do you know how many people were there?” With each question Amber got more

nervous, but she moved on.

“I don’t really know, I would say more than fifty. I wasn’t really counting people as I

walked around.” Amber answered with a sarcastic tone. The officer clearly didn’t get the answer

he wanted.

“Okay let’s just move on. Walk me through the evening after you got there, can you do

that?” She breathed a little easier at his compassionate tone and closed her eyes before going on.

“At around eleven, Tiffany and I separated. I walked out into the field in the back of the

main house. I wanted to get away from the loud noise, but this guy that I hadn’t met before was

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standing by the gardeners shed that I had to pass before getting into the field. He was leaning up

against the shed smoking a cigarette and when he saw me… he came my way.” Amber paused

when the image of him popped into her head, she could see him grunting above her but she bit

her lip to keep from crying. Her lip slowly began to bleed but she didn’t show the pain on her

face.

Tiffany interrupted her and said, “I saw them go off together. I couldn’t get that good of a

look at him but I know that he was over 6 foot and a good 160 or 170 pounds. The last time I saw

them was eleven like Amber said.” Amber didn’t look at Tiffany as she talked; she just kept her

eyes firmly on the floor.

“He was really tan, at least he looked that way in the dark, but I couldn’t see him that

well. He asked me if I wanted a cigarette and I said no. Then he asked if he could join me and I

didn’t really give him an answer. So he followed me out into the field and sat down beside me on

the ground. We were a good distance away from the main house and before I knew it he was

kissing me and when I tried to push him away he just kept kissing me. I fought in the beginning

but once he got me on my back he pushed up my skirt and then covered my mouth when I tried

to scream.” She couldn’t go on anymore and she started to cry. Memories of the night rushed

into her head, overwhelming and terrifying her at the same time.

“How tall was he? Was he taller or shorter than me?” His cell phone went off but he

quickly quieted it waiting for her answer.

“A little shorter than you, he was pretty tall.” She choked back her tears just hoping that

the questions would end soon. Her courage was beginning to wane and she was trying not to

regret her decision to report her rape. When she realized she said the word rape, albeit it was in

her own head she still had to blink back tears.

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“Dark or light hair?” He questioned.

“It was either dark brown or black. I couldn’t see that well in the dark. I don’t know his

eye color, so don’t bother asking.” Amber growled.

The officer grunted and scratched his head. “You’re not giving me much to go on here.

Was there anything that could set this guy apart from every other guy in this town?”

“He had a tongue piercing. That’s about all I remember.” The officer jotted it down onto

his notepad and then put it away.

“Would you mind working with a sketch artist?” She shook her head in answer and then

wiped tears away as the officer left.

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Chapter 2

Coping

Once the officer and sketch artist left, Tiffany stepped outside for a few moments and

when she returned Amber’s parents were with her. They cried when they saw her all bruised and

her mom hugged her gingerly.

“We were so worried when you didn’t come home last night. I knew something was

wrong when you didn’t call.” Her mother had a gentle tone and her fingers wiped the tears away

from Amber’s cheek. Amber’s father stood in the corner by Tiffany looking on as Amber’s

mother comforted her daughter. Amber held onto her mother tightly and cried for a moment

before her dad came over and hugged her also. Her father’s tight embrace was comforting at the

time, giving her a sense of safety that she hadn’t had since before last night.

The drive home was quiet and Amber wanted nothing more than to go home, take a

shower, and then sleep in her bed. At least she didn’t have class today, because the party the

night before was supposed to be the celebration for the local kids that graduated from university.

She had graduated from college, she should be excited to start her new life but instead she was

going through this.

How was she supposed to be happy and proud of herself for graduating college, after

being raped? As their large house slowly came to view in the distance, she shook those thoughts

from her overwhelmed mind.

Cedar Creek was home to only a few thousand people, large enough to be forgotten but

small enough to be remembered. Her parent’s home was nestled in the backcountry of the town,

making it easier to hide from the nosy town goers. Any other homes were at least a mile away

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from their home, and that had always left Amber feeling relatively safe. She couldn’t help but

wonder if that man from last night knew where she lived, and would he find her?

The car slowed as they pulled up to the house. Ambers mother opened her door while

simultaneously looking around to make sure all was right with the house. Amber pulled the

hospital gown tighter against her body to shield the frosty summer air. The heat of her parents

stares practically burned the back of her head, and she felt it all the way into the house.

“Why don’t you go take a shower, put on some clean clothes, and then I’ll bring you

some lunch.” Amber’s mother, Patricia, suggested with a caring tone.

Amber nodded and climbed the circular staircase one step at a time. Once she was in her

room she went into her bathroom and turned her shower on to scalding hot. Waiting until after

she took off the hospital gown, she looked in the mirror suddenly she understood the looks.

Never in her life had she looked so… broken. Her neck was bruised all the way around, and

when she squinted she could make out the finger shapes on her neck.

The girl in the mirrors body was riddled with bruises but for some reason Amber couldn’t

connect to that girl. It didn’t look like her; the girl looking back at her from the mirror just wasn’t

her. The girl in the mirror was battered and broken, with bruises on her arms, thighs, and

scratches on the back of her calves that she had no clue how they had appeared. Her usually

wavy black hair was knotted and she roughly picked a twig from her hair.

“How did you let that happen?” She berated herself before stepping into the shower.

The water was so hot that her skin immediately turned red in anger, but she stood still

under the steady stream of water. Maybe if she stood there long enough she could wash the

bruises away but she knew that was illogical. A half an hour went by with Amber standing under

the water unmoving, not one thought of shampoo or conditioner crossed her mind. She finally

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gave in and washed her hair before getting out of the shower. The bathroom was full of steam by

that time. When she looked into the mirror, she was glad that her marred body was hidden

behind the thick blankets of steam.

With only a towel wrapped around her petite frame she stepped out of the bathroom and

into her bedroom. Daylight assaulted her eyes from every angle. She quickly pulled the curtains

on her window shut, leaving her alone in the darkness of her room. After slipping sweatpants and

a t-shirt on, she lay down heavily on the bed.

Amber knew that if she closed her eyes, she could relive each detail of the night before.

Every thrust, pinch, slap, punch, grab, and grind. Before she knew what was happening she was

curled into a ball and crying, but she didn’t really know her reason for crying. Maybe it was

because she was scared or because in a matter of hours everything about her life had changed.

Tears fell from her bright blue eyes one after another without refrain. The blanket beneath her

gently gathered the tears, soaking the blanket through to the sheets.

At that same moment Amber’s mother pressed her ear against the door, and even though

Amber didn’t know it, she wasn’t the only one crying in the house that night.

“What’s your name?” Asked the stranger hidden in the darkness.

“My name’s Amber. What’s yours?” She couldn’t see his face in the dark and it was

slightly unsettling. He moved closer to her before answering her question.

“You can call me Jackson.” She laughed out loud in nervousness. She had the strangest

feeling that Jackson wasn’t even close to his real name. They kept walking until they reached the

middle of the field and Amber could just barely hear the music from the party behind them. The

boy named Jackson moved closer to her when they stopped walking, and he put his hands on her

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waist. She tried to step out of his grip because she knew where he was trying to go and she

didn’t want to go in that direction. But his grip only tightened as she tried to pull away. Amber

laughed uncomfortably until she realized he wasn’t messing around.

He pulled her tightly against him and kissed her roughly on the mouth. Amber tried in

vain to push him away; he was too strong. She cried out as he bit her lip. Nausea gripped her

stomach at the coppery taste of her own blood pooling inside her mouth.

Covered in a cold sweat, Amber woke before throwing the covers off her body in

agitation. It was still dark in her room but she could tell that it was no longer light outside.

Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach. She didn’t want to eat especially after that dream, or well

nightmare. Amber pulled her knees tightly to her chest trying to will away the memories of the

other night. Her body ached all over from the bruises. She closed her eyes shut and pulled her

knees tighter to her chest, even though it hurt when she did so. The bruises hurt but the pain

reminded her that she alive. In some ways at least.

Amber wished that the night before had been a dream. Just one horrible long dream that

seemed real. You know, the kind of dream that’s so vivid in its imagery that you wake up

thinking its real. Only to realize it was in fact a dream. Amber prayed to God she was only

trapped in a dream. Silence was her answer.

No girl ever thinks that will happen to her but once it does happen to you, you cannot

understand, and at that moment Amber did what every other woman does. Blame reared its ugly

head inside of her, she blamed herself. She should’ve pushed him away harder or screamed

louder, or at least done something other than lie there. Amber didn’t want to cry but she couldn’t

stop it no matter how roughly she rubbed at her cheeks. The tears kept falling, she kept hating

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herself for it, and she didn’t want to cry because crying was for the weak. Right now was not the

time to be weak.

Amber stood up from the bed in a moment of desperate hunger. When she opened her

door she saw the plate of food and glass of water, and she picked it up. A light from downstairs

slithered up the stairs, curiously she peaked down the stairs toward the living room. Not seeing

anyone she walked halfway down the stairs to peak around the landing, from her spot on the

landing she saw that her father was sitting in the living room watching the 11 o’clock news.

“Hey kiddo, are you okay?” Asked her father when he saw her climbing down the stairs.

Amber sat down beside him on the couch before lying her head on his shoulder. Her father

gently put his arm around her shoulders, so gently that she barely felt its presence.

“I’m fine, did mom go to bed?”

“She went to bed not long after you did. She checked on you first and she said you were

sound asleep, but she’s really worried about you just like I am.” Amber had always found his

voice calming and she realized that it was exactly what she needed at the moment.

“I’m scared Dad.” Amber admitted. Turning to look her in the eyes, her father fixed her

with a questioning stare.

“What are you scared of?” He asked with genuine wonder.

“I’m scared of myself. I’m scared of the police not finding that man. I’m scared of taking

over the store. But mostly, I’m afraid that I’m going to blame myself… I don’t want to blame

myself.” Her tone wavered towards the end, as if she was fighting back tears. Immediately after

she finished her father grabbed her and folded her in his arms.

“Don’t you ever blame yourself, young lady. Men that rape women, aren’t men. They

are vile and don’t you for one second blame yourself. You hear me?” Amber cried as her father

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held her tighter against him. She tried so hard to believe his words. Deep down she knew that he

was right, but logic wasn’t at the top of her priorities.

Amber cried herself to sleep in her father’s arms that night, and he wished that he could

protect her from the world like that forever. But he knew he couldn’t, she was already broken.

No mater how much he loved her, fixing her wasn’t a possibility. No father wants to lose the

ability to instantly fix their daughters world with a single word. Amber was oblivious to her

fathers thoughts, and it showed as she slept on in his embrace.

At some point during the night someone had covered Amber because when she woke,

she was hopelessly tangle in a blanket on the couch. Stretching her legs, she looked at the clock

on the wall to her right. It was still early in the morning and she was hoping that one of her

parents were still home. She got up slowly, padded her way to the kitchen, and looked for a mug

to fill with some coffee. The coffee machine was still on, telling her that her mother was still

home. Once she filled the mug up with coffee, she looked around and decided to search for her

mom upstairs. Her parents bedroom door was halfway open when she reached it. She knocked

lightly on the door before opening it, the sight that greeted her was one she was used to. At the

large porcelain vanity, sat her mother delicately placing foundation on her already flawless face.

“Good morning.” Amber greeted. Their eyes met in the vanity mirror.

“Good morning, did your dad wake you? He tried to be quiet when he left.” Her mother

apologized with a smile. Memories of when she was younger flooded into her awareness. Lying

on her parents bed, watching her mother apply make up and spray the soft gardenia musk she

wore. It was a ritual that Amber would never dire of, even after twenty-two years of watching.

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“I don’t think he woke me up. I just rolled off the couch a moment ago.” Her mother

nodded before beginning to apply eye liner to her green eyes. The eyes that Amber saw in her

own mirror each morning. Make up finished, she stood from the vanity and turned to look at

Amber on the bed. Without a word she stepped into the walk in closet on her left.

“I’m going to go into work for a while but I’m hoping to be home by around two. I could

be home earlier if the store isn’t busy today. Are you going to be okay home alone?” She shouted

the first part but by the end she had stuck her head slightly outside the closet door.

“I’ll be fine. I think I’ll just lounge around the house and maybe do some reading. When

do you need me to start back up at the store?” Amber’s mother owned a small clothing boutique

down town called Seasons. Since before she could remember she had been working at the store

on weekends. During college she had started working during the week also, and now with her

degree Amber expected to run the store someday.

“Well, I talked to Denise this morning and she said she could handle the cash register by

herself this week. But you know the store’s there… once you’re ready to get up and going

again.” Her mother emphasized the word ‘again’ in a way to make it sound like a question. It

was something her mother did often to avoid asking a question directly.

She came out of the closet dressed in black slacks and a green sweater. Carrying her

shoes with her she sat down next to Amber and said, “Don’t rush yourself, sweetie. You take

your time and just tell me when you’re ready to start back up. Okay?”

The two hugged in silent understanding. It hurt a little because of the bruises but she

needed the hug, so she ignored the pain. Amber smiled at her mother and watched as she left the

bedroom ready for work, she looked at her wrists where they were bruised from the other night

and fought away tears.

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She got up and made her way to her room to put something on besides a baggy t shirt and

sweats. The curtains were still drawn tight, so when she stepped into her bedroom she was

immediately over come with darkness. Squinting in the blackness of the room, she threw open

the curtains the moment she reached the window. The bedroom was quickly flooded with light

and Amber sighed in contentment with the brightness.

After making her bed and picking up a little, she changed into some jeans and threw on a

hoodie before making her way downstairs. The moment her feet hit the floor at the bottom of the

stairs, the door bell rang, freezing her to the spot on the cold tile floor. Through the glass panes

on the door she could see a tall figure looming in the door way. Slowly she made her way to the

door. She couldn’t tell who the person was and her heart sped up out of fear, she looked around

the house while wondering if she should open the door. Summoning all her courage, she threw

the door open.

Immediately she recognized who was standing on the front door step causing tears to fill

her eyes. He held onto her fiercely when she all but fell into his arms. “I’m here, it’s all okay.”

He whispered into her ear. Once Amber remembered that it was him, she quickly pulled away.

“Derek, what are you doing here?” She stared at him, plainly wearing the question she

asked on her face.

“Tiffany called me and told me what happened the other night at the party. Well she

didn’t tell me the whole story, but the minute she said what happened I knew I had to come back.

I knew that I had to see you, can I just come in?” Derek asked cautiously.

Gathering herself together, she backed into the house slowly. Derek followed her into the

living room and sat next to her on the couch. To avoid looking at Derek, she stared blankly at the

mute television.

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“I don’t know why Tiffany called you, I told her not to.” Amber spoke of Tiffany with

clear contempt in her voice.

“Look I know you’re mad at me because of the way I left things, but what did you expect

me to do? Stay here forever, while you manage your mother’s store? I know you’ve been

through a lot the past 48 hours, but I’m not back here to stay forever. This isn’t me deciding to

give up a future to be with you. I love you a lot Amber, you know that, but I got an amazing job

offer. I just came back to see how you were.” Derek said all of it within one breath.

Amber stared at him as he spoke, his beautiful blue eyes not masking his stubbornness for

one moment. That had always been the problem with their relationship, they were both so

stubborn that neither would concede to the other. They only fought bitterly until one gave in

under the pressure or both were so hurt that they dropped the subject completely.

“Thanks for coming back to see me, because I know you’re a big city boy now and

everything but you really didn’t need to. I’m fine without you; I’m not a helpless little girl.” She

growled her words out knowing it would anger him. Instantly his jaw clenched, dark brown hair

fell into his eyes. She knew she had angered him now and she knew he was moments away from

blowing up. Derek ran his hands through his , sighing before her answered, he always sighed

while trying to maintain his composure.

“Amber despite what you may think I didn’t come back to have this fight all over again.”

When Amber tried to interrupt, he only held a hand up to prevent her. “I wanted to see that you

were okay, because sometimes Tiffany likes to play down the way things really are. But I can see

your fine, so I’m not going to sit around here just to fight again.”

Derek leaned over kissed her on the cheek before proceeding to walk out of the house.

Amber was so shocked that it took her a moment to realize he had actually walked out. She was

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so enraged that in one fluid movement she stood up from the couch, ran to the front door, flung it

open and ran outside.

“Why isn’t this town good enough for you? Why aren’t I good enough for you? I’ve been

your so called girlfriend for the past five damn years Derek! I was there for you through

everything! But the minute we graduate college you claim this town isn’t big enough for your

dreams. That’s bull and you know it!” Amber yelled with rage. Derek didn’t turn around he just

stared over his car and let Amber keep yelling.

“I’m not doing this with you again, Amber.” He said without turning around.

“Don’t you love me anymore?” Amber hiccupped tears away while staring at the ground.

“We’re not repeating the same conversation. I’m going back to Nashville and I’m going

to have my career there.” Derek then got into his truck and slowly drove away. Amber stood still

as she watched him drive away, remembering all too clearly their fight from the other night.

“You’re what?” Amber spat angrily.

“I’m moving to Nashville. I was offered a junior executive position at a record company.

You know I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. I went to college to get an music production

degree so that I could do this, I can’t stay in this little town and do what I want to do in life

Amber. You know that, you’ve just been ignoring this whole situation.” Derek stood feet away

from her outside of his apartment building. It was pitch black outside lending to the mood of the

conversation.

“I didn’t think you were going to leave the night of graduation.” Amber gritted her teeth

and turned away from Derek’s stare.

21
“I can’t stay here with you Amber. I have to get out of here before I let you talk me into

staying. I can’t Amber I just can’t.” It may have been dark outside but Amber could still see his

big blue eyes begging for her to go along with him. To just agree, give in, to lose.

“After five years, you’re just going to leave” Amber questioned as he stepped closer.

“Yes, unless you want to come with me?” The question he asked had never crossed her

mind. Not once. Amber was genuinely shocked, her face quickly got red with anger.

“And what am I supposed to do in Nashville. Sit at home and look pretty? My mother’s

business is here, and I’m going to take over when she retires. I can’t do that from Nashville

Derek. You know that.” Derek sighed and nodded before backing farther away from Amber.

“Then were over Amber, we can’t stay together while living 2 hours apart. We’d only see

each other on the weekends, if then even. It’s not like we counted on forever anyways.” Amber’s

eyes filled with tears and she looked away from Derek. She knew she couldn’t win this fight and

it would end faster if she just gave in to him. She nodded and watched as he drove away in his

truck. She laughed ironically to herself, she lost her virginity in that truck, it fits that he’d leave

her in it too.

For the second time in the past few days she watched Derek drive away in his truck. But

for some reason she wasn’t surprised, she always knew he’d leave her some day. She just hadn’t

been expecting it to happen this soon. Or after being raped.

22
Chapter 3

Escapism

Amber tried everything she could to distract herself once Derek left. She watched

television, nope that didn’t work. She tried reading, that didn’t work either. She even tried

cleaning, but that definitely didn’t work. So she slipped on some shoes and grabbed her keys

before running out to the car.

It was cold out as usual even though it was the middle of May in Tennessee. Amber

drove quickly through town and rushed to find a decent parking spot in the front of her mother’s

clothing boutique. She waited until another car passed by before getting out of her Mustang.

Locking it behind her, she walked into the store and found it lightly busy as was usual for noon

on a weekday. When she opened the door the little bell rang and Denise looked up from her spot

by the counter. The store was decorated in all white so that only the clothes stood out. Amber

blinked away from the bright contrast of outsides dreariness to the stores bright colors.

“Amber! What are you doing here? Your mom said you wouldn’t be in for a few days.”

Denise shouted across the room. Amber smiled while walking toward the counter.

“You know me; I can’t sit at home for too long. Where is my mother?” Denise looked

around and sighed with impatience.

“You know as well as I do that you can’t track your mother. Your best bet is that she’s

back in the storage room rummaging through boxes.” Amber laughed before making her way

into the storage room. Just like Denise predicted, her mother was sitting among rows of boxes

and going through the new shipment of clothing that had arrived that morning. Amber made her

way towards her mother quietly but not quietly enough for her mother.

23
“I thought you were going to stay home and rest?” Questioned her mother without

looking up.

“How do you always know I’m there?” Amber asked in agitation. Looking around the

storage room, she immediately saw things had stacked up in her absence. The storage room

looked like a bomb had gone off.

“I’m your mother and I know everything. I really don’t want you here sweetheart. I told

you to at least take today off if not the rest of the week. Now get out of here and don’t even think

of telling Denise I said you can man the counter. She knows to not let you do any work today.

Now go on home, your dad will probably be home before me because I have more inventory that

I expected.” Her mother ordered, still buried in the box before her.

“I can see you have lots of inventory. So why don’t you…” Amber tried.

“No you’re not helping me. Go home Amber and I’m not saying it again.” Amber’s

mother looked up at that moment and Amber knew there was no way to win the upcoming battle.

Slowly backing out of the storage room, she raised her hands in defeat.

“Goodbye, Denise.” She yelled before exiting the store.

“Sorry Amber.” Amber believed Denise’s apology.

The house was just as she had left it an hour before. It was big, empty, and depressing.

Depressing was something she certainly didn’t need. As soon as she entered the quiet house, she

made straight for the kitchen. Luckily the liquor cabinet wasn’t locked, making it easy for her to

grab two bottles of vodka. Next, she grabbed a shot glass.

Sitting the two bottles on the coffee table, she stood unmoving in the living room for a

few silent moments. After a few seconds of contemplation she ran over to the stereo and turned it

24
up at high as it would go. The walls shook with noise of the stereo. Still holding a shot glass, she

filled the glass with vodka, downed it quickly, and then pursed her lips from the tartness of the

vodka.

“I can’t stay here with you Amber.” Derek said as he moved away.

Amber made a face and took another shot of vodka at the memory.

“Yes, unless you come with me?” Derek’s large blue eyes pleaded, filled with honesty.

Amber laughed self deprecatingly before taking yet another shot.

“You can call me Jackson.” He reminded her of Derek, tall and darkly handsome. Or

maybe it was just because of the darkness.

Amber’s eyes filled with tears as she took another shot of the liquid. Each time she did a

shot another memory of either Derek or “Jackson” would wash in front of her vision. Unable to

stop herself from drinking her way into oblivion, she ended up horribly and fantastically drunk.

Amber was so drunk in fact, that she was unable to do anymore shots. Her parents found her

slumped over the coffee table with shot glass in grasp.

“Amber?” Her father asked while gently shaking her. The shot glass rolled to the floor

making a loud thud on the ground. Both adults stared at the glass before noticing the empty

bottle of vodka beside their daughter. Her father grasped her arms lightly and pulled her up to lay

on flat on the couch.

“It’s like watching my sister all over again.” Said her mother with a shake of her head.

Laying a blanket over her daughter, she brushed the bangs on her forehead while leaning in to

kiss her cheek.

“Oh, Amber.” Sighed her father before sitting in a chair opposite of the couch. He settled

in for the night as his wife headed up the stairs.

25
As Amber woke, the absent thought that dreams weren’t supposed to happen while drunk

crossed her vodka hazy mind. Her head pounded as she tried to sit up causing her to double over

in pain.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Her father said from his seat on the coffee table across

from her. “Boy I missed one heck of a party last night.” Amber tried to pull the blanket over her

head at the smug smile on his face.

“It was a one person party.” Amber mumbled.

“Sounds like a pity party.” He joked with a hint of seriousness in his tone.

“Call it whatever you want Dad.” It was warm beneath the blanket and just as she was

getting comfortable the blanket was pulled away from her eyes.

“That’s the first and last time your mom and I will come home to a drunkenly passed out

daughter, you understand?” Thunder oozed from his words, Amber gulped in fear.

Her father’s eyes softened at the look of fear on her face. “Tiffany called she wanted to

talk to you.”

“Thanks, Dad?”Amber asked hesitantly while sitting up. The room spun dangerously

around her as she did so, but she fought against the wave of dizziness.

“Yes?” He asked, paused in the doorway to the hall.

“I’m sorry I got drunk.” A smile let her know that her apology was accepted.

Dialing her best friends phone number was automatic by this point but she still

instinctively checked the number before pressing send. As the phone rang she looked around the

living room. Pictures of her and Derek lined the mantle. She made a mental note to pull them

down as soon as possible.

26
“Hello?” Tiffany answered with her usual hopeful tone.

“Hey, my dad said you called.”

“Oh, yeah I was wondering if you wanted to come out tonight. Stan’s friend is playing a

set at the Cherry Street downtown. I think it would be fun to go out and since it’s one of Stan’s

friends it will probably be a nice boring night.” She heard Stan’s shout of protest in the

background and Tiffany covered the phone before shouting. “Shut up, you’re such a loser. The

only reason she’ll say yes is because she feels bad for you.” She heard grumbling in the

background and a few carefully chosen expletives on Tiffany’s behalf.

“Tiffany do not make fun of your brother! He can’t help that he’s boring.” Amber

goaded.

“Hah! Told you Stanley, she just feels bad for you. What? No you cannot talk to her you

twit.” Rustling could be heard on the other end of the phone. Amber giggled when she heard

Stan shriek like a girl.

“I’ll come tonight but only if Stan promises to do some shots. Does he ever drink?”

Amber asked even though she knew the answer. Stan never drank, he was always the designated

driver.

“No, because he can’t hold his liquor like a man should. Remember my sweet sixteen?

He had half a glass of champagne and ended up singing Pretty Woman.” Amber laughed as she

heard commotion on the other end of the phone and could picture them swatting at each other.

Once the commotion ended there was silence for a few moments before Tiffany spoke again.

“Are you going to come then?” Tiffany asked when the line quieted.

27
“Yeah, I’ll come tonight. I’ll meet you outside the Cherry Street at, wait what time do I

need to be there?” Amber got up from the couch and made her way to the kitchen for a hot cup

of coffee.

“We’ll meet you at 8 in front of the Cherry Street. Can you wear something other than a

hoodie and jeans?” Amber looked at her arms covered with bruises sighing inwardly. Finding a

cute outfit that covered her bruises would be difficult.

“That might be a little hard Tiffany, but I’ll try. See you at 8 o’clock.” She hung up the

phone while staring blankly at the bruises covering her body. The bruises were just beginning to

fade slightly. Instead of being a violent shade of blue they were turning a sickly shade of dark

green. She pressed her right thumb onto her left wrist hissing in pain when it throbbed from the

pressure. The clock on the coffee maker said it was barely noon and Amber had no idea what she

was going to do until 8 o’clock. Scratching her head in thought, she over filled her coffee cup

and cursed when it flowed over the rim.

After cleaning up the slight mess she made in the kitchen she decided she would go for a

run to clear her mind. Changing quickly she made her way out of the house and warmed up in

the circular brick driveway. While warming up, she squinted to try and make out the highway

stretched at the end of their half a mile long driveway. Once warmed up she took off at a fast

pace and tried to block out the pain each time her left leg landed on the ground. She didn’t think

that bruises on her thigh could hurt so badly just by running. Each land of her foot to the

pavement was healing.

Out of breath from running, she bent over at the end of the driveway. Little puffs of

steam came out of her mouth as she tried to regulate her labored breaths.

28
The air was so frigidly cold that her lungs burned with each breath. She pressed a hand to

her chest to try and calm her frantic heart. Frozen at the end of the driveway, she looked back at

the house that had always been her home. Still she felt lost, almost as if she could easily decide

to not turn back. Like the choice to keep running was one that she could make. Inside she wished

that she could run along the highway forever without regret, without an emotion. No worrying

about taking over her mother’s store. No regretting the decision she made to stay in Cedar Creek

instead of moving to Knoxville with Derek. Most importantly, no fear of the man that was still

on the lose.

Snapped out of her reverie with the last thought, she looked back to the house. With a

speed that she didn’t know she had, she took of running toward the house. Panic welled inside

her at the thought of being vulnerable or being found by him. Amber realized that going for a run

might not have been the best way to clear her mind. Maybe she should just go back to sleep

before it was time to get ready for tonight. Step by step she got closer to the house, before finally

reaching the safety of its shelter. She fell onto her bed, exhausted and emotionally drained from

the run. Sleep claimed her, but sleep soon gave way to dreams.

“Be quiet! Someone will hear you and then I’ll really hurt you.” He whispered roughly

into her ear. She turned her head away violently. Thrashing wildly in his arms she tried to pull

free of his grasp but his arms only tightened around her waist. He kissed her neck before biting

down hard enough to pierce the skin. Amber froze in fear. If she yelled someone would her hear.

She knew that yelling was her best option but her voice was frozen in the bottom of her stomach.

Paralyzed with fear, she was unable to summon the strength to scream.

29
Moments later the ground was hard beneath her back. Hands shoved her skirt up to

around her waist. Suddenly the fear of what was happening sank in. One of his hands grabbed

her wrists before holding them roughly above her head. He grabbed her left breast through her

thin t- shirt. In order to push her underwear aside he had to let one of her arms free. Her arm

fell limp against the damp earth, unable to strike her attacker. The man roughly kissed her

mouth, she grabbed handfuls of grass beneath her fingers to block out what was happening.

In a moment of courage her throat loosened and words formed on her lips.

“Please, don’t.” Amber pleaded.

Seconds passed frozen, his hand on her thigh ready for defiance. Laughing in her face,

he spread her legs apart. Time was inconsequential for Amber. The only distraction she could

find was the stars. Constellations sparkled above her, and she tried in vain to name a few. So

instead, she invented her own. Giving them names like stupid, coward, craven, and feeble.

The man above her, thrust inside her painfully and she screamed in agony. A hand

quickly covered her open mouth.

Amber awoke covered in sweat. Breaths came in short, quick gasps, as if she had been

running moments before. Nausea rumbled in her stomach, and she need to vomit overwhelmed

her senses. Just in time, she reached the bathroom and emptied her stomach.

When she finished, she slumped onto the tile floor of the bathroom. Her back ached from

lying on the non-giving tile. The bruises on her back tingled from the hard surface. A clock

hanging on her bathroom wall read 5:30, alerting her to get up and get ready for the night. If she

was going out tonight, she wasn’t going to look like she threw herself together. Climbing into the

30
shower she hoped that tonight could take her mind off of her bad dreams. And maybe even the

pain of reality.

Hair blow dried straight and make up applied, she stood still in her dark bedroom.

Foundation covered the bruises in the shape of fingers on her neck, her hair hid the rest. She

stood in front of the floor length mirror in her bedroom , staring at her reflection. She was

wearing a grey cardigan with a black tank top underneath and a pair of skinny jeans. She made

sure that all of her bruises were covered before grabbing her purse and heading down the stairs.

Amber’s parents were sitting on the couch in the living room. Their raised eyebrows told her that

they hadn’t expected her to go any where that night.

“I’m going out with Tiffany and Stan.” She told them from the hallway.

“Are you really?” Her mother asked with hesitance.

“Yes, mother. We’re going to the Cherry Street and I’ll probably be home late, so don’t

wait up okay?” Amber gave them a tight smile and headed for the door.

“Amber?” His voice was echoed through the house, and it was stern. Amber froze on her

way to the door to turn back and face him.

“Yes, Dad?” She asked.

“Be careful tonight, no stupid stuff okay?” Amber nodded her agreement. After giving

them both a little wave she left the house and jumped into her car.

Darkness covered the driveway before her. The only light was that of the stars above her.

She refused to look up at them though as she jumped into her car. Bouncing along the driveway

silently was uncomfortable, so she turned the radio on to it’s loudest setting.

31
Downtown was lit up with streetlights. Parking in the garage, she sat in her car for a few

moments. When she was ready, she exited the car and walked slowly to the Cherry Street. A

warm summer breeze blew through the street blowing Amber’s hair gently. Outside the bar she

could see Tiffany and Stan bickering about something.

“Hey guys. What are you fighting about now?” Amber asked when they didn’t see her.

Tiffany squealed in surprise. They hugged each other before Tiffany answered Amber.

“We weren’t fighting we were talking about Stan’s friend that’s performing. I thought he

was using the term loosely because as we all know Stan doesn’t have any friends.” Even though

it was dark outside Amber could see Stan’s face turning red.

“I don’t know why you guys think I don’t have friends because I do.” Stan declared.

Amber smiled at him, she actually felt bad from him sometimes. She knew he had friends

because she had actually known a few of them back in college but it was just so easy to mess

with Tiffany’s younger brother. In high school she had had a little crush on him. Now that just

seemed silly, he was such a little brother to her.

Tiffany patted Stan on the shoulder. “It’s okay Stan we know. Don’t get upset

sweetheart.” Stan gritted his teeth and headed into the club without a backward glace.

Effectively shutting the two girls up. Tiffany turned to smile at Amber before grabbing her arm

and dragging her into the Cherry Street. People were crammed into the club. So much so that it

was hard to push their way through. The two girls spotted Stan sitting at a reserved table in the

corner.

“What’s Stan’s friend’s name?” Amber asked as she followed Tiffany to the table Stan

was sitting at.

“I’ve no clue why don’t you ask Stanley?” At the sound of his name the boy looked up.

32
“What?” Stan asked from his seat. Amber looked around for the bar.

“What’s his name and can you buy me a drink? Please Stanley?” Amber pouted her lips

and Stan’s attitude melted away.

“His names Ryan Lukas and what do you want?” The two girls told him their order.

Amber watched Stan walk to the bar and buy drinks.

“Tiffany you really should be nice to the kid. He’s good to us.” Tiffany curled her top lip

and pushed the candle sitting on the table around. It was probably one of the few sources of light

in the club except for the lights aimed at the stage.

“It’s too fun hassling him, you know that. How’s the home life?” Tiffany asked out of

curiosity. Amber gave Tiffany a hard look before turning towards the now occupied stage.

“Fine, I’m surprised Dad didn’t want to come with me tonight.” Tiffany laughed before

turning toward the stage too. The boy occupying the stage mesmerized Amber. He was gorgeous,

and his smile made her heart skip a beat. She coughed to push the thoughts out of her mind.

“Hey guys. I’m Ryan Lukas and I’m about to rock your world.” He declared from his

spot on the stage. The crowd clapped when he picked up his black acoustic guitar.

Tiffany turned around and smiled at Amber. “He’s super cute. I wonder if Stan could

introduce him to us.” Stan walked over with drinks at that moment and smiled triumphantly.

“Now you admit that I have friends when you want to take advantage of it.” Tiffany

scowled at him and grabbed the glass her brother was offering. Amber took a gulp of the offered

beer after thanking Stan. The club was packed and everyone was jammed in front of the stage

watching him sing. All the girls in the room swooned at the sound of his deep voice.

She whispers in words

That I cannot understand

33
But I don’t care

I still want to be her man

Amber would first watch him then turn to watch the crowd. Each strum of his guitar sent

a shockwave of excitement through the crowd. She was fascinated. When he finished playing his

set Tiffany turned to Amber with a huge smile on her face.

“He’s so hot! Stanley can you please introduce us?” Tiffany begged her brother. Stanley

shrugged and walked off towards the backstage area of the club. Amber watched as he whispered

a few words to the security guard. The guard then nodded Stan back as he checked a name off

the list. Tiffany stared open mouthed at her brother when he successfully got backstage.

“I’ve been trying to tell you for years that your brother is cool.” Amber threw a napkin

across the table at Tiffany. The blonde scowled at the suggestion her brother was cool.

“My brother is not cool. He used to play with dress up with us.”

“When we were seven and he was six!!” Before the blonde could retort Stanley came out

with none other than Ryan Lukas. Amber half-heartedly noticed that Ryan was even better

looking up close. The eyes that had looked greenish blue before, were now clearly blue. Deep

sea blue to be factual. Stan wore a smug smile as he introduced them.

“Tiffany and Amber this is my friend Ryan Lukas. Ryan this is my sister Tiffany and her

best friend Amber Hallows.” Ryan smiled at them charmingly before extending his hand to each

of them.

“So you’re Stan’s sister? After all the complaining he does I was expecting some evil

monster to come through the doors. She’s rather good looking Stanley.” Stan rolled his eyes

before taking a large drink of his beer. Amber snorted and pinched Tiffany’s arm when her eyes

narrowed toward Stan.

34
“Who would like a round of drinks on Stan? Tiffany?” Ryan goaded. Stan sputtered and

Amber kicked him under the table before he slumped in submission. Ryan laughed with

enjoyment at the scene before him.

“Oh I would love a drink right now.” Ryan waved at the bartender and raised up Stan’s

beer to ask for another round. The bartender nodded before Ryan looked back towards Amber.

Amber smiled at him from across the table. She was knocked breathless when he smiled back.

Something about this boy made her feel… hopeful. Fear gripped her but at the same time she felt

completely safe. A strange mix of emotion, but she didn’t want it to go away.

He had that boy next door kind of look, the look that had often been her weakness in

school. It was the reason she had initially gone out with Derek. Except Derek was dark in every

way that Ryan was light. Derek had black hair and dark eyes. Ryan’s eyes were a beautiful blue

and they blended with his chestnut brown hair.

Ryan had the most dazzling blue eyes she had ever seen. And each time he smiled his

porcelain teeth shone in the light of the club. Amber didn’t realize she had zoned out until

Tiffany waved her hand in front of her face.

“Oh sorry Tiffany I wasn’t here.” Tiffany gave her a questioning look but thankfully for

Amber she didn’t say anything.

“So Stan says you guys graduated college a few days ago? What was your major?” Ryan

asked with a smirk. Amber felt like he knew what she had been thinking. She blushed.

“I majored in Civil Engineering. I work at a small design firm a few blocks from here.”

Tiffany answered, knowing that Amber wasn’t ready to speak yet.

“I majored in Business Management and minored in Fashion Design.” She stuttered

slightly on her words. But at the look of confusion on Ryan’s face, she just had to laugh.

35
“How did you find that mix?” Ryan asked with a quirk to his lips.

“Well it was easy for me to find. My mother owns the Tulle boutique downtown and I

want to take over the business one day. So I got a major to help me run the business and a minor

help me to design for the business.” Amber took a sip of beer when she finished her explanation.

“Did you always want to take over the business?” Ryan asked.

“I’ve been working there since my mom opened it when I was five years old. What about

you? Have you always wanted to be a musician?” Ryan laughed and looked around the bar

before answering Amber.

“I never really knew I wanted to be a musician because I’ve just always been one. I

started playing piano when I was six and guitar when I was nine. My family was music oriented

and it just came naturally. Just like you I guess. It’s second nature by now.” Amber smiled in

agreement and drank some of her beer. Ryan smiled, and even when Stan pulled him into a

conversation his eyes remained locked on hers. Excitement coursed through Ambers body…

something felt right in his presence. She was terrified of it.

She felt Tiffany’s eyes burning a hole into her neck and she turned to her before

whispering, “What?”

“You have a connection with Ryan.” She whispered in a sing song voice. Amber

scowled at her as she leaned in to whisper in Tiffany’s ear.

“He’s just making conversation. Don’t play match maker okay?” Bouncing to the beat of

the music, Tiffany shrugged her shoulders. Amber narrowed her eyes in Tiffany’s direction but

the blonde only ignored her. The sound of laughter in the boy’s direction made her turn. Stan

was shaking his head at whatever Ryan had said and Tiffany’s ears perked up.

“What’s so funny Stanley?” Tiffany asked with visible mirth in her voice.

36
“Nothing.” Right when Tiffany was about to make a smart comeback a blonde woman

walked up to the table. She smiled brightly at Ryan before asking for an autograph. Amber

watched as Ryan smiled and wrote the message the girl asked for. The girl blushed when their

fingers brushed during the transfer of the autograph. An irrational jealousy bubbled inside Amber

at the brief exchange.

Gulping down the last of her beer, she felt Tiffany’s gaze on her. Tiffany looked from the

empty beer bottle and back to Amber’s face a few times.

“Thirsty?” Tiffany asked sarcastically.

“Very. I think I need a shot, want one?” Tiffany shook her head. Amber shrugged before

walking to the bar alone. It took a few minutes for the bartender to get to her and Amber was

ready when he asked her for her order.

“Yeah, I need three shots of Grey Goose vodka?” The bartender looked to see if there

was anyone else with Amber. When he saw she was alone, he filled the glasses with a shake of

his head. Amber paid him and then looked back to the table where the others sat. When Tiffany

wasn’t watching she did the first two shots in quick succession before grabbing the third and

heading back to the table.

Amber faked a smile for Tiffany when rejoining the table. She noticed Tiffany staring

openly at her wrist. Her sleeve had pushed half way up her arm, putting the bruises on her wrist

in plain view. Tiffany smiled in sympathy before pulling the sleeve back down for Amber. She

ruffled her long black hair self consciously before downing the lone shot of vodka. The vodka

burned all the way down her throat pleasantly. A buzz settled over Amber, but she wanted to get

drunk, not buzzed. Even though she wanted another shot, she ignored the want to avoid

Tiffany’s questioning gaze.

37
A loud, rhythmic, club song clanged through the room. Amber stood.

“Will one of you boys please dance with me?” Amber asked with a tilt of her head. Ryan

quickly stood up and began to make his way towards the dance floor with Amber, she felt

empowered. Together they pushed their way onto the middle of the dance floor before beginning

to dance. Ryan’s hands snaked their way around her waist. Completely unlike herself, she let

them stay there. Something about their presence comforted her instead of scared her.

Swaying to the beat of the music, she got lost in the perfection of the moment. A strange

feeling of freedom washed over her, it wasn’t a feeling she was used to. Most of her life had

been lived controlled, exact, and planned. But something about the spontaneity of the moment

made her feel giddy with excitement. Maybe it was just being in Ryan’s arms that made her feel

that way.

The fast song came to a close giving way to a slower one. As she opened her eyes, they

were met with a fierce blue gaze. Giving into the moment she put her arms around the taller

boy’s shoulders before matching his steady sway to the beat. Their gaze didn’t break through the

song, not once.

A warm smile flitted across his kissable lips. Amber looked around the club for Tiffany;

her best friend gave her a big thumbs up from the table. Amber narrowed her eyes angrily

towards Tiffany and saw that Ryan was looking in the same direction. Ryan chuckled at her best

friends antics. The song slowly came to an end forcing the two to part. Ryan followed her on the

way to the table but a hand on her shoulder stopped her mid step. Turning around to face Ryan,

she stared at him questioningly.

38
Her eyes would first go to his hand on her arm, then his quickly flushing face. The hand

on her arm send tingles down her body. Out of irritation he ran his free hand through his fine

brown hair.

“I was wondering… would you like to go out sometime?” Ryan’s eyes begged. She stood

unmoving before him with indifference. At least she tried to look indifferent but inside she was

shocked. Being asked out wasn’t something she had expected to come of the night.

“What about a group date? We could go see a movie with Tiffany and Stan.” She was

careful to use the term group date. A date wasn’t out of question for Amber. But she wasn’t quite

ready for a one on one date yet.

“A group date? Beggars can’t be choosers, right?” Ryan chided. She smiled at his jib

When they returned to the table she pulled a pen from her purse before proceeding to

write her number on a napkin for Ryan. Folding the napkin he placed it in his shirt pocket,

wearing a satisfied grin on his face. In that miniscule moment, things changed inside Amber’s

head. Maybe she had a reason to wake up in the mornings after all. But that didn’t stop her from

getting horribly drunk.

Amber had three more shots before the night was over. The line between buzzed and

drunk had vanished long ago. Amber leaned heavily on Tiffany in order to stumble out the bar.

“Tifferknee?” Amber asked her best friend with a look of fear.

“Yes?” Tiffany questioned as her and Stan struggled to lead Amber in the right direction.

Tiffany turned her face away when Amber’s breathe over powered her senses. Amber giggled

when Tiffany coughed at the smell.

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“Am I going home now?” Stan gripped her a little tighter around the waist as she tripped

slightly on the curb. Tiffany nodded to Ambers question, but she paused at the sight of Amber’s

car. There was no way Amber could drive home. Tiffany sighed angrily when she noticed that

Amber was no longer able to walk because she had passed out.

“Stan can you follow me while I drive her home? I don’t want to leave her car

downtown.” Stan didn’t answer, he just helped his sister load Amber into the mustang. They

traded keys without a word. Amber snored lightly as Tiffany pulled the car out of the garage. She

turned the radio up as high as she could, if only to drown out Amber’s snores. The drive home

was pleasantly quiet.

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Chapter 4

Attacks

Amber woke up to someone barging unbidden into her room. Her eyebrows pulled

together over her eyes and pulled the blanket over her head when someone also ripped her

curtains open. Someone wasn’t going to be deterred easily and Amber quickly pulled a pillow

over her face when the blanket was ripped unceremoniously off of her.

“Wake up this instance Amber Marie Hallows.” Someone’s voice was very angry. Amber

groaned and slowly pulled the pillow from her face. She squinted heavily in the light and only

then realized who someone was.

“Aunt Faye?” Ambers tone was accusatory and she sat straight up in her bed.

“Yes?” Amber stared at her aunt and blinked her eyes a few times. She looked around

her room fascinated with the realness of her dream.

“Well this is a new development.” She muttered under her breath as the illusion before

her giggled. Her aunt rested gently on her bed and Amber stared at her still young features. Her

aunt had died years ago after being in a car accident during a trip to the city. She looked the

same as the last day Amber had seen her. Her platinum blonde hair laid in loose waves down

her shoulders and her bright blue eyes stared at her with love. She tilted her head to the side as

if she knew what Amber was thinking.

“I’ve come at the request of your mother. Well I don’t think your mother knew I would

fulfill her request since she didn’t think I was listening.” Her lips curved into a smirk as Amber’s

eyes narrowed in confusion. “Your mother wished that I was here to help you last night. I

figured the least I could do was visit you in a dream. Now I must be quick Amber, I don’t have

much time. So listen to me carefully.” She laid her elegantly long fingers against Amber’s cheek

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and smiled. “You must not dwell on what happened. You cannot control destiny and you cannot

reverse time. I am here to remind you that more people love you than you believe. You must

listen to this very closely now. You must see the beauty in the moments, each moment has

purpose.” She punctuated the word moment each time she spoke it.

Before Amber could ask any sort of question, her Aunt Faye vanished and she sat staring

into the brightness of her bedroom. Amber randomly thought she was going crazy before her

room vanished also, leaving her the black emptiness.

Amber awoke from the dream expecting her Aunt Faye to be hovering her over. But her

room was empty it was just as she had left it last night. The curtains were shut tight, clothes

scattered across the floor. Blankets wrapped securely around her pale slender legs. She had just

had a conversation with her dead Aunt in her dreams. How odd.

She closed her eyes tightly, throwing herself back into her bed, she wondered where that

dream came from. Could it really have been her Aunt? Or was she so tired of the real dreams that

her imagination made her a new one?

To her right the clock read five in the morning. So it was clear that she was in her own

room, but how had she gotten there? Tiffany must have brought her home. The thought made her

want to curse out loud because if Tiffany brought her home, then her father unfailingly knew she

had been drunk.

After detangling her legs from her blankets, Amber made her way downstairs quietly.

She was pleasantly surprised that her hangover wasn’t that bad. She could deal with a dull

headache. Truthfully, she was getting used to the feeling. Most days since the incident, she had

had some sort of headache.

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Once in the kitchen she filled a bowl with cereal. As she ate her cereal, she moved to

stand in front of the sliding glass door, staring up at the night sky. The sky was still dark with a

few stars remaining, twinkling in arrogance. The brightest star in the sky twinkled with extra

enthusiasm, Amber narrowed her eyes at the star. Looking at the stars had been one of her

favorite things to do when she was younger. Stars held a certain fascination for Amber.

Something about the way they always shone, even in your darkest moments. They were always

there to lead you back to the right… or to remind you of how greatly you’d been hurt. But for

now, they only seemed to be mocking her in their twinkling. Mocking her for watching the

atrocity of the other night, looking at them wasn’t the quiet the same since then.

Not after… She promised herself she wouldn’t think about that today. The dream she

had, seemed to hang onto the edge of her mind, she focused intently on remembering what her

Aunt Faye had said. Making more noise than she meant to, she threw her empty bowl into the

sink. The spoon clanged loudly on the side of the sink and she stood frozen in the kitchen. She

let out a sigh of relief when it stopped seconds later.

The television was a welcome distraction for Amber as she sat numbly on the large couch

in the spacious living room. She listened distantly to the weather before watching a segment on

the local cow wandering into town. Amber laughed at the cow in the video; it was mooing

helplessly while a bunch of the local boys ran after it. She wondered how badly the news needed

something to take up time during the morning news, because even the anchor had a look of thinly

veiled loathing on his face.

The stairs creaked behind her, she turned around to see her father standing at the bottom

of the stairs. Annoyance for being up so early radiated off from him and she smiled

apologetically at him. He returned it with a tight smile of his own before wondering off into the

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kitchen. In the kitchen, she could hear him fixing himself breakfast loudly. When he returned to

the living room he did just as she thought he would, he sat down beside her on the couch.

“Morning. Did I wake you?” She asked quietly. He eyed her balefully out of the corner of

his eyes before chuckling.

“Yes but it’s okay. Now I can talk to you without your mother listening. Do you know

how you got home last night?” Amber looked down at the nails on her hands, they were short

because of her nasty habit of biting them when nervous.

“No but I guess you do.” He ate some more cereal before answering.

“Tiffany brought you home and then Tiffany helped me carry you up the stairs to your

bedroom. You were drunk, again.” He emphasized his last word strongly. Amber felt her face

glow in embarrassment.

“I only had a few drinks. It was an honest mistake.”

“Yeah, and I am the queen of England.” His face screwed up at the obvious mistakes,

since he most certainly couldn’t be the queen of England. “You know what I mean.” He

clarified.

“I’m sorry I got drunk, dad. I promise it won’t happen again.” He patted her on the

shoulder comfortingly. The dream from hours ago weaved it’s way back into her head as she

tried in vain to watch the morning news. She wished that she could just have regular dreams

instead of either remembering things she tried to bury or dreaming of dead Aunt’s. Amber’s

father had left without her noticing, she must have been thinking longer than she realized.

Stretching the sleep from her body, she stood from the couch. Amber admired the beauty of the

sunrise from the front windows. The sky was turning pink with the first few glimmers of

sunshine peaking over the tree line in the distance.

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A few stray stars were still in the sky along with the moon hanging heavily in the

morning sky. Staring angrily at the stars, she wished that she could wipe them away. Ever since

that night, the stars always looked a little too smug for her tastes. Without realizing it, she stood

at the back door for a long time, staring blankly at the light fighting its way over the tops of the

trees.

Today was Sunday . Which meant another day home with nothing to do. She was hoping

that her mother would let her go into work today, if only to do the inventory. Staying home

another day was out of the question for Amber. If working were the only way to get out of the

house, she would do it. She would have to make sure she called Tiffany to apologize the night

before. The phone rang causing Amber to jump, successfully woken from her reverie.

“Hello?”

“Did I wake you?” Her best friend asked softly.

“No, I’ve been awake for a while now. Thanks for bringing me home last night.” Tiffany

sighed on the other end of the phone. Amber pictured the disapproving look on her face, marring

her flawless face with worry.

“You’re welcome. Please do not make me do it again though. Okay?” Still on the phone

with Tiffany, she wondered back to her room to get changed for the day. They chatted about

nothing important until there was a lull in the conversation. In the silence, Amber could tell that

Tiffany was debating whether to ask a question or not. Tiffany had always been in the habit of

becoming unbearably quiet before asking a difficult question. When they were kids it used to get

them in trouble. But what Amber used to find cute, she now found slightly annoying.

“Tiffany?” Amber asked exasperated. It was silent on the other end of the phone for a

few moments. Not even the sound of movement, but Amber waited patiently.

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“Ryan mentioned to Stan that you said something about a double date sometime.”

“Yeah, I was too drunk to ask you last night.” There was silence again and Amber sighed

at Tiffany’s lack of speech. “Is there something wrong with a double date?”

“It’s just; well you only broke up with Derek a few days ago.” Tiffany mumbled.

“I know better than you do when I broke up with Derek. Maybe I just want to do

something I wouldn’t usually do, okay? Maybe I want to forget about…” Amber stopped

suddenly, all the words had frozen in her throat.

“Is that what this is about Amber? You want to forget about Friday night?” Amber

opened her curtains to let the light in while trying to find an answer to the question.

“Well I don’t want to remember it. It’s bad enough that I’m having stupid nightmares

about it.”

“Do you want me to come over?” Amber was silent for a few moments wondering if that

is what she wanted. As much as she wanted alone time she knew that it was not healthy for her to

be alone yet. Being alone equaled thinking, thinking meant remembering, remembering

inevitably meant sadness.

“No, I think I’m going to try to talk my mom into letting me do some inventory at the

store. I’ll call you if I need some company.” Tiffany grudgingly gave in to Amber’s wishes.

Amber then wandered into her parent’s bedroom after getting dressed. As usual, on a Monday

morning, her parents were already dressed and her mother was sitting in front of the vanity

putting on makeup. As her father passed by her to leave, he patted her gently on the shoulder and

smiled warmly. Amber watched her father leave, returning the smile half heartedly. Moving to

stand behind her mother at the vanity, she stared at the scattered bottles of perfume. The scent of

Gardenias, yet again, filled all of her senses. Memories of her childhood washed over her,

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playing dress up with her mother, singing Elvis Presley songs while running through the house,

gardening in the back. Every memory had the same smell, Gardenias. The smell would always

remind her of her mother.

“Mom, can I talk to you?” Amber asked softly.

“Of course you can.”

“I was just wondering if I could come in today and do some inventory?” Her mother

paused in the application of her lipstick, only for a moment, before continuing.

“If you really wanted to come in I wouldn’t stop you because I know you’re probably

tired of staying home. Truth be told the shop has been a little quiet the past few days and I fear

that Denise may intentionally scare a few of the clients away.” Amber couldn’t fight her mother

on that fact, because Denise with her tattoo covered arms would often roll her sleeves up to scare

the obnoxious girls away. Amber would normally laugh but she knew that it wasn’t best for the

store. She would have to say something to Denise about it today.

“I’ll talk to her about it if you want.” Her mother smiled weakly and finished applying

her makeup. Already dressed and ready for the store Amber ran to her car excited about finally

going back to work. The car bounced along as she drove quietly to the store. She was surprised

to find Tiffany standing in front of the store.

“Hey.” Amber said softly while walking up to Tiffany. They hugged for a brief moment.

“You were pretty wasted last night.” Amber turned her head away from Tiffany’s

questioning stare.

“I guess I drank more than I realized.”

“I think you drank exactly how much you wanted to.” Amber still kept her eyes from

meeting Tiffany’s eyes.

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“Maybe you’re right.”

“I know I’m right. Don’t do this Amber, don’t drink the pain away.” Tiffany reached

forward to lay her hand on Amber’s shoulder before squeezing gently. Tears formed in Amber’s

eyes but they couldn’t fall.

“I didn’t mean to do it last night, I’m sorry I ruined the night.” Amber looked to Tiffany

when she laughed.

“Oh, Amber. You didn’t ruin the night, don’t be silly. You got yourself a date with Ryan,

Me, and Stan this Saturday night. Why don’t we have lunch today? Are you working at the store

all day?” Tiffany’s question was a normal question since they often had lunch together when

they both worked downtown.

“I’m going to do some inventory but lunch sounds nice. I’ll meet you outside Pepper’s

café at 12:30.” They hugged before separating to go about their day.

Ambers mind was racing as she opened up the store. She should have known better than

to drink in front of Tiffany. Hiding things form Tiffany wasn’t easy, the blonde was like a

private detective sometimes. Amber remembered that through school, Tiffany would always

know who she had a crush on before even she knew. For years Tiffany had let Amber believe she

was psychic. Until she found out one day in ninth grade, that Tiffany would send Stan into

Amber’s bedroom to read her diary. Needless to say, Amber stopped having a diary the same

year.

Amber went about the store turning lights on and rearranging clothes. since it was still

early in the morning, she figured it would be a while before someone came in. Her mother

arrived a few minutes after Amber had begun inventory in the back of the store.

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The front door rang to signify the presence of a customer in the store. Amber reveled in

the sound of her mothers sweet southern voice. When she was younger she used to love listening

to her mother speak, it didn’t matter what she was saying, there was just something in her

mother’s voice that made her feel right. Her mother’s southern drawl had always been a comfort

when she was scared. Just the sound of her dropping vowels made Amber smile. Absently, she

wondered if she sounded half as beautiful as her mother did.

With not much to do the first half of the dragged by. Lunch couldn’t come fast enough.

“I’m going to Pepper’s café to have lunch with Tiffany. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

Amber kissed her mother on the cheek before leaving the store. Amber shivered at the chilly

breeze that passed over her and she smiled when she saw Tiffany waiting for her outside the

café. They quickly found a table inside while pondering the menu.

“Amber I have an idea, to help you stop having the nightmares.” Tiffany’s face was

strangely devoid of emotion, something that Amber had never seen before.

“I’m listening.”

“Maybe you could see a therapist.”

“I’m not crazy!” She whispered fervently while staring angrily at Tiffany.

“No, I know you’re not. Well, you need to talk to someone. You could talk to me instead,

but ever since that night you’ve been closed off and I think that’s why you’re drinking.” Her

hand reached across the table and Amber allowed Tiffany to rest her hand atop hers.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“It might help though. You don’t have to do it today, just think about it okay. You know

that I’m here for you. I’m your best friend. I love you.” Amber stared at Tiffany’s gentle, kind

face. She wished that she could tell Tiffany everything right then, just let it all out. There had to

49
be a way to talk about it in a way to make it disappear. Amber knew she would carry that night

with her for the rest of her life. It was already a hard burden to bear, carrying it for a lifetime

would be almost unbearable.

“Thank you Tiffany. I just don’t think I’m ready yet. I’ll talk about it someday just not

now.” Amber smiled at her and patted her hand before beginning to eat her lunch. Amber was to

lost in thought to eat her lunch. Memories were filling her head, memories she didn’t want to

remember. Ever. She stared out the window of the café and watched a few cars drive by before

coming back to reality.

“I wonder why he chose to do it to me. There were so many other girls to choose from

but he chose me. I don’t understand.” Tiffany’s face froze in surprise at Amber’s sudden words.

Silence covered their table suddenly, for the first time it seemed as if Tiffany didn’t know what

to say.

“I didn’t even think that he was going to do what he did. I wandered into that field with

him for no reason. I wasn’t even thinking. I guess that’s why he chose me though because I was

so easily overpowered. I wonder if God’s punishing me for something?” Face carefully void of

emotion, she stared at across the table at Tiffany. Her best friends face was frozen in worry.

Lines were etched along the blondes forehead. Blue eyes a little brighter than usual, as if she was

fighting back tears.

“Amber…” Tiffany pleaded. Shaking her head, she pushed her plate away.

“Don’t say anything Tiffany. I was just talking out loud okay?” Amber threw some

money on the table and all but ran out the little café.

Breathing was getting more difficult the farther she walked but she eventually reached

the store. She was surprised that Tiffany hadn’t followed her but she figured her outburst had

50
shocked her. Amber ran into the back of the store past the customer that her mother was trying to

sell a purple dress to. The walls felt as if they were closing in on her quickly. She slid to the

floor once inside the back storage room. Hands shaking in fear, she fought to stop them. Bruises

stinging in remembrance of that night, a terrifying feeling of being lost came over Amber.

The door to the storage room slammed open revealing her worried mother. Running so

fast that she slid to a stop before Amber, she then fell to her knees before her.

“Amber, what’s wrong honey?” She bracketed Amber’s face in her hands while staring

into Ambers tear filled eyes. Ambers head shook along with her body , breathes coming quicker.

Her heart was beating so loudly that she could hear it in her ears. The room began to blur from

her inability to breathe. In that moment she believed she was going to die. Die. In the back

storage room of her mother’s clothing boutique, she was going to breathe her last breath. Panic

consumed every inch of her body like a blanket.

“I can’t breathe.” Amber barely choked out. Her mother stared on as Amber’s eyes rolled

into the back of her head. Arching her back in an effort to force breath into her lungs, she lifted

off the floor slightly. The last thing Amber heard before slipping into unconsciousness was her

mother begging her to open her eyes.

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Chapter 5

Help

Amber was standing in the field where it all began. There was a thin layer of mist over

the blooming flowers, making it an unearthly looking beautiful. She wandered deeper into the

field. Looking down to see what she was wearing, she was shocked to see that she was wearing

exactly what she wore that night. In a fit of laughter, she spun around to make her skirt flare

around her. When she stopped she noticed the sun was just beginning to rise. Colors filled the

quickly lightening sky. The sun was breaking through the trees with an intensity she had never

seen before.

Grass crunched behind her, someone was with her in the field. She turned toward the

sound but it wasn’t who she had anticipated. Walking towards her with a warm smile on his face

was Ryan. Without a word passed between them, he grabbed Amber and began to kiss her. It

wasn’t any regular kiss either, granted she had only kissed two boys in her life. Brent Danner in

5th grade and then her long-term boyfriend Derek but they had never kissed like this. This kiss

brought something to life in her heart while killing another piece of her. Something in his soft

lips, as they moved against hers, made her wish that the moment would never end. Kissing Ryan

under the star strewn sky, was something she realized she could do forever. Nevertheless, he

pulled away with a grin on his face. Each side of his perfect lips were lifted in his teasing grin.

Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of those lips back on hers. For always.

“Wake up Amber.”

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Amber woke up slowly. Dream still fresh in her mind, she couldn’t help but smile at the

memory of it. But she suddenly realized she wasn’t supposed to be dreaming. It was the middle

of the day, she should be working in the store. Opening her eyes slowly, she recognized the type

of room she was in immediately. A hospital room. Why was she in a hospital room?

Taking a deep breath hurt as her chest ached. Her fathers hand was gripping hers so

tightly that her hand was asleep in his grasp. When she turned her head in his direction, she

noticed the awkward position that he was laying in. Half on the bed and half on the chair. The

hair that she had inherited stood out in every direction. An eerie glow was cast in the room by the

muted television.

“Dad?” Amber croaked, the sound of her voice shocked her. The sound of her voice

woke him instantly.

“Amber, you’re awake! We were so worried when you didn’t wake up. Are you okay?

Do you need me to get the nurse?” He questioned her out of concern.

“No, I don’t need the nurse yet. Why am I in the hospital?” Amber shook her head in

confusion. All that she remembered was being in the café with Tiffany, then returning to the

store.

“You had a panic attack at the store. You passed out from hyperventilating; your mother

brought you to the hospital when she couldn’t wake you.” Squeezing her fathers hand, she

suddenly remembered the panic attack. The door to the hospital room opened revealing Amber’s

mother frozen in the light of the hallway looking as if she thought she was dreaming.

“You’re awake?” Smiling she ran to the bed, hugging Amber warmly. She kissed Amber

on the forehead before running her fingers through Amber’s knotted hair.

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“Why am I getting the feeling you guys thought I wasn’t ever going to wake up?” Amber

laughed but her laughter turned to a groan from the dull ache in her chest.

“The doctor said you were just going to sleep the trauma of the panic attack off but we

were afraid you were lost. You loved to dream when you were younger you know. We used to

catch you napping in the living room trying to dream about Disney land or something.” The two

shared a secretive smile at a distant memory that Amber couldn’t remember.

“Well I’m awake now and hopefully not dreaming. If I was dreaming I wouldn’t be

laying in this itchy hospital gown.” Her parents laughed at Amber’s nonchalance. Amber wanted

nothing more than to be out of the hospital. She hated hospitals. They smelled like death and old

people. Gross.

After seeing the doctor, being deemed fit to leave, getting dressed, finally they were on

their way home. Her parents wore identical smiles during their quiet drive home.

“Am I missing something here?” Amber asked out of annoyance.

“No.” They said simultaneously. Amber narrowed her eyes at them both before turning to

stare out the window. When they pulled to a stop in front of the house Amber jumped out in a

hurry to get inside. The only thing worse than feeling lost to Amber was the feeling of missing

something. Her parent’s faces and demeanor scared her into believing that she wasn’t catching

on to something. Whether it is vitally important or trivial, she was still missing something.

Slamming her bedroom door shut behind her, she threw herself onto her bed. Amber couldn’t

help but think about the dream she had while in the hospital, it was so unusual for her to dream

of someone she had just met.

“Maybe my mind’s trying to tell me something.” Amber whispered a loud to herself.

Breathing deeply still hurt and she laid a hand on her chest to make the pain go away. Today had

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not been her first panic attack but the last time she had one was back in high school, when she

had failed a midterm. Compared to the reason for today’s panic attack, the one in high school

just seemed down right silly.

Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the dream she had at the hospital. Dreaming

about Ryan was better than dreaming about the other boy. Her chest ached as she remembered

that night. Push, shove, grind, grunt, grab.

The images tore through her mind rapidly with a speed of their own. Focusing on

breathing slowly was all that she could do. If she didn’t she knew that another panic attack would

be on the horizon. Another trip to the hospital hours within the first panic attack would not be

pleasant. Minutes went by as Amber carefully controlled her breathing. When she felt safe that

the attack wasn’t going to happen she rolled over on the bed to reach for her cell phone. It

blinked in the darkness, alerting Amber that she had two messages waiting. Amber knew all too

well who left them both. Dialing her voicemail number, she lay still on her bed in the dark.

“First message, Amber I wish you would have stayed and let me talk to you. You didn’t

have to leave like that. Please call me tonight, when you get off work.” That would be before she

knew about the panic attack, Amber assumed.

“Second message, you haven’t had a panic attack since high school. I wish I could have

been there. I won’t ask you to talk about it again, I’m sorry. Call me when you get home from

the hospital or whenever you want to. I love you.” Amber knew the tone to Tiffany’s voice well.

Tiffany had probably been sulking around all day thinking it was her fault that Amber had a

panic attack. Dialing Tiffany’s number, she sighed out of frustration with the way the day had

turned out.

“Hello?” Tiffany answered.

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“Hi.”

“Hey, are you home from the hospital?” Tiffany asked breathlessly. Amber sat up in the

bed to wrap her arms tightly around her legs.

“Yeah, I can’t believe I had to go to the hospital. I’m too old to still have panic attacks.”

The other end of the phone was silent for a moment. Then Amber heard Tiffany let out a

loud sigh. “No you’re not Amber. It’s a normal reaction for some people, especially after they’ve

gone through something like you have.”

“I guess.” Amber wanted to avoid the looming conversation.

“Did the doctors give you any good drugs?”

“Hah, I wish. They just said to take it easy. My mom probably won’t let me near the store

for a while though.”

“Yeah, you’re moms always been overprotective. She called me because she thought I’d

said something to induce your panic attack.” Amber grunted and leaned over to turn her bedside

lamp on.

“She thinks if I’m locked up in the house that I’ll forget about what happened.”

“That is the kind of logic your mother would use.”

“How was work?” Tiffany was silent for a moment on the other end of the line before

answering.

“I kind of took the rest of the day off after you left. I was worried so I just came home

and sat around waiting for your call.” Amber froze with a piece of gum halfway to her lips.

“You shouldn’t have done that Tiffany. I was fine, well as fine as I could be.”

“I know but I couldn’t think properly.” A feeling of guilt washed over Amber.

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“Oh. Are we still going out as a group Saturday?” Amber couldn’t hide the curiosity in

her voice. Tiffany giggled.

“Yes, as far as I know.” Amber smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. After the dream, she

had in the hospital she really wanted to spend some time with Ryan, even if she had just broken

up with her boyfriend.

“I’ve been having the weirdest dreams lately.” Amber got up to go to her computer desk.

She looked around for a piece of paper, when she found one she scribbled down the dream she

had about her Aunt Faye.

“Really, what about?” Tiffany actually sounded interested in the change of topic.

“Well this morning I had a dream that my dead Aunt Faye came to talk to me. Then at the

hospital I had a dream about Ryan. I prefer the dream about Ryan over Aunt Faye any day.”

“Did you have a dirty dream?” Amber rolled her eyes because only Tiffany would

assume a dream about a boy must be dirty.

“Not exactly, he found me in the field by the Henderson house and gave me the best kiss.

Even though it was a dream it felt so real.” Amber let her sentence hang and she heard Tiffany

sigh aloud. Amber’s stomach growled so she wandered downstairs while still on the phone with

Tiffany.

“I love those kinds of dreams. The kind that are so amazing that they feel real, but then

you wake up thinking it actually happened. Just to remember, it was a dream.” Tiffany’s voice

was wistful almost as if she was remembering a past dream. Amber held her cell phone to her ear

while rummaging around the kitchen looking for something to eat.

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“Well that’s not the dream I need help understanding. I do not understand why I would

have a dream about my Aunt Faye. It was so strange, Tiffany.” Amber was in the middle of

filling a bowl of cereal with Fruit Loops when Tiffany answered.

“Maybe you should tell your mother about the dream. You never know, it might help

you.” The spoon clanged heavily to the floor when Amber heard Tiffany’s hypothesis. Tiffany’s

introspective answer shocked her.

“Maybe you’re right.”

“I’m always right.” Now the regular Tiffany was back. Amber crunched on her cereal

while listening to Tiffany talk about the new CD Stan had just bought. Apparently, it was heavy

metal minus the words and it was really getting on her nerves. Amber listened for a few moments

until Tiffany had to go. Turning around she saw her father coming in from the sliding glass door.

Covered in dirt, he started to enter the living room. Amber shook her head when he forgot to

remove his shoes.

“I’d stop and take your shoes off if I were you. Mom will kill you if you track dirt

through the house.” Amber’s father was comedic in the way he froze before proceeding to

remove his shoes.

“Thanks, kiddo. I forgot.” Listening to him disappear up the stairs, Amber turned towards

the television. The local news was on and Amber settled in for the normal boring

announcements. Everything was normal until a composite sketch popped up that she recognized

all to well.

“Local police are asking everyone to be on the lookout for this young man. He raped a

young woman last Friday and left her for dead by the Henderson Plantation.” Amber’s mouth

hung open as the female anchor went on with the news.

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“Hey honey, are you okay?” Amber’s mother asked before plopping down beside her on

the sofa. Her mother reached over to squeeze Amber’s arm, while Amber stared at the television.

“They had his picture on the T.V.”

“Who’s picture?” She really was clueless sometimes, Amber thought.

“His picture.” She muttered. They turned to look at each other after Amber set her bowl

on the coffee table.

“Oh, I must have forgotten to tell you. The police called the other day and said they

would be releasing the sketch to the media. Sorry.” Her mother apologized with furrowed

eyebrows. Amber couldn’t stay mad at her mother when she was so genuinely sorry.

“Well, maybe they’ll find him then. Even though I doubt they will because luck never

seems to turn my way.” The clock chimed to signify seven o’clock and the news finished. Both

were silent for a moment before Amber got up. Once she placed the bowl in the sink, she saw

lights coming down the driveway and headed to the front door.

“Someone’s here. Are you and dad expecting anyone?” Amber asked curiously.

“No, I don’t know who it could be.” Amber’s mother answered softly from the family

room. Without looking towards her mother, she made her way to the front door without

hesitation. Just as the doorbell rang, she opened the door to find Tiffany standing there. Tiffany

smiled angelically and held up a DVD case.

“I thought we could watch Casablanca.” Amber smiled as she held the door open Tiffany

to enter.

“Hey, mom.” Tiffany skipped over to give Amber’s mother a hug before chatting

pleasantly for a moment. After chatting with her mother for a while Amber and Tiffany made

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their way to Amber’s room to watch the movie. Amber lay on her bed as Tiffany loaded the

DVD into the player.

“What brought this on? We haven’t done this weeks.”

“That’s what brought it on. Just because we graduated doesn’t mean we can’t keep our

routines.” Tiffany jumped on the bed beside Amber, they remained silent through the previews.

At least now Amber had distraction from falling asleep and dreaming more strange dreams.

Amber quickly got lost in the decadence of her favorite movie, as she often did. Halfway through

the movie she felt Tiffany staring at her.

“Have you talked to Derek?” She asked in the dark.

“I saw him the day after, you know. He asked me to go to Nashville with him.” Amber

heard Tiffany grunt at the very idea of the thought.

“And what would you do there? Sit at home and clean all day?”

“That’s exactly what I said to him.” Tiffany let the conversation die as the movie

engrossed them completely.

“I wonder if that’s how real true love stories end. Maybe true love means sacrifice.”

Amber wondered aloud.

“Or maybe sacrifice just leads to true love.” Both girls turned on their sides to look at

each other.

“I don’t think I have experienced true love yet. I mean don’t get me wrong, I loved

Derek. It’s just, well, I can live without him. I don’t think that’s true love.” Tiffany patted

Amber’s head affectionately, and Amber felt fleetingly like a dog.

“I knew you and Derek wouldn’t stay together. But I’m your best friend, I’m there

through it all. Buds over studs.”

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“Buds over studs?” Amber asked through peels of laughter.

“What’s wrong with buds over studs. I just invented it.”

“Good thinking on your feet there!” She teased the blonde.

“At least I can make you laugh. When you need me, I’m here. You know that, right?”

Tiffany asked, all joking aside. Her eyes pleaded with Amber to recognize the truth. That they

would always be best friends, even when things got hard. Amber didn’t have it in her heart to tell

Tiffany that sometimes, people grow apart. Because well she couldn’t imagine life without

Tiffany, she was the closest she had to a sister. It was the same for Tiffany, she knew that.

“I know. Thank you.” Amber said with a smile in Tiffany’s direction.

“Well I’m going to go home. It’s been a long day. Call me in the morning?” Tiffany

asked as she rolled gracefully off the bed. Amber smiled as the blonde started to leave the room.

“I’ll call you when I wake up. Tiffany?” Tiffany paused halfway out the door and looked

back.

“Yes?” Tiffany asked quietly.

“Thank you, really. I love you.” Amber smiled when Tiffany looked unsettled.

“You too.” It was always hard for Tiffany to say the sentiment back but they were best

friends, so Amber understood. Tiffany was the closest thing she would ever have to a sister.

Thought Tiffany had Stan, she didn’t have a sister either, so it had been an easy fit for them both.

Their lives had kind of just lined up that way, adoptive sisters in ways. But as she watched the

blonde leave she felt awfully alone.

Alone with her thoughts, she stared at the ceiling for a few moments. The television was

glowing blue, curtains swaying in the breeze, and Amber lying on the bed trying not to think

about that night. But she couldn’t help it, her thoughts drifted to that fateful not but they also

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drifted to her newfound crush, Ryan. She had only just met him, but well she felt silly for

thinking this, but it felt almost as if God had delivered him. Maybe for once in her life she had

been dealt the lucky card. She knew one thing for sure, if the opportunity arose, she wasn’t going

to pass it up. The opportunity to get closer to Ryan… that was something she could live with.

Downstairs the grandfather clock chimed ten o’clock. Rolling off her bed, Amber walked

over to the window. The curtain fabric was heavy in her hands as she threw the curtain aside to

reveal the night sky. Not one cloud was in the sky to hinder the spectacular performance the stars

were putting on.

Would she ever be able to look at the stars the same again? Before that night, she had

loved staring at the stars without purpose, but now each time she saw a star she thought of

nothing but the pain of that night. There was such power in their celestial beauty, but also power

in the fact they held a sort of key to her pain. Closing her eyes at the sight of a shooting star,

Amber leaned her head heavily against the chilly window.

Would that shooting star land where every other shooting star fell? Was there a star

graveyard at the end of the earth? If there was, she wondered if a piece of her was lost among the

wreckage of the fallen stars. Would that piece of her return or would the stars haunt her forever?

She wanted to be able to look at the stars freely again without seeing his face above her.

She wanted to be able to talk about her emotions without having panic attacks. Most of all she

wanted to kiss Ryan in real life and more than anything she wished, that one wish scared her the

most. As she lay down in bed that night, curled up among her blankets, she fell asleep to the

thought of kissing Ryan in the field. The field that stole away a piece of her but at the same time

gave something back.

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When Amber whimpered she knew she would pay for the sound, so she readied herself

for the pain of her punishment. The strength of the slap forced her to bite her lip, which caused

blood to pour into her mouth. She felt sick at the taste of her own blood but the thought vanished

when he pushed in roughly. How could no one hear them and how could no one notice she was

missing from the party? Vaguely Amber wondered if she was not worth missing, while at the

same time begging God to let the pain end. When this boy finally finished with her maybe he

would take pity on her and kill her. Her wrist ached from the strength of his grip, and she tried

to pull away in vain. Laughing at her, he bit down on her neck before making a particularly hard

thrust. Grunting, he covered her mouth when she tried to scream at the harsh pain he had

caused in her.

Amber woke up again, covered in sweat, after her latest nightmare. She wiped her

forehead with the back of her hand while looking at the time on the clock beside her bed. When

she saw it was only four in the morning, she cursed under her breath.

After a half an hour of trying to go back to sleep, she gave up on sleep and made her way

down stairs. The stairs creaked as she made her way down them in the dark. To her surprise she

noticed that the television was on and the kitchen light was on. Her mother was sitting in the

living room reading a book quietly when Amber walked up behind her.

“Mom, why are you awake so early?” she asked.

“Hi, sweetheart; I had a dream and then couldn’t go back to sleep. You?” Her mother

patted the spot beside her on the couch. Amber sat down before answering her question.

“The same thing, have they shown the sketch again?” Amber asked.

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“They did at the beginning of the five o’clock news.” They sat in silence as her mother

returned to the book in her lap. At one point her mother had stopped reading to turn and look

towards Amber. She took Amber’s hand in hers before asking, “Why did you have the panic

attack?”

“I don’t know.” She mumbled, it didn’t pass with her mother.

“Yes, you do.” The green eyes, exactly like hers, stared into their duplicates.

“I was at the lunch with Tiffany, she asked me about that night. I started talking about it

and the next thing I knew I was having a panic attack.” Amber’s voice was low when she

answered.

“Amber, I think you need to talk about it with someone. I’m not saying you should talk

about it with me or even Tiffany. I think you should see a therapist.” Her mother squeezed

Amber’s hand when she didn’t answer.

“I don’t think I need to, Mom. I’m going to try and talk about it with Tiffany but I want

to do it slowly. It just happened; you can’t expect me to be over it already.” Amber said bitterly.

“I’m just worried about you.”

“I know but I’m going to be okay. I’m strong, you know that.”

“Yes, I do know that.” Leaning over the space between them, she kissed Amber’s

forehead sweetly. Both were silent for a few moments, then Amber decided to ask her mother

about her Aunt Faye.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course you can.” Her mother answered with lifting her attention from the book.

“Was Aunt Faye’s accident really an accident?” Amber watched her mother’s face

contort in anger. Her mother let go of Amber’s hand and patted her on the arm.

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“Yes, are you done asking questions now?” The tone her mother used left no room for

discussion, their conversation was over. Maybe she would have more luck asking her dad about

it, Amber thought. Amber got up to grab some breakfast and when she came back, her mother

was gone. Sighing, Amber sat down to eat breakfast and watch the rest of the morning news.

Before Amber knew it, Saturday had rolled around and she was getting dressed in her

bedroom. It had been a long time since Amber had been so nervous about a group date. Well it

wasn’t really a group date since Tiffany and Stan were brother and sister, but there had always

been something safe about their company to Amber. She stood in front of the mirror staring at

her reflection, the black leggings hugged her thin legs tightly and the green dress flowed lightly

over her body. Her wavy black hair laid softly on her shoulders, and her eyes stood out against

her pale skin. Amber hadn’t felt pretty since graduation but now as she looked at herself in the

mirror, she felt more than pretty, she felt beautiful. Thankfully Amber had the right color

foundation to cover the lingering bruises on her neck.

“I’m going out, don’t wait up.” Amber said to her parents as she left the house. It was

finally beginning to warm up again after the brief cold spell. Amber cherished the weather by

riding with the windows down. The radio played softly in the background as Amber drove to the

movie theater. More nervous than she had been in a long time, Amber parked and walked to the

front of the theater. When she saw Tiffany and Stan, she made her way over to them.

“Hey!” Tiffany and Amber shouted at the same time before hugging. Amber hugged Stan

before looking around for Ryan, and Tiffany must have seen her looking because she commented

on Amber’s behavior.

“He’s buying the tickets.”

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“Oh.” Amber said quietly.

Her face turned red when Stan gave her an ‘I know you like him’ look. Tiffany elbowed

him in the side when she saw the look on his face. Amber laughed at his facial expression; he

looked like a child that had just been told Santa Claus didn’t exist. When Ryan joined their

group, Amber saw a smile tug at his lips at the sight of her.

“Hi.” He said shyly.

“Hello.” Amber answered with a smile on her face.

“Well, since that’s over and done with how about we go grab our seats.” Stan said with a

grin. Amber flushed and followed them into the theater. When she thought Ryan wasn’t looking,

Amber would sneak glances his direction. Tiffany noticed at some point, she laughed loud

enough for only Amber to hear. The previews were just beginning inside the theater, the only

light to help them find their seats was that of the lights on the ground.

Amber realized that she didn’t even know what movie they were seeing because she

hadn’t bothered to ask. Finding their way to seats in the dark, they sat in the middle of the theater

with Amber happily sitting between Ryan and Tiffany.

Amber sat back in her chair, staring at the screen hoping to get a clue of what movie they

were seeing. When she couldn’t figure it out she leaned over towards Tiffany and asked, “What

movie are we seeing?” Tiffany giggled a little too loudly, which caused both of the boys to look

at her.

“Dirty Dancing.”

“I hate you.” Amber whispered so that only Tiffany could hear.

“Shut up and watch the movie.” The blonde said through a mouth full of popcorn.

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After staring at Tiffany for longer than was need, she leaned back to enjoy the movie,

since it was one of her favorites. She suspected that Amber had chosen the movie, to set a

romantic mood but she couldn’t be irritated with her. Tiffany only wanted to help after all.

Even though it was one of her favorite movie’s it was hard for her to concentrate.

Something about Ryan’s presence made her feel itchy in her own skin, but it wasn’t an wholly

unpleasant feeling. It was that feeling of instant chemistry, the kind of feeling where you feel you

have known the person for years and you’re so comfortable with them that it frightens you. Well

that’s how Amber felt and she knew it was slightly irrational, because she had only known him

for a week. Amber stared at the movie screen and felt safe in the story line, if only life was like

the movies Amber thought to herself.

As they left the movie theater, Tiffany pulled Amber behind the boys so that they were

slightly out of ear shot.

“Are you okay?” Tiffany asked worried. Amber realized she must have been quieter than

she thought. With a smile in Tiffany’s direction, she nodded.

“I’m fine, great actually.” She heard Tiffany release a sigh of relief before the blonde

linked their arms together. They walked as a group to the diner across the street but before they

could enter, Stan and Tiffany paused outside the door. Amber’s eyes narrowed as she realized

what the two were up to.

“Sorry guys, but we have to go. Family stuff, you know?” Stan said with a smile. Stan

and Ryan shook hands while Tiffany avoided Amber’s glare. Tiffany tried to keep the smile off

her face as she hugged Amber goodbye.

“You’re welcome.” She whispered smugly in Amber’s ear.

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Once they walked away, Ryan shrugged in Amber’s direction. He then proceeded to open

the door for Amber, she walked into the diner slowly. They waited to be seated in a comfortable

silence. The diner was quiet for a Saturday night, with only four out of the twenty booths filled.

Amber slid into the booth and Ryan slid in opposite her while taking the menu’s from the

hostess. Amber stared at the menu, absently wondering what the two of them could possibly talk

about.

“I wonder why Tiffany and Stan had to leave early?” Ryan asked without looking up

from his menu. Amber’s face flushed scarlet, she kept her head down pretending to look at the

menu. He didn’t look stupid, he could probably see right through Tiffany and Stan.

“Oh, I don’t know. There’s always something going on with their family.” Ryan nodded

before ordering a water from the waitress, while Amber ordered the same. It was awkward for a

few minutes until Ryan laughed and leaned back in the booth.

“I think I know why they left now.” He stated matter-of-factly.

“You do?” Amber asked while leaning forward on the table with her elbows. She laid her

chin in her left hand, before smiling at him gently. Ryan followed Amber and his face was less

that a foot from hers, causing her to tremble slightly from his proximity.

“I think they left so that we could be alone.” He whispered accusingly.

“I think you’re right.” They shared a smile over their new found revelation.

“I can’t say I’m mad at them though. Now I can get to know you better.” His big blue

eyes sparkled across the table making her flush with warmth. It wasn’t a flush from

embarrassment, it was more out of his admittance of wanting to spend time with her alone.

“I’m not mad at them either.” Amber said with a smirk. A couple walked in the door and

Amber watched as they were seated. They sat side by side in the booth, arms wrapped around

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each other, very obviously in love. Amber wished that she could experience that some day,

Derek had never liked public displays of affection. Kissing was a private thing, he used to tell

Amber when she asked to kiss in public. The waitress came by with their drinks, and both

ordered their dinner.

“Had you seen Dirty Dancing before tonight?” Amber questioned.

“No, it was my first time tonight. Had you?” He asked before taking a bite of his

sandwich. Amber looked wistfully at the couple before answering Ryan.

“I’ve seen it many times, it’s one of my favorite movies. I’m assuming Amber picked it.”

“She did pick it. How long have you two been friends?” Amber watched as his dark

brown hair fell into his eyes before he ran a hand through it to return it to its place.

“She’s been my best friend since elementary school. She’s just kind of stuck, I can’t get

away from her.” Ryan laughed warmly, and it made Amber shiver.

“Those are the best kinds of friends. The one’s that get stuck in your life.” He said

sarcastically. Amber smiled before biting into a French fry. There was a quiet comfort in their

closeness and Amber couldn’t help but smile.

“How did you meet Stan? He doesn’t have many friends.” Ryan laughed at Amber’s

question while taking a drink of his water, causing him to snort slightly. Amber laughed

hysterically and moments passed before Ryan was able to answer. When he finally answered, his

face was still red from embarrassment.

“We actually met through mutual friends. We were introduced after a set I did down at

the Cherry Street. He’s cool, I don’t understand why his sister gives him such a hard time.”

“They’re brother and sister, that’s why.” Amber stated easily.

“Do you have a brother or sister?” He asked out of genuine curiosity.

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“No, all I have is Tiffany and Stan.” He must of heard what he wanted because he leaned

forward further, making their faces only inches apart. Amber was afraid to move, in case he was

able to notice her sudden inability to breathe.

“Not all brothers and sisters are by blood. Trust me, blood relatives aren’t as great as

they’re cracked up to be.” Their eyes met at the end of his sentence, Amber froze. The intensity

between them was overwhelming, Amber swore she could feel their connection crackling with

electricity. Something about the boy made Amber feel breathless with excitement.

“Do you have brothers and sisters?”

“I have one brother and two sisters. All of them live in Washington and I haven’t spoken

to any of them in almost seven years.” Amber watched as his eyes lost their sparkle and a part of

her, deep inside, ached to put the sparkle back where it belonged.

Smiling warmly, Amber leaned in closer and whispered, “Blood relatives aren’t that great

anyways. All a person needs are good friends and good food.” She bit into a french-fry with a

smile to emphasize her point.

Without knowing it, they sat there until midnight just talking and learning about each

other. When both realized the time they stepped out into the chilly air and walked towards

Amber’s car across the street.

“I had fun tonight.” Ryan said with a smirk. Amber leaned against her car door in the

dark, Ryan copied her stance.

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“I had fun too. I think that we should do it again, as soon as possible.” Ryan laughed

before turning towards Amber, waiting for her to do the same. They stood there for a few

moments, staring at each other under the dim glow of the moon and blinking movie theater sign.

Ryan smiled giving Amber the sudden fear that he was going to kiss her. Frozen under

his stare, when he leaned in all she could do was close her eyes. But he didn’t kiss her.

Enclosed in his arms in a tight hug, she wasn’t disappointed with the lack of kissing, she

felt content. Before he pulled away he whispered in her ear, “Call me.”

With one last smile he was gone, around the corner and out of sight. Amber fell

breathlessly against her car, closing her eyes she leaned her head heavily against the roof of the

car. When she opened her eyes, she was met with the stars twinkling brightly in the sky.

Narrowing her eyes at the stars, she opened the car door, started the engine and began her drive

home.

The stars were still twinkling up in sky when Amber arrived home. She pointedly

avoided looking to the sky because the night wasn’t going to be ruined with thoughts of him.

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Chapter 6

Identity

She was in the field again, but this time she knew that she was dreaming. She knew she

was dreaming because she was not alone. Ryan was standing beside her holding her hand,

staring up at the sky with her. The sky twinkled with the light of the stars, she was lost in the

perfection of the moment. When she looked down to their joined hands, a chill ran through her

body. She turned towards him and he turned towards her at the same moment. Her breath

hitched in her chest as he kissed her for the second time.

This time was different because she knew it was a dream, she cherished it more. The

gentle movement of his lips on hers, treating her like she was the most fragile thing he had ever

kissed. She felt his hands on her cheeks and surrendered to him in that moment, in that dream.

It was no longer night time, but instead it was dawn with the light breaking over the

trees. The field was empty except for them. Still kissing in the middle of the field, she blinked,

and realized it was no longer Ryan. It was him.

Covered in a cold sweat, Amber woke screaming in her bed. Groaning in anger, she

threw herself back onto the bed. Each dream she had was trying to tell her something but she

didn’t know what it was. The dream she just woke from was amazing, until the very end. Afraid

to think to deeply into its meaning, she tried to forget about the dream by staring at the ceiling.

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t forget the dreams. She found that she was either

dreaming of dead aunt’s, the rape, or Ryan. She quite liked the dreams about Ryan but the other

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two perplexed her. She couldn’t decipher their meaning. Amber hated not knowing what

something meant, she really truly hated it.

“Amber are you alright?” Amber startled at the voice of her mother, just now noticing the

stream of light entering her room.

“Yes, sorry I woke you up Mom.” She said while still lying in bed.

“Don’t say sorry for dreaming. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really.” Stated Amber, making it clear that it wasn’t a subject open for discussion.

Thankfully her mother caught her tone, standing only a few more seconds before whispering one

last thing to Amber.

“Okay, try and go back to sleep then.”

“Good night Mom.” Amber watched the light disappear as her mother closed the door.

Knowing full well that she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, Amber rolling angrily out of the

bed. Across the room sat her computer just waiting to be turned on. Next to her computer the

clock read three in the morning, slowly coming to life her computer filled the room with an eerie

glow. There wasn’t much to do on the computer besides check email, so Amber shut the screen

off and made her way towards her stereo. Thoughts of opening the blinds vanished when she

reminded herself the stars would still be out.

The stereo filled the room with music which caused Amber to smile. It didn’t matter what

kind of music it was, just as long as some sort of noise filled her room. So for four hours Amber

lay on her bed listening to the music coming for her stereo, until finally getting up and dressing

for the day.

Her father was off to work by the time she made it downstairs but her mother was still at

the dining room table. She was eating cereal and reading the paper, Amber sat down beside her.

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“Can I come into work today?”

“I don’t see why not.” A frown was firmly fixed on her mothers face as she spoke.

“I won’t have a panic attack, I promise.” Amber joked lightly but regretted it when her

mothers worried eyes met hers. “I was only joking.”

“I know you were, but I’ve never found your sense of humor funny. Your too much like

your father in that way, you know.” Amber smiled at her mothers warm demeanor.

“I’ll be in right after you.” Smiling Amber watched her mother leave before grabbing

some cereal for herself. She ate silently, staring out the window at the green acres behind their

home. She saw where the green hills turned to forest and she wished to be a little girl again.

When she was younger, Tiffany and her would run to where the forest and hills met and play all

sorts of games. What she wouldn’t give to be that age again without any fears, Amber thought.

When she arrived at work ten minutes later she found Debbie at the desk. A smile from

Debbie let her know that her return to work was welcome.

“Finally back to work earn your pay, are you?” Debbie said with her southern twang.

Amber shook her head before stowing her purse beneath the register.

“I’ve always earned my pay because I live with the boss at home. You don’t.” Debbie

laughed and nodded. Her tattoos were easily seen under her thin sweater, and Amber spotted

fresh ink on her neck just below her ear.

“New tattoo?” Amber asked while pointing at the subject of her question.

“I got it three days ago.” Amber inspected the fresh tattoo in the shape of a star. Nothing

extravagant, it was unlike the rest of her tattoos because of its simplicity. The other tattoos were

large, colorful, and usually strange.

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“Why just the black outline of a star?” Stars weren’t that great to Amber.

“It reminds me of how beautiful stars are. Even when you take them for granted.” Debbie

had leaned in and patted Amber’s arm. Amber stared at her in shock until a customer came in a

moment later. Debbie smiled and ran to help Mrs. Gain’s find a gift for her daughters thirteenth

birthday. While Debbie was doing that the door jingled to alert Amber of another customer and

she smiled at first. Then she realized it was the police officer that had questioned her at the

hospital.

“Hello.” Amber tried to smile, but the officer only nodded.

“Do you remember my name?”

“No, sorry but I don’t.” Amber said without looking at his face.

“It’s officer Shelton. Is your mother here by chance?” Either by coincidence or not her

mother appeared from the back at that moment. Smiling she shook the officers hand before

turning towards Amber.

“I’m Amber’s mother. Is there something we can help you with?” The officer looked

between Amber and her mother before speaking.

“I need Amber to come down to the station and identify the man that raped her. We think

we arrested him yesterday for driving under the influence.” Amber’s hands shook when she

heard that she would have to look at him again. Feeling faint, she grabbed the edge of the counter

for strength.

“When would you like us to come by?” Her mother asked coldly, aware of Amber’s

reaction to the man’s words.

“As soon as you’re free. That way we can book him on the rape charges and make sure

he won’t be out of the jail soon.” He smiled at Amber but she didn’t notice. She couldn’t hear

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anything they were saying because she was too afraid. A part of her had known that this would

happen but she hadn’t expected it so soon. The fear of seeing his face again almost sent her into

another panic attack, but her mother’s voice tore her from her reverie.

“Amber were going to the station now, okay?”

Amber nodded and followed her mother out of the store and into her car. The whole ten

minute ride to the station was silent as Amber stared blankly out the car window. Slamming the

car door behind her, she followed her mother into the station. The police station was basically

empty. Not many crimes were committed in Cedar Creek on a daily basis. It wouldn’t matter if it

was busy or not though, since Amber was now walking on autopilot, being pulled along by the

hand gripping hers. Nearly tripping a few times, she followed her mother’s gentle pull on her

hand and closed her eyes when she was finally standing before the see through mirror.

“Can he see me?” She asked the officer with eyes still closed.

“Not at all. It’s a one way mirror, all he can see is his miserable reflection.” Amber

looked around at the little room she stood in. It was barely big enough for the three of them, but

some how two other officers found a way to squeeze in at the other side of the room.

Amber hadn’t found the courage to look towards the glass yet.

“You need to look at them Amber and then tell me the number of the man you

recognize.” Officer Shelton turned her towards the glass and Amber kept her eyes on the floor a

few moments longer. When she finally raised her eyes to the six men standing on the other side

of the glass, she nearly choked. There he stood, under the dark light, holding the number four in

front of his chest. Pointing her finger, she pressed it to the glass and found her voice.

“Number four.” She choked. Pressure was applied to the small of her back by her

mother, snapping her back into the moment.

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“Are you sure?” Officer Shelton asked gently, while looking intently at Amber.

“I’m very sure.” Amber asserted.

“We’ll book him and press charges. The D.A. will be in touch when you need to testify.”

After her mother and the officer shook hands, she found herself being dragged by the arm out of

the station.

Amber felt like she was on autopilot, like she didn’t have control over her mind or body.

Every step she took was difficult, her body felt like it was weighted down with lead. The crisp

summer air hit her like a brick, and suddenly she was in control of her body again.

“Do you want to go back to the store or would you like me to take you home?” Her

mother’s tone was careful, as if she was afraid that any certain word would snap Amber’s ability

to breathe.

“I want to go to the store.” They were silent the rest of the way to the store. Amber found

Debbie reading at the counter, since no more customers had been in.

“Everything okay?” Debbie asked while surveying Amber with her eyes.

“Everything is perfect.” Amber said through gritted teeth. The air in the store crackled

with electricity as Amber sat down heavily behind the counter. Debbie turned towards Amber

when she began to drum her fingers rapidly against the counter.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Ambers fingers froze and then gripped the edge of the

counter.

“No.” Amber said flatly but moments later she said, “Maybe.”

Debbie folded the corner of the page she was reading and closed the book. Turning

towards Amber she simply waved her hand in a sign to have Amber continue.

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“I had to go to the police station and identify someone.” It came out lower and angrier

than Amber had intended. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, waiting for Debbie’s

reaction.

“Oh. Was he there?” Amber saw, more than heard, Debbie’s concern. It was etched

across the tattooed woman’s face.

“Yes.” The silence after Amber spoke made her uncomfortable. Finally Debbie

responded to Amber’s answer.

“At least it won’t happen to another girl anytime soon.” Amber was silent for a moment

as she contemplated Debbie’s words.

“But it will happen again, Debbie. It happens everyday, what’s the point of me going

through all this if I’m not making a difference.” Debbie took Amber’s hand in hers tightly.

“It will make a difference. When one person stands up, others follow. Only one person

needs to be brave enough to start the revolution.” When she finished speaking, she rolled her left

sleeve up and bared her left forearm to Amber.

The tattoo was one she had seen many times, but she had never wondered about its

meaning or purpose until now. Wrinkles formed on her forehead as she looked between the

tattoo and Debbie’s face. In elegant black script the words ‘I have a dream’ were formed

underneath the portrait of an elderly black woman.

“I don’t understand.”

“My mother marched with Martin Luther King Jr. My mother was a black woman that

married a white man in the sixties.” It was like she was looking at Debbie for the first time. The

always tanned skin, even in the winter, the tangled mass of black curls on top of her head.

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“Wow, I never knew.” Amber whispered as she watched Debbie role her sleeve back

down.

“Most people don’t but it doesn’t matter. I know who I am, even if other people don’t.”

Debbie smiled as she went back to reading. For the rest of the day the two sat in silence, only

occasionally speaking when a customer wandered into the store. When it was time to close the

store Amber turned to Debbie with a smile.

“Thank you for sharing that with me. You didn’t have to.” The other woman paused in

locking up the cash register.

“I did have to though. Just because you’re scared of something, Amber, doesn’t mean

you shouldn’t face it.” Amber dipped her head in acknowledgement before leaving the store. It

was already dark out as she headed for her car, causing her to stare at the ground to avoid the

glaring light of the stars. She couldn’t help but think over what Debbie had said to her today.

There was no way that her situation could be compared to the civil rights movement but

maybe she could have this revolution for herself. If she did this now she would be proud of

herself later on down the line. Misery now but happiness later didn’t sound so bad to Amber.

The car rumbled as it started and the lights cast a bright glow over the brick of the wall

beside it. Amber drove quietly home, not turning the radio on, just listening to the sounds of the

small town she loved so much. There was something calming in the soft croak of the heat bugs, it

was a sound Amber knew she would miss if she ever moved somewhere cold. Alaska was

unimaginable to Amber, because to her Cedar Creek was perfect. Green trees eight months out of

the long year, the warmth of the summer air against her skin, and the simple nature of the towns

people. No questioning in the faces of people, since they all knew each other’s names and the

comforting way people asked after others, it was perfection to Amber.

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Amber couldn’t fathom leaving the small town, even for love.

Finally home, she parked beside her fathers truck and locked the mustang as she entered

the garage.

“Hello?” Amber shouted while walking towards the living room.

“Hello, sweetheart.” Smiling she sat down beside her father on the couch. The news

paper lay to his right with the sports page open in front of him. A glow was cast from the muted

television, surrounding the living room in its flicker of colors. The light beside her father was on

to enable him to read the paper.

“Your mother called to tell me you were on your way home.”

“She left before me.” It was a simple fact, simply stated, but without Amber hinting, her

father took it as the question she meant it to be.

“She went to the bank.” Answered her father, reading a piece on some kind of sports

team in the paper.

“Oh, did she tell you anything else?” Ambers tone was accusatory.

“Yes.” Sometimes her father really irritated her.

“What did she tell you.” Amber asked through gritted teeth.

“That you went down to the station and identified the boy.” Wincing at the mention of

the boys name, their eyes met over the edge of her fathers newspaper.

“I assume the district attorney will be calling me any day now. I guess I’ll have to be

deposed.” Amber stood when she finished and headed to the kitchen. Looking for comfort food

she almost didn’t hear her father enter behind her, almost.

“Do you want me to call your Uncle Blake?” Uncle Blake was the family lawyer, he was

her fathers childhood friend that had gone off to law school and later returned back to his small

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town home. She had always called him Uncle Blake since he had often spent Christmases with

them.

“It wouldn’t hurt.” Amber muttered before opening the refrigerator door. She turned from

the refrigerator to find her father leaning on the kitchen counter sizing her up to an extent.

“You don’t have to go through with this.” His tone was soft and gentle, the tone he had

used when Amber had come home crying from school over a bully or a boy.

“Yes, I do.” The kitchen light flickered causing Amber to look up to the ceiling.

“No, you don’t.” The sound of his slippers filled the kitchen and Amber avoided his gaze.

“Amber, look at me.” He turned her face to him by pushing her chin gently. “I know this is a lot

to handle, your mother and I are here for you. Tiffany is here for you. Everyone is here for you,

and we love you no matter what. Whether you testify or not, we will always love you.” Tears

formed in Amber’s eyes, but she hastily blinked them away.

“I know.” Suddenly she found herself in her fathers embrace, clinging to him without

embarrassment. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the kitchen light flicker once again and then

the tears began to fall.

“Don’t cry.” Whispered her father. After a few moments of crying on her fathers

shoulder, she pulled away and smiled at him with tear stained cheeks. A brief smile crossed his

worry etched face, and then he left without a word.

Amber stood quietly eating her cereal at the kitchen counter when her cell phone

vibrated. Frozen with cereal half chewed in her mouth, Amber leaned over to see who it was

from. A grin slowly crept its way across her face when she read Ryan’s name on the cell phone

screen. Flipping the phone open she read the text message.

“I want to see you again. Busy tonight?”

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Heart pounding in her chest she typed back quickly, “No, I’m not busy tonight.” Waiting

for a reply had never taken as long as it did then, she stood staring at her cell phone willing it to

vibrate. Seconds later it did vibrate and her smile got larger.

“I’ll pick you up at eight. I have an idea.” Amber loved surprises, maybe tonight she

could be herself and not worry about reality for a few moments.

“I’ll be ready & waiting.” She replied quickly. The rest of the day she had a spring to her

step, and she felt foolish and lightheaded at the thought of being alone with Ryan once again.

Time had gotten away from Amber and before she knew it the doorbell was ringing. The

clock on the wall read eight o’clock on the nose, making Amber run around her room like a

frantic animal. Once the curls were brushed from her hair she bounded down the stairs two at a

time. She found Ryan and her father standing in the living room chatting. They didn’t look

awkward but Amber felt awful for not being ready in time to introduce them. Ryan turned

towards her at the sound of her footsteps and smiled his big smile.

“You look nice, Amber.” Said her father with a smile. By the look on his face, she could

tell that he would most likely be up until she returned home later that night.

Amber smiled back before kissing him on the cheek and bidding him a good night. She

all but dragged Ryan out the door, before pausing to follow him to his vehicle. Like every other

boy in town he had a truck, which meant he had to help her into get into the truck. Not knowing

what the plans were for tonight, she hadn’t dressed up like she had the other night. She wore blue

jeans with a flowing black tank top that showed off her shoulders. Foundation covered the

lingering bruises on her neck still.

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“Where are we going?” Amber asked through the silence. Ryan kept his eyes on the road

while he drove but answered after a few moments.

“You’ll see.” He said with a hint of a teasing tone.

The windows stayed down the whole ride, the sound of heat bugs filled Amber’s senses

and she loved it. She found herself not far from her parents home, still on the edge of town, on a

dirt road driving towards a small cabin in the distance. It was the old miller place, it hadn’t been

inhabited for years but she knew that the family paid some locals to keep it up. Lights shined

through the windows but when Ryan helped her out of the truck he didn’t lead them inside. A

brick pathway laid before her as she followed Ryan to the backyard, where a table was revealed.

A white sheet covered the table with a single red rose sitting in the middle. Only two

chairs sat at the small round table and Ryan held one of them out for Amber to sit in. It was

overwhelmingly romantic for a second date but Amber loved it. Something about Ryan’s

presence made her body tingle, it was a feeling she ached to hold on to. A feeling she wanted to

always have when she was around Ryan.

“Is it to much for a second date?” Ryan asked hesitantly while sitting down opposite

Amber. Amber smiled while reaching across the table and patting his left hand.

“No, not at all.” Words always seemed like too much with Ryan. Amber felt like he knew

what she was thinking, it scared her but in a good way. Like she could have him reading her

mind, always.

“I thought that we could just ask questions. No rules though, just any question that comes

to mind. I want to know all about Amber Hallows.” Amber flushed scarlet at his proclamation.

“Does that mean I get to know all about Ryan Lukas?”

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“Of course.” Ryan said with a smirk. “You go first.” Amber looked around at the trees

filled with white lights while thinking of a question.

“How long have you lived here?”

“Five months. Why do you still live at home?” Amber had expected that one.

“There hasn’t been time since graduating. I probably will in the next few months. How

old are you?” Ryan smiled and leaned forward. It was just like the other night at the diner, there

was an irresistible urge to be as close to him as possible and she thought he felt it too.

“Twenty-four next month. How old are you?”

“Twenty-two, did you go to college?”

“I graduated two years ago from Berkley with a degree in Business.” He smiled at the

look on her face. Amber was confused, why was he in this little town playing music if he had a

degree from Berkley. He should be sitting in a office in warm sunny California, making tons of

money.

“What are you doing here?” The corner of his mouth dipped a little but his smile didn’t

disappear.

“I love music and I want to be successful at it. My family has money, they paid for my

education but that’s not where my heart is.” Amber nodded her understanding and waited for him

to ask her a question. There was silence for a few moments as Amber stared into his large blue

eyes. He was searching her eyes for something, it almost felt like he was searching for

permission.

“I need to know something and I hope this doesn’t scare you. Do you feel what I feel? I

feel like I’ve known you forever but at the same time, not nearly long enough. Like everything I

didn’t learn in a past life, I want to learn now.” His fingers thrummed against the wood of the

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table. Amber ached to still their unsure movement, to give him and his fingers peace. The pieces

of her heart that were broken before seemed to be putting themselves back together, and it all

happened in this moment.

“That doesn’t scare me.” There was nothing else to say. The small sentence she uttered

answered all the questions he had.

“It doesn’t? It scares me.” His face was full of honesty, hair fell into his eyes and Amber

bravely leaned across the table to brush it away. She watched as his eyes closed with the touch of

her hand causing a gentle smile to form on her pale pink lips.

“Don’t be scared. It’s only me.” Amber whispered to him before leaning across the table

to bravely kiss the corner of his still shut eyes. He pulled away leaving their faces inches apart, it

was as if an electric current was running between them. Amber pulled away, breaking the

intensity of the moment, causing Ryan to pull back also. Lights filling the trees flickered behind

them, Amber wondered if it was some sort of answer. A sign, that maybe she should give into

the next moment instead of pulling away.

“It’s your turn to ask a question.” She said with a smile. Amber watched him nod blankly

and she couldn’t help but feel sorry for breaking the beauty of the moment. The trees rustled in

the wind, the smell of pine trees reached Amber’s nose. And she knew that for the rest of her life,

she would associate that smell with this night.

“What’s your favorite song?” Ryan asked through slightly gritted teeth. Amber wondered

if he was angry at her for not letting the moment take them over. For not letting him kiss her.

“That’s an easy one. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley.” One of Ryan’s eyebrows rose to offer

his unbelief.

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“Not many people have heard of him or that song.” Ryan commented with a quirk of his

lips. A handsome smirk appeared on his face slowly, desire stirred in the pit of her stomach.

“I know. I can impress you further.” Amber leaned forward on the table with her elbows.

Ryan copied her movement.

“I don’t know if that’s possible.” The smirk on his face grew larger.

“Oh, it is trust me. Hallelujah was written by Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley only covered

it.” Amber smiled and played with the rose between them.

“I was wrong, you did impress me further.” Ryan smiled goofily before checking his

watch. “I’ll go get dinner and bring it out. Don’t move.”

Amber watched him walk into the cabin with a pull in her heart. She had to force herself

to breathe deeply as she leaned back in her chair. What had just happened between them was

strange, but something inside Amber wished for it to happen again. She felt crazy, illogical, and

at the same time thrilled. The strange new sensations she felt were amazing but the bubble inside

her almost burst when she looked to the sky.

The stars were shining brightly again, she wished there was a way to shut them off. For

the rest of her life, she could do without the stars. While she was staring at the sky Ryan had

reappeared with dinner.

“Dinner’s served.” Smiling, his voice brought her out of her reverie. The macaroni and

cheese on her plate caused her to smile even more.

“You are a master chef.” Amber said before taking a bite of the meal.

“I know.” The silence was comfortable as they sat there and ate. Sometimes they would

make eye contact but Amber would flush and look down. Something about his stare made her

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feel naked, like he saw through her mask. The mask that had been in place for so many years, the

one that had only deepened since that night.

“I have another question.” Amber asked, still curious about a few things.

“Okay.”

“It’s very serious and our whole future rests on it.” Amber struggled to keep a straight

face through her statement.

“I’m ready, ask me.” His hair fell into his eyes again but Amber left it there.

“What’s your favorite song?” Ryan smiled at her and got up. He took her hand to lead her

towards the cabin.

“Follow me.” She did. The cabin was just as plain on the inside as it was on the outside.

Warm colored wood with a rug in the center of the living room. He steered her gently towards

the large blue couch. After disappearing for a few moments he reappeared with his guitar in

hand.

“I’ll play you my favorite song.” The guitar rested on his lap as he sat down beside

Amber on the blue couch. There wasn’t a fire in the fire place but Amber imagined she would

see it crackling there, some day. Strumming a few strings to find his rhythm, Amber was

instantly enthralled. His fingers glided deftly from chord to chord, but Amber still didn’t

recognize the song.

Softly he began to sing, without meaning to, Amber closed her eyes.

Hey Jude don't make it bad

Take a sad song and make it better

Remember to let her into your heart

Then you can start to make it better

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The sound of his voice was all that Amber could hear in the small cabin. All other sounds

were drowned out as he continued to sing. She was lost in the deep rumble of his voice and the

song suddenly took on a different meaning to her. It wasn’t just a Beatles song any longer, it was

the song that Ryan sang to her on their second date.

Emotions overwhelmed her as she sat there, watching him in the glow of the candlelight.

The moment lasted forever, she thought that he would never finish singing but he did. When she

opened her eyes the first thing she saw were Ryan’s blue eyes staring into hers. Again she felt

like any words that she had to say would only take away the perfection of the moment. Words

weren’t enough for the moment, there was no way they could do it justice.

The guitar found it’s way to the floor as Ryan moved toward Amber on the couch. They

both felt it, the inability to deny what was consuming both of them inside. Ryan had to feel

Amber’s lips on his and Amber had to feel Ryan’s. Amber felt high at the first gentle touch of his

lips to hers. A whimper escaped her throat as he pulled her tight against his body. No words

would be exchanged because each movement spoke for them.

His hands cupping her cheeks said I can’t help it.

Her fingers gripping his forearms said me either.

In that moment, she decided that kissing him was far better than in the dreams. This was

real, for the first time in more than a week she felt alive. The way his lips glided over hers made

her body sing. It was singing just for him because she had never felt this way before. Ryan pulled

away to gasp in air and Amber followed suit.

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She could see freckles across his nose and surprising herself, she leaned forward to ghost

butterfly kisses over his nose. With a shyness she didn’t know she could possess, she trailed

butterfly kisses across his cheek, then his eyelids, and finally back down to his lips. He groaned

in need before capturing her lips with his, but he placed his hand where he shouldn’t have. A hiss

of pain escaped her lips when he pressed the bruises on her neck.

“What’s wrong?” Ryan asked with forehead creased, worry etching his beautiful face.

The moment was ruined for Amber because she had been reminded. If one man could do that to

her, what would stop this boy before her from doing it. The voices in her head were saying

different things and she closed her eyes to silence them.

“Nothing, I just fell the other day and bruised my neck. That’s all.” Amber hoped he

wouldn’t hear the blatant lie in her voice.

“Are you sure?” He raised his hand to touch her neck but she gently pushed it away.

“Can you take me home now?”

“Of course.” He entwined their fingers together and Amber felt the questions slip away.

He wouldn’t hurt her, she hadn’t known him long but she knew that for sure. This man would

rather hurt himself than hurt her. One last time she leaned forward to kiss him chastely on the

lips. A smile returned to his face as he stood up and led her out of the cabin.

The heat bugs were still buzzing on the drive back to her house. A strange comfort filled

her to know he didn’t live that far away from her. While he drove he kept his hand entwined with

hers, Amber looked down at them. His fingers were longer than hers and they seemed to envelop

her hand. Where his hand was large hers was small, but they fit together. The house was

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welcoming in its vastness when they drove up. She knew her father would still be awake to see

how the night had gone. The door opening startled her because she hadn’t realized he had

already turned the car off and gotten out.

“Thank you for tonight. It was amazing.” Amber said when they reached the door. Ryan

smiled and the hair fell into his eyes again. Amber didn’t resist it this time, she raised her hand

and pushed the hair back. His big blue eyes stayed open as she did so and he captured her hand

in his. Before letting her hand go he kissed her wrist, then her cheek chastely.

“Are you free Saturday night?” It was more of a rhetorical question, since Amber knew

that he knew what her answer would be.

“Not anymore.” Amber saw his smile grow, she gave him a smile in return.

“Good night.” Ryan whispered longingly.

“Good night.” The door closed behind her and Amber leaned against it once she had

locked it. The hand he had kissed was pressed tightly to her chest, trying to keep her heart from

leaping through her chest. It felt like she was walking on clouds as she made her way to the

living room. As usual her father was sitting on the couch casually flipping through the channels.

Grinning, he looked up the moment she entered the room.

“Nice date?” Her father asked smugly.

Amber stood at the bottom of the stairs, frozen in place. Nice didn’t begin to describe it,

so she searched for a word that could come closer.

“It was magnificent.” Chest pounding, Amber walked slowly to her room.

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That night as she lay in bed she wasn’t scared to fall asleep. Usually she couldn’t fall

asleep because of the fear of dreaming about him. But tonight she wanted to fall asleep, just to

relive the night again. Laying there she wished that she could rewind time and relive the

moment. The moment where she felt her heart heal, because of his kiss.

This was crazy! She had known him less the a week but she felt as if… as if life could not

go on without him in it. She shook her head as she stared at the ceiling. Slowly sleep came to

claim her but she fell asleep with a smile on her face.

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Chapter 7

Deposition

When Amber woke she found herself relieved. There were no dreams of the field or of

his face above her. Only dreams of Ryan and those piercing blue eyes. The blue eyes that she

wanted to see every day, forever. Forever was a strange word to use, since she had known him

only a week. But the word felt right when she was thinking of Ryan because she did indeed want

to spend forever with him. It was amazing, powerful, frightening, and it made her feel so alive.

“Good morning.” Amber said happily to her parents as they sat eating breakfast. There

was a place set for her at the dinner table and she gladly ate the food before her.

“You’re cheerful this morning.” Amber’s mother announced. Both parent’s watched her

eat happily, looking skeptically at Amber, wondering about the permanence of her mood.

“It’s a new day, why shouldn’t I be happy?” Amber smiled at them and returned to her

breakfast. The rest of the meal was eaten in silence.

“The district attorney called last night. He wants to depose you today.” The tone of her

father’s voice was meant to be understanding but it came out as worried.

“Oh. At the police station?” The mood shifted violently inside Amber, but she didn’t let it

show.

“Yes. Your mother will go with you. It’s at one in the afternoon.” Amber nodded to show

her understanding, finishing her meal quickly.

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“I’m heading to the store. I’ll see you there.” Amber aimed the end at her mother.

Grabbing her keys she all but ran to her car. As she turned out of the driveway and out onto the

highway she dialed Tiffany’s number, hoping she wouldn’t be at work yet.

“Amber?” Tiffany sounded unsure of the reliability of her caller I.D.

“Who else? Can you talk?”

“Yes. What’s going on?” Tiffany sounded frightened.

“I had a date with Ryan last night. And it was amazing.” Amber said quickly to relieve

Tiffany of her worries. It seemed to work when Tiffany gasped in excitement.

“Really? When are you seeing him again?” Tiffany’s voice was higher than normal,

which meant that she was very excited about the prospect of Amber dating Ryan.

“Saturday night.” Amber couldn’t help the excited tone her voice took on also.

“Did you kiss?” Playful accusation filled Tiffany’s voice.

“That’s none of your business.” Even though Amber was alone her face still flushed.

“Oh my God! You did. You saucy little girl!” Tiffany yelled into the phone. Amber heard

Stan snickering in the background at his sister’s word choice.

“Tiffany who say’s saucy?” Amber parked outside her mothers store , then turned the car

off. Amber sat in the car for a few moments, to finish the conversation safely out of her mothers

earshot.

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“Everyone says saucy, you’re behind the times Amber.” Tiffany was being playful and as

usual it comforted Amber.

“I have to go to work now. I’m being deposed after lunch.” A car honked in the distance,

that was the only sound that cracked the silence for a few moments.

“Deposed?” Of course Tiffany wouldn’t know that she had identified the boy.

“They found him and the District Attorney needs me to make their case.” Amber had

gone from excited to depressed very quickly.

“Oh, well good luck. Call me tonight if you want.” Tiffany sounded genuinely

apologetic.

“Okay. Bye.” After hanging up she got out of the car and entered the store. Debbie was at

the counter, reading again. The two women shared a smile before engaging in small talk.

The first part of the day went by faster than Amber wished it to. Before she knew it, it

was past noon and her mother was waiting for her outside the store.

The drive to the police station was silent just like the day before. Officer Shelton led

them to the District Attorneys office and both of them sat down to wait. Faster than Amber

would have liked the door opened to reveal a short blonde woman no older than thirty.

“Hi, sorry you had to wait. I’m Jennifer Dawley and I’m the District Attorney in charge

of the case.” The woman spoke as she led them into her large office and pointed for them to sit

down in the chairs before her desk. Amber bit her lip hard to avoid hyperventilation.

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“Let’s just start at the beginning, shall we?” This woman had the nerve to smile at

Amber. The blinds behind the woman were open, revealing the cloudless sky and the trees in

front of the station. It was a nice office but that didn’t change what Amber was about to go

through.

“The beginning?” Amber asked weakly. A hand squeezed her shoulder softly, Amber

realized it was her mother, trying to convey strength through her touch.

“Just start with the time you arrived and go until I interrupt you.” The woman’s teeth

were dazzling white and Amber thought that she was very out of place here. Hollywood was

where this woman belonged, not in a small town as a District Attorney.

“My friend and I arrived at the Henderson plantation at nine pm. No one noticed us

because it was already packed. I grabbed a drink and made my way to the back of the house. I

didn’t see anyone so I went walking towards the guest house.” Amber paused and took a deep

breath, she hadn’t expected the sudden onslaught of fear.

“Go on.” The woman goaded. Clenching her fingers around the chair’s arm, she

continued.

“I walked out into the field and that’s when he saw me. He came towards me, it was dark

out and I couldn’t see him well. He asked me my name, I answered and then asked him his. He

answered with “Jackson”, which I assume isn’t his name.” The room was beginning to close in

on Amber, the panic was coming quickly.

“No, his name is Tony Saunders.” Answered the woman after looking at a file in front of

her.

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“He offered me a cigarette and I said no. I sat down., he copied me by sitting down

beside me. I don’t remember anything else he said because the next thing I knew I was on my

back and he was on top of me.” The room was spinning, so Amber closed her eyes to block it

out. With her eyes closed a beautiful thing happened, Ryan’s face popped into her mind. His

gentle blue eyes were staring through her defenses again, reminding her to breathe. Hair fell into

his eyes again, making Amber itch to push it away.

“Amber, I know this is difficult but I need you to keep going.” Shocked out of her reverie

by the woman’s nail on chalkboard voice, she cleared her throat.

“Sorry. He covered my mouth when I tried to scream. I felt him push my skirt up to

around my waist and he pulled my thighs up at an awkward angle. He bit my neck hard and

again I tried to scream so he punched me in the stomach. With my breath gone he pulled his hand

away and slapped me across the face. Then he began to rape me, I was so afraid that I hadn’t

realized his hand was gone and that if I screamed people would hear me. Instead I just lay there

quiet and let him violate me.”

Frozen in her seat Amber rocked forward. Rubbing her back gently her mother whispered

in her ear, “It’s just a memory. He can’t hurt you again.”

Fight against the panic threatening to consume her, she breathed in a succession of deep

breaths. The walls were closing in on her but she wanted to finish, she continued, “I don’t know

how long he raped me. I just laid there but he must of remembered he wasn’t covering my

mouth. His hand covered my mouth again and I couldn’t breath. The last thing I remember was

him finished and pulling out. Then I passed out.” It was over she had made it through without

panicking.

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“Very good, Amber. The next time you have to repeat this will be at the trial. Which is

still a few weeks away. I suggest keeping your mind off from it. You might want to consider

getting some therapy to help you with the panic.” Amber met eyes with the woman over the

table. Smiling gently the woman stood up, opened the door, then waited for them to leave.

Following her mother out of the station wasn’t difficult, but remembering to breathe was

beginning to be. When she reached for the car door her vision was double. She couldn’t find the

handle, her heart had begun to beat rapidly making Amber think it might jump clear through her

chest.

“Amber?” Her mothers voice sounded far away, like she was calling her from a distant

land. The roof of her mouth was like sandpaper against her tongue when she tried to speak.

Suddenly she found herself sitting in the front seat of the car with her head between her knees.

She could breathe again and her mothers voice sounded closer. The sandpaper was gone

and she tried in vain to form words for a few moments. Finally able to speak, Amber lifted her

head from between her knees.

“I’m okay.” Amber had never seen her mother look so relieved. For the first time she

noticed the dark bags beneath her mothers eyes, along with the wrinkles forming at the corners

of the gentle green eyes that she had always known.

“Are you sure? Do you want me to take you to the hospital?”

“No. I’m fine, I promise.” Somehow her voice came out convincing enough to prevent

her mother from a trip to the hospital. Unable to plead her mother into letting her return to the

store, she found herself being dropped off at home.

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A big empty house wasn’t as comforting as it used to be. The television wasn’t

interesting, so Amber decided to go out back. Spotting the hammock in the distance, Amber

made her way over to it. When she was younger she had seen one in a movie, and her father had

come right home and hung a hammock between to big oaks. The memory brought a smile to

Amber’s face as she lay down in the hammock. It swung to and fro with its sudden occupancy.

The sky was cloudless as Amber stared up at it. The leaves of the tree’s provided Amber

with enough shade to not be in the direct line of the sun, but the sky still shone through them.

Each time the wind blew so did the leaves, the hammock also moving with the wind. The gentle

swaying of the hammock threatened to lull Amber to sleep but she couldn’t. Sleep alluded her in

the hammock, her thoughts were moving to fast to allow for sleep.

Time didn’t seem to pass as she lay in the hammock. She felt frozen in time under the

trees, her thoughts slowed and Amber was able to breathe again. Leaves crunching alerted her

that someone was making their way towards her. She sat up to look, a confused smile soon found

its way to her face.

“Ryan? What are you doing here?” The blue eyes that she had quickly begun to care for

stared across the law. Without asking he lay down beside her on the hammock and without

pretence he weaved his arm behind her head. Amber felt intoxicated by his presence, she

wondered if she was dreaming fleetingly.

“Tiffany called me. I was home and it seemed silly for both of us to be home alone.” His

head turned to lay on top of hers. The nimble fingers she watched last night were curling in her

hair, sending chills down on spine.

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“Mmmm.” Again words didn’t quite seem to fit. The cologne he wore reminded her of a

child hood memory, though she couldn’t quite place the memory, she still smiled.

“Can I ask you a question?” His fingers paused for a moment in her hair but they returned

to running through her hair soon enough.

“Yes.”

“Did something bad happen to you a week or so ago?” She felt his chest rumble with

each word he spoke, leaving her unable to be angry. She wanted to scream at him for having the

nerve to ask her that, but she couldn’t. Anger never stayed long when she was around Ryan.

“Yes.” Her tone left no arguments, she didn’t want to talk about it. Continuing to play

with her hair, he was silent for a few moments.

“When you want to talk about it, I’m ready to listen.” It was a promise and she knew this.

When she was willing to share it with him she knew there wouldn’t be judgments from him.

“Can I ask you a question now?” Amber looked up at him through her eye lashes.

Playfully he pretended to think about it.

“I guess so.”

“When was your first kiss?” The wind blew pleasantly, causing them to sway back and

forth faster in the hammock.

“Kindergarten. You?”

“Fifth grade. I was a late bloomer.” Ryan laughed and Amber turned her head into his

neck. He stopped playing with her hair and Amber fought the urge to kiss him.

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“Do you believe in God?” Shocked by his question, Amber looked at him to see if he was

serious. Their eyes met and she stared at him, and she found him sincere enough to answer.

“I believe there’s someone looking out for me. I think that there’s a reason for everything

but do I believe in organized religion? No, but there’s a God and I like to think he cares about

me.” The hammock swayed again in the breeze. With each breathe Ryan took Ambers head

moved with his chest, and she never wanted this moment to end. She could spend eternity in this

moment with him, breathing in and out, away from reality.

“I believe in God. I can’t not believe in him because he’s given me so much.” Tenderly

he tightened his arm around her shoulders and Amber turned in to his body.

“Do you have any fears?” Things were getting to serious, she wanted to lighten the

situation.

“One. But I don’t ever plan on facing it.” The smile in his voice was clear, Amber didn’t

have to look at him to know he was smirking. Inside she knew what he meant, and a part of her

felt exactly the same way. Her only fear now was of losing him.

Not of her own accord, her eyes closed and she felt herself slipping off to dreamland. The

fingers in her hair soothed her racing mind, easing her into a peaceful sleep. Sleep overcame her,

with Ryan holding her tightly to his chest.

“Be quiet! Someone will hear you and then I’ll really hurt you.” He whispered it roughly

into her ear and she turned her head away violently. She trashed in his arms to try and shake

free from his grasp but he only tightened his hold on her wrists behind her back. He kissed her

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neck before biting down hard and Amber closed her eyes tightly. If she yelled someone would

her hear and she knew she should yell, but her voice was frozen in the bottom of her stomach.

When she tried to yell again her throat was paralyzed and tears filled her eyes.

Before she knew it he had her on the ground on her back and her skirt violently shoved

up to around her waist. He pinned her wrists above her head roughly, and grabbed her left

breast through her thin t- shirt. He let one arm free and as he pushed her underwear aside and

roughly kissed her mouth, she grabbed handfuls of grass beneath her fingers.

“Amber! Wake up!”

Someone was shaking her shoulders roughly, she whimpered as she woke up. A blue so

sparkling in clarity filled her senses, for a moment she thought she was staring at the sky. But she

found herself instead staring in to Ryan’s wide baby blues. The eyes were frightened, shaking

Amber out of her post dream haze.

“Sorry.” Jumping out of the hammock, she walked quickly towards the house in the

distance. Ryan was following closely behind her, he stopped her suddenly by gripping her wrist.

Like the night before, he gripped the bruises, and she released a hiss of pain from her colorless

lips.

The hiss of pain hit him like a brick, causing him to drop her wrist suddenly. Even though

it had hurt, she wanted him to touch her again. It was dusk outside, spreading an eerie glow

across the two. Ryan turned his head away from Amber, looking off to somewhere in the

distance.

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“Don’t say sorry. Talk to me, Amber.” Instinctively Amber moved closer to Ryan

because of the hurt tone of his voice. Large arms wrapped around her without asking.

“I can’t, not yet.” Amber felt him nod against her shoulder , pulling away slightly she

turned her head up to look him in the face. She stood on her tiptoes so that their eyes were level.

Unspoken, something passed between them and Amber kissed the corner of his mouth. Holding

his hand she pulled him into the house, only to find her mother standing in the kitchen reading

the mail.

“Hello.” Her mother said when she caught sight of the two of them coming in through the

back door. The look on her mothers face was of surprise.

“Mom, this is Ryan. Ryan this is my mom.” The two shook hands and Amber’s mother

seemed to be appraising him.

“Hello Mrs. Hallows. It’s nice to finally meet you.” Charm laced his voice, causing

Amber’s mother to melt a little. If she had wondered if his presence was wanted, she didn’t any

longer when she saw the ease at which Amber and Ryan stood together.

“Nice to meet you also.” Her mother returned to reading the mail, Amber led Ryan to the

front door. Outside Amber walked him to his truck, without awkwardness the two kissed. Like

the night before he handled her like she was fragile, something Amber would never get used to.

At the same time, it was something she wouldn’t want to be used to.

Hands on her cheeks, he brushed his fingers underneath her eyes as they kissed. Amber

pulled away after a few moments of reveling in the beauty of his face.

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“I have a show Saturday night at the Cherry Street. Will you come?” Amber wanted to

tell him he didn’t need to ask, she wanted to say she wouldn’t miss the opportunity to hear him

sing for the world. The hair fell into his eyes, this time Amber reached out with confidence to

brush it away.

“I’ll be there.” Then he was driving away, leaving Amber feeling slightly uncomfortable

in her own skin. With Ryan gone she knew that her mind would wonder to the dream she just

had.

“Mom?” Amber asked as she reentered the kitchen.

“Yes?” The mail was still more interesting than her at the moment, since her mother

didn’t look up from it.

“Did you have a dream about Aunt Faye the other night?” Hesitantly, she lifted her eyes

to meet her mother’s. The mail sat abandoned momentarily as Amber’s mother turned to her.

“How did you know that?” Anger and accusation filled her mothers body, showing with

each breathe she took.

“I had a dream about her too. It was strange.” The clock chimed the time, breaking the

stillness surrounding the two women in the kitchen.

“Maybe you should pray about it. My sister might have been trying to tell you something.

She was a firm believer in dreams, it is strange that we would dream about her around the same

time. That is something she would do, always trying to be sneaky.”

Amber was grateful when a small smile found its way upon her mother’s lips. Fear of a

fight had stopped Amber from mentioning the subject sooner. Aunt Faye was someone that her

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mother rarely discussed, both had been close as children and losing her had been hard on her

mother. Amber remembered the volatile tantrums and the weeks of weeping after her death.

A vague memory filled Amber’s sense. It was a memory of her father rocking her to

sleep one night after her mother had thrown a fit and broken a few pieces of fine china.

“Were you and Aunt Faye really close?” Amber was surprised at her own courage.

“Very close. She was my only sister, she was my best friend. Imagine losing Tiffany but

one hundred times worse.” Tears fell from her mothers eyes. Feeling awful for causing the tears,

Amber hastily hugged her mother.

“Don’t cry Mom. I’m sorry for bringing it up.” Sniffling, her mother pulled away.

“It’s okay. We should talk about her. She was a wonderful woman, it isn’t fair to her for

us to bury her memory.” Silence fell between them as night enclosed the kitchen. Amber looked

at her mother and for the first time noticed the strong resemblance between her Aunt and mother.

The striking blonde hair, soft blue eyes, gentle features, and husky southern voice. They had

been barely a year apart in age, Amber wondered what her mother was like as a girl. She didn’t

know much about her mother or father’s childhood. Curiosity had never stung her before now,

someday she hoped that she could learn about them.

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Chapter 8

The Show

It was dark outside again. Like every other night in Tennessee, the stars shown brightly

above. Doing her best not to look up, Amber walked to her car. The skirt she wore blew in the

wind as she walked. Each step she took caused chills to go down her spine, because with each

step it brought her closer to Ryan.

The windows stayed down as she drove towards the Cherry Street. Unlike the first time

she had heard Ryan sing, she wasn’t planning on getting drunk tonight. The wind blew Amber’s

hair about wildly but she didn’t care. As long as the windows were down she could hear the song

of the heat bugs. The soft buzz reminded Amber of home, of Cedar Creek, and it simply

reminded her of life.

Once the car was turned off, she walked quickly towards the Cherry Street. Tiffany stood

outside the bar. Amber watched as she looked over the people waiting in line, to try and find

Amber in the crowd. The people in line grew agitated when Amber walked up to Tiffany, and the

two were immediately granted entrance to the bar.

“Is Stan here?” Amber wondered aloud.

“Yeah, he has a table for us by the stage. We were surprised when we showed up to stand

in line, only to be shown to a reserved table.” Tiffany’s voice was playful. Amber’s face

suddenly grew scarlet at the slight implication in Tiffany’s voice. As if the new relationship

between Amber and Ryan was to blame for the table. Stan saw Amber’s blush and was about to

say something when Tiffany covered his mouth with her hand.

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Amber laughed when Stan narrowed his eyes. Tiffany pulled her hand back suddenly.

The table was filled when laughter when Tiffany revealed her spit covered palm.

“Good one!” Yelled Amber before holding her arm up for a high five. Their palms met in

the air as the lights began to dim in the bar. Amber turned toward the stage quickly, waiting

impatiently to see Ryan enter the stage. Instead of being met with the sight of Ryan, she saw the

owner stepping on to the stage instead.

“The performer for tonight will be Ryan Lukas, as I’m sure all of you know. I won’t keep

you waiting. So, here’s Ryan Lukas!” Hoots and hollers filled the bar. Amber surveyed the

crowd around her, she wasn’t surprised to find most of the people in the bar to be women. As she

was looking around everyone began to clap. Ryan had walked on stage with guitar in hand,

searching the crowd for someone.

Tiffany poked her in the side when Ryan’s eyes fell on her. A look of relief passed across

his face before he sat down on the stool behind him. Silence consumed the crowd. Everyone was

waiting for Ryan to begin to sing but it seemed like forever before he leaned towards the mike.

“Hey, everyone. I wrote a little something special for tonight, so if you don’t mind I’ll

sing that first.” Ryan aimed a smile in Amber’s direction without meeting her eyes. Like the

night before Amber couldn’t keep her eyes off of Ryan’s fingers. With each chord progression

his fingers moved with skill, it looked almost effortless.

Before I met you


I was lost inside my own soul
I had no direction or life of my own
But now I know, oh yeah, now I know

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I know the beauty of your eyes
I know the sweetness of your voice
Each imperfection is amazing to me
My love for you was never a choice
We were meant to be

Amber’s heart stopped beating when he said that word. How could he possibly know he

loved her after two weeks? Was it possible to fall in love that quickly. Most importantly Amber

wondered if she was in love with him too. Love wasn’t something Amber was greatly acquainted

with. Derek hadn’t been love for Amber. He had been a convenience, at least she knew that

much. But when she was with Ryan she felt butterflies. She felt alive in his presence, like before

him, she had been waiting. Waiting for life to begin. A hand on her shoulder broke her from her

thoughts.

“Keep listening.” Tiffany whispered into her ear. Surprised Amber looked back to the

stage, listening intently.

Oh you might think were crazy


So young and in love… lost in our own world
It hasn’t been long but I know
I could spend forever with you

Again Amber was shocked at the connection between her and Ryan. It was as if he knew

exactly what she was thinking. The chords slowed before finally stopping. The crowd clapped

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wildly for his new song, but Ryan’s head remained down. Amber imagined he was afraid to look

up, he was afraid that she had left. When the crowd finished clapping Ryan finally looked up.

Just as before his eyes searched for hers.

Amber didn’t look away when his stare found hers. Instead she smiled, it wasn’t a smile

that she had ever smiled before in her life. This smile was for Ryan alone, even if they were in a

crowded room, only he deserved this radiant smile. When the crowd grew restless of his silence

he began to play another song.

“Tiffany?” Amber asked as she turned back towards Tiffany.

“Yes?” Was Tiffany’s sing song reply. Amber noticed that Stan had disappeared, no

doubt at Tiffany’s request.

“Would you think me crazy if I told you I love him?” A smile snuck its was to Tiffany’s

face. Tiffany leaned closer to Amber.

“I would think you were crazy if you said you weren’t.” Amber knew that she was right.

A new emotion had found it’s way inside Amber’s heart. A strange emotion. Warmth filled

Amber’s body when she realized what the emotion was.

She was in love with this boy. Plain and simple. No if’s or buts.

The bar began to disappear from her vision. Suddenly all she saw was Ryan. Singing on

the stage, he was unaware of her stare. As she watched him sing she wondered if love was a

strong enough word for the emotion she felt towards Ryan. There had to be a more fitting word

for the way she felt. Amber searched for a word that could describe the depth of emotion she felt

for him. Any word in the English language that Amber could think of, just didn’t fit.

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She realized there wasn’t a word. Often in Ryan’s presence she felt that words couldn’t

vocalize a feeling. Now she saw that just as sometimes she couldn’t answer him with a word, she

couldn’t describe her feeling towards him with a word.

No word could describe it. There was no way to describe what happened to her stomach

when he came near. No word to show how his eyes could calm her every nerve. No words could

explain how she felt real in his presence. Oh no, there was no word for it. The way her heart

would increase in speed when he was near, the way his eyes could see inside her soul, or the way

that his touch could make her body sing… no, those things were not love. Those things were her

life.

He had finished singing and the stage was suddenly empty. Amber made eye contact with

Tiffany over the table. Without a single word, Tiffany stood and left the table. Amber stared at

the table trying to find a way to tell Ryan about her revelation, without sounding like a love sick

fool. A sound caused Amber to snap her head up. Ryan stood feet from her with his head down

and fists clenched.

Amber couldn’t cross those few feet to him quick enough. Like she had said, her heart

beat increased rapidly when she was close enough to touch him. Amber reached out to wrap her

small fingers around his clenched fists. His head snapped up to look at her.

There was a question in his blue eyes. It was if they were asking if she still accepted him.

After that song, did she still feel what she felt for him? Under her touch his clenched fists

loosened and their fingers mashed together. No longer could Amber tell which fingers were hers

and which were Ryan’s.

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“I…” Ryan began to speak but Amber silenced him with a kiss. Each kiss they shared

was the best. Just as in the first dream about him, Amber felt as if this kiss breathed new life into

her heart. A feeling of being weightless claimed her but then she realized that Ryan had picked

her up. They parted and Amber hugged him tightly. She didn’t care that they looked like a

movie, like two characters that were reunited after a long time apart.

They were being reunited. They had spent the first twenty some odd years apart, this was

a reunion of sorts. Amber laughed when Ryan lowered her back to the ground. Hands still joined

they left the bar together.

“I have a question for you.” Amber said once they exited the bar.

“You do?” Ryan laid his arm across her shorter shoulders. They walked amiably towards

Amber’s mustang.

“What’s your favorite color?” Amber squeezed his waist with the arm wrapped around it.

“I would have to say that my favorite color is blue.”

“That’s strange. It’s mine too.” After all, it was the color of his eyes. Those baby blues

that she adored so.

The two walked in silence the rest of the way to her car. When they reached the car

Amber was surprised when Ryan didn’t try to kiss her goodbye. Ryan leaned in, hugged her

gently, squeezed her hand, and then simply started to walk away.

“Wait!” Amber’s yell echoed in the empty street. Slowly, Ryan turned back to look at

Amber. Car forgotten, Amber walked towards him leaving the car door wide open. The two

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stood in front of each other with only the light from a street lamp shining on them. She didn’t

really know what she wanted to say but she knew she needed to say something.

“I have another question to ask you.”

Ryan’s eyes sparkled at her declaration and his head tilted slightly.

“Ask away.” He said as he took a step closer.

“The first song you sang tonight, when did you write it?” Obviously her question wasn’t

what he was expecting because his face flushed out of embarrassment.

“I wrote it the night we first met. The first time you heard me sing, the night we danced.”

The street lamp flickered as Amber stepped closer to Ryan. Her arms wrapped around him and

she pressed her head to his chest. For a few moments they stood there completely still, while

Amber listened to the steady thump of Ryan’s heart. Ryan pulled her away from him enough to

look her in the eye. Amber watched as Ryan’s hand found its way to her neck.

The slight pressure of his hand stung the still healing bruises. Unconsciously her eyes

closed during Ryan’s treatment of her neck. She knew what he was doing, he was slowly wiping

the foundation from her neck.

A part of her wanted to pull away. But the other smaller part of her wanted him to see the

shape of the bruises. This part of her wanted him to see the way the finger marks curled around

her thin neck. At the same time, she was afraid. Afraid that if he realized that the bruises meant,

that he would want her to explain.

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“Amber.” Reverie broken, she looked up into his eyes. No judgment clouded their blue

depths, sending a chill down her spine. “It doesn’t matter to me.” Those five simple words went

straight to her heart. Time stood still for Amber as she began to realize what they meant.

“It should.” Only the darkness was meant to hear it but Ryan heard her whisper.

Unbidden tears began to fall from her bright green eyes. Anger swelled up in Amber, anger at

herself for giving in to the tears and anger for letting him find out.

“Why? Why should it matter Amber?” The gentle tone to his voice made her sway

slightly. His large hands held her in place though, and she raised her eyes to meet his.

“I don’t understand how you could want me.” No longer able to take it she broke free of

his grip and ran to the car. Grateful that she had left the car door open she turned the ignition and

pressed the gas. Amber felt panic consuming her as she sped home. Irrationally, she had left him

for no reason, but rationally she knew he would follow.

The light was on outside when she pulled up to the house. A glow was filtering out of the

blinds letting Amber know that the television was still on. When the car was off she found that

she didn’t have the strength to exit the car. A tremor ran through her body as the panic settled

into her stomach. Breathe, she reminded herself. The last thing she wanted was another trip to

the hospital. Headlights flashed in her rear view mirror slowly breaking her from her stupor.

Suddenly her car door was wrenched open. Ryan’s distraught face appeared beside her.

As fast as was humanly possible Ryan had his arms wrapped around her.

“Don’t you ever do that again.” He whispered fiercely into her ear. Clinging to Ryan

Amber nodded into his neck. The front door opened to show Amber’s father standing just inside.

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“Everything alright out here?” Yelled Amber’s father.

“Yes, sir.” Ryan’s voice was just loud enough for her father to hear. A nod from her

father was all they received before the door was closed quietly.

The sound of leaves rustling in the wind filled Amber’s senses. It felt like forever but it

had only been moments that the two had clung to each other. The tears that had fallen from her

eyes without permission were slowly being wiped away by Ryan’s nimble fingers. The tender

touch caused Amber to close her eyes. A gentle calm passed over them. The only sound Amber

heard besides the leaves, was the sound of Ryan’s scared breathes.

Amber knew that she had probably scared him away.

She was broken. All the pieces wouldn’t fit back together again. Amber thought of

herself to be like Humpy Dumpty. No matter how hard everyone tried, all the pieces couldn’t be

put back together again. Maybe if she let Ryan try, maybe he could put the pieces back together.

As if he was reading her mind, Ryan took her hands in his and stared into her eyes. The

darkness made it hard for Amber to see his face, but she could see his blue eyes in the darkest of

dark nights.

Slowly and carefully Ryan spoke. “When I say it doesn’t matter, Amber, I mean it. I’m

not going away. You’re stuck with me.” The acknowledgement of what his words meant struck

Amber sharply.

“Do you need to hear me say it?” It came out as a question even though she had meant it

to sound like a statement. Ryan’s head tilted in the dark.

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“Do you want to say it?” His lips curved into a smile with the question. It irritated Amber

but it didn’t at the same time. A loud sigh escaped her lips when she was at a loss for words.

There was no reason to ruin the perfect moments with such trivialities.

“No.” Amber said with a stubborn lift of her chin.

“Then I don’t want to hear it. I know it, you know it. So there’s no need to say it.” Amber

felt like the conversation should have taken place at a different place and time. Amber found

herself being lifted from her car and being led to the front door. A string of kisses were placed

from her forehead to her lips.

All of a sudden Amber wanted more. Meshing her body to his, Amber gripped his

shoulders tightly. Ryan let it last for only a few moments before pulling away.

“Good night, Amber.” One last kiss was placed on her lips before he left. Frozen to her

spot Amber watched as he drove away. Dumbly, Amber walked to the living room. Amber fell

onto the sofa besides her father.

“Well?” The tone to her father’s voice was insistent.

“Yeah, it was a good night.” She croaked.

“Well, that’s good. Tiffany called to see if you were home yet. She’s expecting a call

from you.” Amber nodded and then made her way upstairs.

Running to her bedroom, she closed the curtain shut tight at the sight of the moon glaring

through them. Tonight had been amazing, she didn’t want it ruined with the stupid bright light of

the stars. After turning a light on Amber found her cell phone to give Tiffany a call. Regretfully

she wished that she had made the declaration she had wanted to, to Ryan.

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“Hello?” A little voice whispered from the other end of the phone.

“Tiffany?” Amber heard some rustling from the other end. She waited patiently for the

movement to still.

“Sorry. Are you home now?” There was a strange tone to Tiffany’s voice. Amber was

slightly worried that maybe something bad had happened. She was sure she was being irrational

again.

“I got home a few moments ago. Is everything okay?”

“Oh, everything’s fine. I’m just being nosey.” At least she was honest. Amber smiled as

she fell onto her bed.

“Thanks for leaving when you did. You have perfect timing.”

“Really? Tell me everything, please?” Begged her best friend. She silently turned over in

her bed. The stairs creaked under her father’s feet as he climbed slowly towards the top. A light

turned on outside her door before a gentle knock sounded on her door.

“Just a second, Tiffany.” Amber sat up in bed as her father stood outside her door. “It’s

open.” Amber said to the empty room. The door opened and her father’s head peaked inside.

“I just wanted to make sure you were still doing good.” With her nod the door closed

behind him as he left.

“Sorry Tiffany. My dad was at my door. And I’m not telling you everything. It’s between

me and Ryan.” Disappointed silence filtered through the phone line.

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“You have just officially ruined all of my fun. You are a fun ruiner.” Tiffany was being

completely serious, and a smile crept across Amber’s face.

“Oh, really. Is that my official title now? Fun ruiner?” Goaded Amber.

“Yes, you are officially my fun ruiner.” Like a child, Tiffany humphed causing Amber to

giggle. Something hard hit Amber’s window. Amber jumped at the sound.

“I have to go Tiffany. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Before Tiffany could answer, Amber hung

up the phone. Slowly she made her way to the window. When she pulled the curtains back and

opened the blinds slightly, she wasn’t surprised at what she found. Below her window, lit only

by the front door light, was Ryan. Standing with a rock dangling from his other hand and keys in

the other. A large smile broke out across is face when he saw Amber looking from the window.

A gasp of surprise broke from Amber’s mouth. She flew quietly down the stairs. Outside

the door stood Ryan, still looking up at the now abandoned window.

“What in the world are you doing here?” Amber whispered with a laugh. Ryan couldn’t

stop from laughing too.

“I don’t know. I was trying to go to sleep and then I kind of drove over here.” Sincerity

filled his every word. A certain unknown feeling passed over her a that moment. Moments went

by in silence as Amber tried to identify the feeling. It was a strange sort of lightness to her

stomach. Realization crossed over her when she discovered the feeling.

She felt as if, this boy in front of her, needed her. Never had she felt so… wanted or

needed before. The space between them disappeared. Amber found herself in his arms again,

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staring up into his eyes. Contentment washed over them both. The wind blew again and the

leaves rustled in response.

“I hope you drove carefully.” Amber whispered, lips inches from Ryan’s. With

satisfaction Amber watched as Ryan’s eyes slowly closed.

“Very, very carefully.” Ryan muttered as his hands weaved into Amber’s hair. Suddenly

Amber had to kiss him. It wasn’t a urge, no, it was a need. A deep burning need in the pit of her

stomach that had to be satisfied. Quickly. With a growl in the back of her throat Amber lunged

forward and mashed her lips to his.

It wasn’t just a kiss. An understanding passed between them, that both of them needed

the kiss just as much as the other. Amber pressed her lips firmly to his, it wasn’t gentle in the

least. But it was exactly what she needed.

Amber felt herself being guided backwards to his car. Some how they had both ended up

in his car, though Amber didn’t know how. She was in the passenger seat while he was in the

driver seat. It was as awkward as it was uncomfortable. Hands clasped behind Ryan’s neck,

Amber pushed her torso tight against his. Ryan pulled away gasping for air. Amber took the

same amount of time to catch her breath but she couldn’t keep her eyes of him.

Again his hair was falling into his eyes, driving her crazy.

“Drive to your house.” It wasn’t a request, it was an order and Ryan knew it. If Amber

thought she had been stuck in time before, she was wrong. The car couldn’t go fast enough for

Amber. Her stomach burned with the need to kiss Ryan without stopping. She wanted to grow

dizzy with the need for air while kissing his lips.

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Ryan dragged Amber into the cabin by her arm. Heart beating quicker than ever, she

followed Ryan into his bedroom. It was large and filled with light. When they reached the bed

Amber froze.

Everything before now hadn’t prepared her for this. Kissing Ryan was completely

different than having sex with Ryan. No matter how hard she tried to stop the panic she couldn’t.

The walls were closing in on her. The room was spinning uncontrollably, a rush of sound filled

her ears.

“No, no, no, no… Amber.” Arms wrapped around her roughly. With quickness Amber

would someday appreciate, Ryan had her in his arms laying on the bed. Breath came in gasps for

Amber. It took many minutes for her breathing to return to normal. Tears pricked her eyes but

she hid them from Ryan. Head pressed to his chest, Amber fought the urge to weep.

“I’m sorry.” Amber whispered self-deprecatingly. As usual Ryan instantly calmed her by

rubbing her back. The touch sent a chill down her spine. A kiss was pressed to her forehead

while fingers rubbed her back. The softness of his bed began to lull her to sleep. Weakness filled

each pore of her body as he began to sweetly sing into her ear.

Now I've heard there was a secret chord


That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this.. The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

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Panic forgotten, Amber began to slowly drift asleep. Ryan had stopped singing but he

hummed the melody softly into her ear. Even though her body wanted to sleep, Amber couldn’t.

“I’m afraid you aren’t real and that I’m dreaming all of this.” Ryan’s hand on her back

stilled at her sudden declaration.

“Your not dreaming and I’m very real.” Amber curled her fingers in the material of his

shirt. Unintentionally her fingers found the bare skin of his back. The coldness of her fingers

caused him to squirm slightly, which in turn made Amber giggle. In an effort to get closer to him

Amber slid her leg between his. Ryan hid his face in her neck before groaning aloud.

“I think that our relationship has covered four months of getting to know each other in

two weeks. We are very good.” Cockiness oozed out of every word Amber spoke. His nose

grazed her ear, sending more chills down her spine. Immediately she stilled at the tenderness of

Ryan’s touch.

“We’ll fight sooner or later.”

“What time is it?”

“One in the morning. Why?”

“I think I should call my parents to let them know that I’m not home.” The bed creaked

as Amber sat up. Amber spotted a phone on the bedside table and reached for it. It might have

been early in the morning, but she knew the alternative wasn’t really an option. If her parents

found her bed empty in the morning, there would be major hell to pay. Even if she was twenty

two years old.

“Hello?” Her mother answered groggily.

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“Hi, Mom. It’s me, I just wanted to let you know I’m not at home. I’m at Ryan’s house.”

“Oh, okay. You alright?” A worried tone was taking over her mothers voice.

“Yes, don’t worry. Go back to sleep, I’m fine I promise.”

Amber lay back down and turned on her side facing Ryan. Their eyes met over their

joined hands laying between them. Ryan turned her hand over to inspect her palm. His finger

traced each line that curved or went straight. The treatment tickled her palm slightly but Amber

didn’t stop him. Ryan’s face was intent on her hand, his eyes didn’t look up to meet her gaze.

She watched as his eyes followed each movement of his hand that traced her palm. All she saw

was him and all she felt was his fingers. Slowly his movements stilled and he turned her palm

over.

The silence between them wasn’t uncomfortable but instead bearable. Amber often felt as

if most of what they said to each other, was said through their actions and body language. Amber

knew that when Ryan leaned towards her, he was curious. When he looked down to the ground

in her presence, he was afraid that he had over stepped some unseen boundary. And when his

eyes sparkled just for her, she knew that he wanted to kiss her.

Details are what made Amber care for him. The little things he did made her smile. While

she was thinking about the details, Ryan was slowly moving up her arm with his tracing.

His fingers paused at the crease of her forearm and arm. The blue veins there stood out

starkly against her pale skin. Something about the way his fingers traced each dip and curve of

her body gave Amber chills.

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“We should go to sleep.” Ryan whispered with his head down as he continued his tracing.

Amber knew that he was right, because she would have to work tomorrow.

“Do you have something I could wear to sleep in?” Ryan stopped his tracing momentarily

to stand up and grab her a wife beater from a dresser on the opposite side of the room. He

grabbed himself a similar piece of clothing before tossing Amber the items. Amber stood from

the bed and with Ryan watching, she began to undress. Then Ryan did something she hadn’t

expected, he turned around to give her privacy.

“I’m finished.” Amber climbed back into the bed as she spoke. Turning around Ryan

smiled in her direction. The moment they both laid down on the bed, Ryan resumed tracing

Amber’s arm. After a few minutes of tracing one area he would slowly move up.

“Do you believe in angels?” Ryan asked while beginning to trace Amber’s shoulder. A

sigh of contentment floated from her lips and her eyes closed.

“I like to think that there are angels among us. Watching out for us, guiding us. But I

don’t know if I trust their judgment much.”

“Why don’t you trust their judgment?” His tracing moved to her collarbone leaving

Amber slightly breathless. Amber thought about his question for a while before answering.

“Because if they cared about us, wouldn’t they intervene when things turned out wrong?”

Towards the end of her sentencem Ryan had moved to her other shoulder, making Amber’s

breath hitch. The gentle tracing was driving her slightly crazy, his fingers just barely grazed her

skin. It felt like butterfly kisses were being ghosted across her skin.

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“How do you know things turn out wrong? Maybe things turn out exactly as planned,

whether you know it or not.” A clock chimed somewhere in the cabin, reminding Amber of the

late hour. The tracing continued down the opposite arm during Amber’s thinking.

“I know there’s a reason for bad things, but it doesn’t stop me from not understanding.”

Amber rolled onto her back so that Ryan could more easily trace her arm. The covers were

pushed down to around their waists. Against her wishes, her eyes began to droop in tiredness.

“Go to sleep.” Ryan’s whisper made her smile. The last thing she heard as she fell asleep

was Ryan’s soft breathing as his tracing continued down her arm.

Amber woke up to the sound of Ryan’s heart beat against her ear. The two were nothing

more than a tangle of limbs. A blissful smile appeared on her face as she lay contently in Ryan’s

arms. She snuggled deeper into his embrace. A soft chuckle reached her ears.

“Look’s like your finally awake.” Ryan’s arms squeezed her gently.

“What time is it?” Amber asked from her place in Ryan’s arms. As he rolled over she

found herself laying on his chest, Ryan looked at the clock on his bedside table.

“Nine o’clock.” Even though was an hour late for work, she couldn’t seem to care. Life

felt frozen as she lay in Ryan’s arms. It was amazing how he had quickly become a staple in her

life. There was no doubt in her heart that she could spend a number of years curled up in his

arms.

“I should go to work.”

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“Yeah, you should.” Whispered Ryan as he gently kissed Amber’s neck.

“Will you drive me home? I need to change before work.” One last kiss was placed on

her neck before Ryan’s arms loosed from around her. She stretched the sleep out of her limbs.

Picking up her clothes from the floor she followed Ryan out of the cabin. He threw on a hoodie

that was hanging from a hook on the front door.

In the silence Amber found comfort. Never in her life had she felt so content in the

silence of someone’s company. She watched the forest pass by the window as Ryan’s hand found

hers. Their hands stayed joined the rest of the ride to Amber’s house. The truck rumbled down

the drive way to Amber’s house. Only Amber’s car was parked outside, assuring her that her

parents had already gone off to work.

Ryan turned the ignition off and jumped out of the truck to open Amber’s door. Taking

his offered hand Amber let him help her out of the truck. Without having to ask him Ryan

followed her into the house. Silently he followed her through the house, Amber pointing pictures

of her out as they walked towards her room. Curiosity got the best of him when he paused in

front of a certain picture of Amber.

The picture was of Amber when she was five years old. A smiling five year old Amber

was laying in a pile of leaves that her father had just raked up. In the picture Amber was laughing

as her father threw leaves at her with many of the leaves getting stuck in her curly black locks.

“You look really happy in this picture.” Ryan commented as both stared at the picture.

Amber reached her hand out to touch the picture hanging on the wall. Other pictures surrounding

it were simple but often people comment on the picture Ryan was now commenting on .

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“I was really happy. I loved working in the yard when I was little. Most Saturdays my

dad and I would spend the whole day either gardening or raking leaves in Autumn. We haven’t

done it in a few years though, I miss it.” Amber spoke longing of the day’s she was describing.

She turned to find Ryan staring at her instead of the picture. He was smiling at her shyly.

“What?” She tried to sound irritated but her question ended up sounding void of emotion.

When Ryan shrugged, Amber turned and continued their way to her bedroom. Assuming Ryan

was following her, she entered her bedroom and opened the blinds.

Pretending Ryan wasn’t there was not as easy as she had hoped. The pounding of her

heart didn’t slow when she finished getting dressed and noticed that Ryan had been lying on her

bed, watching her. It had started to rain outside, making her bedroom fill with the sound of rain

hitting the roof. Again his hair was falling into his eyes, but this time Amber wasn’t afraid.

Slowly and purposefully she walked towards the bed that he lay on. Gently she pushed

the hair back from his face. Like he often did, he closed his eyes at her touch like he was

relishing in the moment. In one graceful movement he was standing before her, staring intently

into her eyes.

Frozen in place, Amber had no where to go, but she wasn’t complaining. Not to gently,

he pulled her to him and kept their eye contact the whole time. The big blue eyes that she had

begun to care for greatly were searching hers for permission again. It would never cease to

amaze her how they could speak without words. All Amber had to do was smile, curl her fingers

in his hair, and move in slightly closer to him.

Once she did all those things, Ryan moved in and placed a kiss on her mouth. Need

washed over her again, but she pushed it down because she knew that right now kissing him

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would have to be enough. Getting lost in Ryan’s kisses was always easy, so when he pulled away

it took Amber a few seconds to gather herself. Their foreheads pressed together lightly as both

tried to return their breathing to normal.

They walked hand in hand out of the house and then to Amber’s car. A cardinal flew past

them causing them turn and watch it fly away.

“Why don’t you come over tonight. Maybe I could talk the parents into sitting down for

dinner. All of us.” Amber hoped that it wasn’t to soon for her to thrust this on him.

Surprising her as usual, Ryan smiled and said, “I’d love that.” Then he leaned forward,

kissed her one last time, and left. Amber watched him drive away again. Not wanting to be any

later to work, Amber quickly jumped into her car and she drove as fast as she could. Moments

later she was parked outside the store and then she ran inside. The dampness from the recent rain

caused Amber to slid inside the store instead of walk.

Face flushed from embarrassment, Amber walked toward a laughing Denise.

“Good morning.” She muttered through gritted teeth.

“Good morning indeed.” Denise said through her mirth of laughter. Amber’s mother must

have heard her voice because she appeared moments later from the storage room.

“Hello, Amber. Denise could you finish unpacking the new shipment in the back for

me?” Amber watched her mother’s face carefully looking for some hint of emotion. Instead her

mother’s face was carefully blank. Denise smiled at Amber before taking her dismissal, and

leaving for the storage room.

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“Good morning, Mom.” The store was exceedingly quiet for a few moments. Amber

leaned against the counter and her mother did the same.

“I’m not going to beat around the bush. Last night, your father and I were lucky to get a

couple of hours sleep between the two of us.” Amber started to speak but her mother held a hand

up to prevent her from doing so. “I think that you should think about moving out. You’ve

graduated and obviously you’ve grown out of living at home. I’m not forcing you out, Amber, so

don’t look at it that way. I just think you’re ready for this. I certainly pay you enough for you to

move out.” A gentle smile was now on her mother’s face.

Amber had looked away the moment her mother had recommended moving out. She

knew that her mother was right and she did have more than enough money to move out. Working

at the store for years without paying rent would do that.

“Will you help me find a place?” Even though she was ready to move out, she wasn’t

ready to give up her relationship with her mother.

“Of course I will. Just because you move out doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being your

mother.” A kiss was placed on her cheek before her mother went back to the storage room.

Everything in her life was changing. First she graduated college. Second she was raped.

Amber’s heart froze in acknowledgement of her second statement.

“Oh my God.” Amber muttered as she gripped the counter for support. Right now was

not the time or place for her to think about that night. That realization should have happened at

least a few more weeks from now. It should have happened while she was sitting in a court room

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going through each detail like it had happened yesterday. While she was pondering her new

found realization, Denise had sidled up beside her at the counter.

“Everything okay?” Denise asked when she saw how ashen white Amber had become.

“Oh. I’m fine.” The door chimed to signify that someone had entered. Amber was still

staring at the counter when Denise did her job.

“Hello, sir, how can I help you today?” Amber heard Denise ask as she walked towards

the customer. Gratefully the customer kept her occupied long enough for Amber to calm herself.

Amber hoped that the color had returned to her face when Denise returned to ring up the

customer. A haze had come over Amber’s vision and she wanted nothing more than to see Ryan.

She felt stupid, childish, and broken. Amber sat down heavily behind the counter when

the customer was gone. There was no way that she could pretend it hadn’t happened. Denial was

all that Amber could do safely though. She would push the feeling away until it was safe for her

to feel it. Just a weeks more weeks from now she would be able to reveal it to herself and Ryan.

But until then she would pretend that she hadn’t felt it, that she hadn’t let herself feel it.

Amber remembered that she had told Ryan to come over for dinner tonight. So as to not

surprise her parents completely, she made her way into the storage room. Clothing racks filled to

the brink were scattered all over the storage room. The summer collection would be put out into

the store tomorrow morning, so Amber wasn’t surprised when she found her mother pouring

over a box of silk dresses.

“Mom?”

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“Oh, I didn’t hear you. What do you need?” The dresses momentarily lay forgotten in the

box as Amber’s mother looked up to her.

“I was wondering if you and dad would be home for dinner tonight. I invited Ryan over

to have dinner with us. All of us.”

“That sounds nice, sweetheart. I’ll make sure your father and I are home for dinner.”

Relief flooded through Amber’s body when her mother finished speaking. Amber leaned down

and kissed her mother on the cheek.

“Thank you, mom. It means a lot to me.” Before returning to the box of dresses before

her, Amber’s mother smiled gently at her daughter.

The day didn’t seem to go by as slow as usual because of the plans Amber had. She was

excited to sit down to dinner with her family, Ryan included. When customers came in Amber

could barely concentrate on what they wanted. A woman had come in looking for a black skirt

for a job interview in the city, and Amber had accidentally brought her all navy blue skirts to try

on. Thankfully the woman easily forgave her when Amber promised her a ten percent discount.

Which was against her mothers policy but she didn’t want the woman to never come back.

Because of navy blue skirts instead of black.

The red paint of Ryan’s truck glittered in the setting sun’s light as Amber parked beside

it. Looking too handsome for words, Ryan leaned against his truck waiting for Amber to get out

of her car. As soon as the car was turned off the car door opened. A hand was waiting for her to

take and she took it gratefully.

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His hair was still damp from his shower and the black pants he wore fit him perfectly.

The blue button down shirt he wore was rolled up to his elbows because of the sweltering heat of

summer. Amber suddenly felt under dressed for the occasion but Ryan’s smile changed her

thoughts.

“How was work?” He asked with their hands still joined between them.

“Boring. How was your day?” The perfect whiteness of his teeth showed with his grin.

Amber squeezed the hand in hers to remind her that he wasn’t a dream. The hand holding hers

lifted their joined hands and placed a kiss on her wrist.

“My day was one hundred times more boring than yours.” Amber imagined that was true.

She didn’t even know what he did all day.

“Do you have a job?” Curiosity never killed anyone, Amber figured.

“Of course I do. I get paid for the show’s I do. But I guess you want to know what I do

during the day.” Amber smiled sheepishly at him.

A low chuckle was elicited from Ryan at the sheepish look on Amber’s face. Ryan’s

hands bracket Amber’s face and her eyes were forced to meet his. The urge to kiss him was

almost uncontrollable for Amber, so she didn’t stop herself. They kissed right there, leaning up

against Amber’s car, with the whole world to see. A gentle press of lips was all it was, nothing

different than their usual kisses, but it thrilled her just the same. When he pulled away, Amber

found that her arms had weaved themselves around him tightly. Locked in each other’s embrace,

they stood still, staring into each other’s eyes. Amber could have stood there forever, had her

father not cleared his throat.

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“Are you going to come in or just stand there all night?” The two had the decency to

blush when they were caught. Amber had expected Ryan to pull away from her and drop her

hand, Derek had never held her hand in front of her parents, but instead Ryan held her hand

tighter. He followed her into the house just as he had earlier in the day. This time it was for a

different purpose, but Amber was still happy to just have him by her side. Something about his

presence, made her feel content and she reveled in the feeling.

When Amber entered the living room beside Ryan she wasn’t surprised to find her father

sitting in the recliner instead of the couch. Ryan and Amber sat down on the couch, close enough

that their thighs touched and their hands remained interlocked between them. The television was

on but Amber wasn’t watching it.

For the first time, Amber saw approval on her father’s face as he looked between Amber

and Ryan. When their eye’s met her father smiled before turning back to the television. Glancing

down at her hand in Ryan’s she saw more than she felt, Ryan rubbing his thumb in circles on the

top of her hand. Amber squeezed his hand to get his attention and he looked up. The urge to kiss

him hit Amber again, so she leaned forward and gave him a chaste kiss on the corner of his

mouth. The kiss brought a smile back to his face and Amber was grateful. She liked it when

Ryan smiled, though she didn’t quite know why.

“Dinner’s ready!” Her mother yelled from the kitchen. Ryan waited for Amber to stand,

with their hands still joined, he followed Amber into the kitchen.

“So, Ryan what are your plans for the future?” Amber’s father asked Ryan as he sat down

at the head of the table. Ryan held Amber’s chair out for her before sliding it in behind her.

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Another look of approval washed over her fathers face. Ryan sat to Amber’s right and he reached

for her hand under the table.

“Well sir, I have a graduated from college with a business degree two years ago. But right

now I’m focusing on my music. Hopefully within the next few months I’ll have a record contract

and I’ll be on my way.” Under the table, Amber squeezed his hand to ease his discomfort. She

knew that he was afraid her parents either wouldn’t like him or wouldn’t find him fit for their

daughter.

“Music, huh? At least you have a degree to fall back on, yeah?” Amber could visibly see

the relief float through Amber’s body. She looked to her father and mouthed ‘thank you’ his

way. A nod was all she got in return from her father.

“I’m very thankful that I got my degree. You’re exactly right because if my music

doesn’t work out for me, then I have something else to work with.” And after that dinner flew

by. Joke’s were told, childhood memories relived, and finally toward the end of dinner Amber

felt as if she had received her father’s blessing. Ryan was just so likeable, there was no way that

anyone could no like him or enjoy his company. Maybe it was his smile or even his charm,

Amber didn’t know or care. All that mattered to Amber was that her parents saw what she saw in

Ryan. And what she saw in Ryan was indescribable.

“Tonight went pretty well, don’t you think?” The crisp summer air had just slammed

Amber in the face when Ryan asked her his question.

“I have to agree.” The night had been almost dream like, it had gone so well. Her parents

had even made Ryan promise to come over to dinner again, also something that had never

happened with Derek. Amber reminded herself to stop comparing Ryan to Derek because really

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there was no comparison. After a hug and a kiss goodnight, Amber watched him drive away yet

again.

Chapter 9

The month

The month of June went by faster than Amber could have imagined. If it was possible to

forget about her pending court appearance, she had tried to. Each night had been filled with

Ryan’s laugh and smile. Work was how she started the day but Ryan was how she ended it.

Almost too good to be true, not once had Ryan asked for her to be with him that way.

Oh, Amber knew that he wanted it but he never asked it of her. As much as she loved

him, even though they still hadn’t exchanged the words, she wasn’t ready for that yet. One night

as they lay in his bed, well after midnight, Ryan told her he would wait. After that Amber knew

that there was no way to deny him forever. Sooner or later she would give in and when she did, it

would be amazing.

“Excuse me miss, I’m ready to purchase this.” The light blue dress shoved into her vision

broke her out of her train of thought.

“Sorry.” Amber muttered the apology as she rang the item up. Once the woman was out

of the store with her purchase, Amber’s mother came out of the storage room.

“I just got a phone call from the District Attorney.”

“Oh?” All the blood disappeared from Amber’s face, leaving her ghostly pale.

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“Yes, she wants to meet with you tomorrow to go over your testimony. You’ll be

testifying this Friday.” Hot knives were piercing her heart. A chair appeared behind her just in

time for her to slump back onto it’s cushion. Like she had more than a month ago outside the

police station, Amber rested her head between her knees. Breathing was easier that way for

Amber, and it seemed to keep the panic at bay.

Friday. Mentally Amber ticked off how many days she had until Friday. Today was

Tuesday so that meant she had today, tomorrow, and Thursday to get used to the idea of

testifying.

Amber stood from the chair her mother had placed her in and grabbed her purse.

“Go ahead, we aren’t busy today anyways.” Amber couldn’t resist kissing her mother on

the cheek before running out of the store. The warm summer air calmed her nerves. Once inside

her car she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Tiffany’s number. Amber felt numb after hearing

the news. If she testified that meant that she would have to be in the same room as him. Sit in

front of him, breathe the same air as him, and confront her reality in the face.

She didn’t want to recognize that night. It should remain buried inside her soul, hidden

away under layers of denial. It should be that way, but she knew that there was no way it could

stay away forever. Facing this was the only way to make it go away, but that didn’t make it any

easier. Almost every night she relived the memory of it, but that was in her dreams, where she

was safe from prying eyes and where her mind could heal itself. Repeating what happened out

loud was different, especially in front of strangers and him. He already knew what happened,

why did he have to be there to hear her repeat the brutality. Amber wanted to be able to cope

with this on her own time, not on his time or the courts time.

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Coping. That word stirred some strange emotion to life in Amber. What she had been

doing since that night wasn’t coping, she had been denying it. Harshly. In that moment she saw

the two pieces of what she felt, one part was relieved to be getting it over with but the other part

wanted to run away. She wanted to leave and never look back, but that was the smaller piece of

her. If she didn’t do what was needed of her, this man would be free to do what he did to her to

another woman. And Amber could not let that happen, she would pull from a deep strength

inside her and look this man in the face. On Friday she would finish what he started, she would

make sure he got what he deserved, even though it pained her to do so. Pain wasn’t new to

Amber.

“Hello?” Tiffany’s voice was worried, Amber realized she must not of heard her say

hello the few times before now.

“Hi. Are you still at work?”

“Yes, it’s only four. Do you need me?” Silently Amber debated whether it was fair for

her to ask Tiffany to deal with this when it was her problem.

“Could you leave early? I need to talk to you.”

“I’ll be out in five minutes. Wait for me outside.” Tiffany answered immediately. And

Amber knew in that moment that she could never thank Tiffany enough. A world without her

best friend, wasn’t a world she would want to live in. Tiffany was courageous and strong,

abilities that sometime’s Amber lacked. Amber’s mustang sat in front of Tiffany’s office

building, purring in the summer sun. The car door swung open as Tiffany jumped into the car.

Her face was etched with worry, Amber thought that it made Tiffany to look more beautiful.

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“Thank you for leaving work.”

“Of course. What’s going on?” Tiffany asked as Amber started to drive aimlessly through

town.

“I’m testifying this Friday.”

“Oh. Wow, that was soon.”

“Time flies.”

“It does.” Amber felt Tiffany watching her. Somehow the car had found its way to the

main road, tree’s passed by them on each side of the car. The road was empty except for them, so

Amber pulled over at the nearest pull off. Amber turned the car off after she put the windows

down. A light breeze passed through the car.

“Are you scared?” Asked Tiffany when Amber turned to her. Amber’s lip twitched as she

fought the on coming tears.

“I’m terrified. I wish I didn’t have to do this.” Tears were pouring from her eyes by the

end of her sentence, she had lost the fight.

“Oh, Amber.” Arms embraced her softly and Tiffany rubbed her back. “Don’t cry over

this. He doesn’t deserve any more tears.” Tiffany pushed Amber back so that she could look her

in the eyes. “By doing this you’re taking a stand. I admire you so much right now. I wish that I

had half of the courage you do.”

Amber looked at Tiffany’s pale face, soft blue eyes, and blonde hair. The face that had

been school president in high school and staged a walk out when the cafeteria wouldn’t offer a

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vegetarian menu. The face that took care of her disabled mother after she had a stroke, and lost

control of her body.

“Tiffany, you have more courage than me any day.” Her best friend shook her head when

she finished speaking.

“Amber, you don’t see it do you. You’ve never seen it. If you weren’t the girl that I

describe, I wouldn’t call you my best friend. Courage is having the strength to stand up for what

you believe in when everyone tells you not to. I see courage in all of your actions, even if you

don’t.” Still not quite able to believe Tiffany’s words, Amber wiped the tears from her cheeks

and eyes.

“I don’t know Tiffany. I don’t think I can sit in the same room as him and not panic.”

Again she watched Tiffany shake her head. Smiling, Tiffany patted Amber’s shoulder.

“Before Friday you just need to figure out a way to not panic. I know there’s something

that makes you breathe.” And then Tiffany winked. Anger welled up inside of Amber.

“I’m not telling him. Forget it. I don’t care if he stops me from panicking, he’s not sitting

in the same room as that… that son of a bitch!” Face red with anger, Amber turned away from

Tiffany’s surprised face.

“Ryan still doesn’t know?” Disbelief sounded in Tiffany’s voice. Amber’s fingers curled

tightly around the steering wheel, so tight that he fingers turned white.

“No. Why should he know?”

“Because he loves you and you love him.” Amber knew that she was right. But for some

reason she couldn’t imagine seeing Ryan in that court room. It was bad enough that she had to

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breathe the same air as him, but she could prevent Ryan from doing so. Amber could prevent

Ryan from being tainted by that man’s presence, even though she could never remove the trace’s

of that man from her.

“I just can’t Tiffany. I can’t.” A tone in her voice must have convinced Tiffany to back

off. When Amber turned to look at her best friend she found understanding eyes and compassion

in her stare.

“Okay. I understand.” That was the end of their conversation. Amber drove Tiffany back

into town and dropped her off at her car. The door opened but Tiffany paused before getting out.

She turned to Amber and simply smiled. She leaned over, hugged Amber tightly, and then

hopped out of the car. Tiffany never ceased to amuse Amber. There was no way that Amber

could ever stay angry with Tiffany.

Amber couldn’t help but think over what she had discussed with Tiffany. Courage wasn’t

the right word for what Amber was doing, Amber felt as if she was just giving in. The part of her

that wanted to run away was swiftly being pushed down, but she could feel it bubbling up over

the edges. A deep fear laced part of her wanted to let that piece of her take over but the larger

part, the part that was in control told her that she had to go through with this. Because if she did

run away she would never be able to live with herself, knowing that she hadn’t stuck up for

herself and for other women. For that she was certain, if he had done it to her he would do it to

more, and he probably did it to others before her.

Red glinted in front of her as she pulled into the drive way. Ryan was standing outside of

his truck, leaning up against, causing Amber’s heart to skip a beat. He never failed to take her

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breath away, with his smile and big blue eyes. Amber wondered if she had forgotten some date

as she parked beside him.

“Hey.” The door was opened for her and she got out of the car.

“Hello.” He took her hand in hers while pulling her forward. Large hands found her face

before cupping her cheeks gently. A kiss was placed lightly on her lips and as what often

happens, Amber had the urge for something more. Before she could muster the courage to ask

for more, as he always did Ryan pulled away. Chastely he placed one last kiss on her mouth

before taking her hand in his.

“Did we have plans for tonight?” Amber asked curiously. Ryan was leading her along the

side of the house without speaking. The hammock swayed in the breeze with blankets covering

it’s many holes. Ryan turned to her and smiled while pulling her along to the hammock. After

Ryan laid in the hammock he tugged Amber down to lay beside him.

“No, we didn’t.” Was all that Ryan said. Amber curled into his side, the light began to

disappear over the tree tops in the distance. The steady beat of Ryan’s heart was all the sound

that Amber heard. Under the blanket that Ryan had covered them both with, his hand found hers.

One of Ryan’s favorite things to do was to trace her skin softly. As one hand held hers under the

blanket, the other traced the skin of her back beneath her shirt. Chills raced down her spine at the

touch of his bare skin to hers.

“If we didn’t have plans, what’s with the surprise visit?” Amber asked with eye’s closed

and contentment clear in her voice.

“I have some good news.” Amber sat halfway up to look him in the eyes.

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“Really? I’m waiting.” Ryan’s eye’s sparkled at her teasing tone and he pinched her

jokingly.

“Someone approached me from a record company today. They’re going to be at my show

on Saturday.” Excitement flowed through Amber. She almost jumped out of the hammock before

Ryan steadied her.

“Ryan, that’s great! I’m so happy for you!” Genuine happiness radiated off of Amber.

Ryan just lay in the hammock basking in her excitement.

“Will you be there? On Saturday?”

“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Amber found herself pulled into his

embrace. His smell overwhelmed her momentarily, the scent of fresh cut grass and some

unknown cologne, and she breathed it in deeply. The sun had disappeared behind the tree’s

completely, casting a pink glow across the acres around them.

“Amber?” Ryan asked hesitantly, while combing his fingers through Amber’s long

strands of hair.

“Hmm?” Amber’s fingers curled gently against the arm around her. It seemed as if each

living cell in her body was singing for Ryan, Amber reveled in the feeling.

“I was talking to Stan today. He mentioned something and I wanted to bring it up.”

Fingers paused their motion in her hair and fear gripped Amber’s heart.

“What did Stan say?” Amber tried to act curious but she knew that Ryan would see

through it. Never was she able to hide emotions from him, he saw through her defenses.

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“Don’t be mad at Stan. It was an accident.” Ryan’s grip on her was vice like as she tried

in vain to pull away. Their eye’s locked and Amber tried to hide the pain in her eyes. He saw it

before she could push it away, his face was gentle and caring. Once more Amber tried to pull

away but he didn’t waver in his resolute grip. Tears filled her eyes at the thought of him knowing

her secret. All Amber could think of doing was running, as fast and far away as her legs could

carry her.

“Let me go!” She screamed at the top of her lungs. They were standing now and Ryan

was struggling to keep Amber in his grasp. A stranger would have thought Amber looked like a

wild animal in the midst of taming, but all Ryan saw was anger.

“No.” Amber looked any where but his eyes, the blue eyes that pierced her soul. She

kicked and screamed for what felt like an eternity, before she felt his grip slacken. And then

Amber was running. She was running from Ryan and from the truth. The farthest she got was the

edge of the forest, where her and Tiffany had gone as little girls. An old fort they had built

remained strong, though it was moldy and leaf covered. Amber sought haven in it, if only to

ignore reality for a few moments, she wanted to pretend that she was eight again. Back when she

was eight, things seemed so perfect. Like nothing could stand in her way and that the world was

hers for the taking. But now, life just seemed impossible to Amber. The one thing she never

wanted to tell Ryan, had been told to him and it hadn’t even been by her. Irrationally she thought

that there was no way he could want her anymore.

Not after she had been broken by that man. The man that she would face by herself in the

courtroom on Friday. Amber watched a bird fly to a nest and feed it’s chicks. Amber waited to

hear footsteps but she didn’t.

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Under the moldy roof of the old fort, Amber sat for hours hoping that Ryan would come

to find her. No footsteps were heard and no voices yelling her name. Panic settled in around

Amber, quickly like a curtain drawn across a window. The flood gates had opened and big, fat,

tears fell from Amber’s eyes. Amber found herself weeping on the ground, weeping for Ryan

and for herself. In that frozen piece of time, as she shook with broken sobs, Amber was afraid

that she would never be herself again. And forever was a very long time to live life as a stranger

in your own mind.

As Amber walked toward the house in the distance, her ribs ached from weeping and she

felt empty inside. The emptiness grew as she passed the hammock to find it empty, just as she

was now. All the lights in the kitchen were on. Amber found her parents sitting at the kitchen

counter with large cups of coffee. Both turned sharply towards the sliding glass door when she

slid it open.

“Amber!” Amber’s mother yelled as she ran towards her. Warmth enveloped her as both

of her parents wrapped her in their arms.

“We were so worried.” Stated her father simply into her ear.

“I’m sorry guys. I guess I shouldn’t have gone off on my own.” Gratefully they pulled

away and Amber was given the space she needed. The three of them sat down together in the

living room. Amber imagined she must look like a mess because of the looks her mother was

giving her eyes and cheeks.

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“Ryan was waiting for us when we got home. He said you ran off to the place you and

Tiffany played at as kids.” The television glowed to life as her mother finished speaking. Staring

down at her hands, she felt selfish now for leaving Ryan.

Her father looked at her intently before speaking, “He said he tried to talk to you about

what happened. Then you ran and he said he didn’t want to push you. So, he went home and we

waited.”

“We knew you just needed time but it didn’t stop us from worrying.” Amber’s mother

gave her a loving look before standing and venturing up stairs. Silence filled the living room

quickly, Amber felt silly and childish for doing what she had done. Slowly the part of her that

wanted to run away was being silenced.

“Dad?” Amber’s fingers curled into the sofa, looking for relief from the burden of her

heavy heart.

“Yes?” Amber could see bag’s beneath his eyes to match her mother’s.

“Did Ryan say anything else?” Tears prickled at her eyes but she blinked them away. Her

father’s hand found her shoulder and squeezed gently. The gesture was reassuring slightly but

Amber was still afraid of his answer.

“He wanted me to tell you not to call him for a while.” She watched him pause to think of

how to phrase his next sentence. Before her heart could break he continued, “But he’s not mad at

you. He wants you to do this on your own so that you’ll know you can. Like the rest of us know

you can.” And just like that, her heart didn’t break. Tomorrow she would meet with the District

Attorney to go over her testimony and then Friday, Friday she would finish this.

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When she climbed into bed that night she felt awful. Physically and emotionally. No

messages were waiting on her cell phone. Her heart ached to call Ryan and apologize but she

couldn’t. She was too stubborn for that. She longed to hear his voice, sweet like sugar, telling her

he forgave her for this evening. But she couldn’t do it, not tonight at least. Maybe after the trial

she would beg him for forgiveness but he was right. Amber needed to know she could do it on

her own, she needed to know her own strength. Her heart skipped a beat when her cell phone

rang. It was face down on the bed so that Amber couldn’t see who was calling. When she flipped

it over, Tiffany’s name flashed across the screen and Amber’s heart sank a little.

“Hello?” Voice scratchy from crying, Amber realized she must sound awful.

“Amber.” Tiffany wasn’t asking that it was indeed her, she must have recognized her

voice through the tear choked pain of her throat.

Only a moment passed before Tiffany asked, “Are you okay?”

“Ryan and I fought.” Came her toneless reply.

“I know, Stan told me he let it slip to Ryan. And Ryan called Stan out for a drink a few

minutes ago. Oh, Amber…” Amber had started crying again before Tiffany could finish.

“I’m so scared Tiffany. What if he doesn’t want me anymore?” Amber asked through the

tears. The fear of losing Ryan was more overwhelming than the fear of seeing that man.

“Amber, being raped doesn’t make you undesirable to men.” Tiffany sounded so sure of

herself that Amber couldn’t help but think about her words. The authority that sounded in

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Tiffany’s voice was new to Amber. Amber had forgotten to close her blinds, making the stars

clear through the window. Angrily she stood and drew the curtains closed with vigor.

“Well, I think it does. Tell Stan I hate him.” Amber tried to sound menacing but she knew

that she only sounded irritated. “And tell him I was livid with him when we talked. Make sure

you tell him I threatened to hang him from the Stockton bridge. I’ll do it.” Even though she was

trying to be mad, she knew couldn’t help but laugh at the image she had caused. Tiffany laughed

loudly into the phone.

“I’ll repeat it exactly the way you said it. I wanted to ask you, would you mind if I came

Friday?” Amber thought about it for a moment.

“If you want to come, I wont stop you.” And that was all she would say. She told Tiffany

goodnight and hung up before heading to her bathroom.

The light flickered as turned it on. An image of some other girl appeared before her in the

bathroom mirror. At least she thought so at first until she peered closer. Her hair was a knotted

black mass on top of her head and mascara ran down her cheeks. Eye’s red from crying, Amber

scrubbed her face with a wash cloth. She turned the shower on to it’s hottest temperature and

waited for it to warm before stepping in.

The hot water eased the knotted muscles of her back. Standing under the water made

Amber’s mind wander. Amber steadied herself against the shower wall. Push, shove, grunt, grab

, punch. Instantly Amber fell to her knees in the shower. Water poured over her to mix with the

tears now flowing from her eyes.

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When Amber whimpered she knew she would pay for the sound, so she readied herself

for the pain of her punishment. The strength of the slap forced her to bite her lip, which caused

blood to pour into her mouth. She felt sick at the taste of her own blood but the thought vanished

when he pushed in roughly. Her wrist ached from the strength of his grip, and she tried to pull

away in vain. The boy laughed before gripping her thigh tightly and then biting her neck.

Grunting he covered her mouth when she tried to scream at the harsh pain he had caused in her.

Almost as if it had happened yesterday the memory was fresh in her mind. Vividly she

saw him above her pushing and grunting. The water kept falling onto her until it turned cold. Her

teeth began to chatter as the frozen water poured over her like ice. The coldness made her feel

alive, not nearly as alive as Ryan’s kisses did, but it would have to do.

With the spell broken, Amber turned the water off and got out of the showers. Standing

naked in front of the mirror she took in her appearance. Though the bruises were gone in some

places a sickly green had stayed, harsh reminders of that night. As if it was enough to have it

stuck inside her mind, her body would always remind her off that night too.

Unable to stand the look of her naked body, she turned away from the mirror and grabbed

the towel hanging on the wall. With the towel wrapped tightly around her she walked into her

bedroom. The day had been agonizingly long for Amber, so she was grateful when her heavy

heart finally lay down in bed and fell quickly asleep. Her last thought before falling asleep, was

that she have no dreams that night.

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When she woke in the morning she was surprised to find she hadn’t dreamed. No dreams

at all. That was unusual. Most of the time she would at least dream about Ryan, but last night

there had been nothing. Maybe her mind was protecting her finally, from herself and that night.

Once Amber had dressed for the day she stumbled down the stairs. Her body felt heavy,

like she wasn’t in control of her limbs. But she made it to her car and was able to drive to the

store. Amber felt as if she was on autopilot, like she was just going through the paces as she

walked into the store.

Debbie smiled in her direction but Amber couldn’t muster a smile onto her face.

“Bad night?” Debbie asked pleasantly when Amber sat down behind the counter.

“Bad eight weeks.” She grumbled.

“You’re mom said I’m watching the store alone for the last half of today and Friday. Any

special reason?” Amber watched Debbie’s eyebrows raise at the end of her sentence. The star

tattoo had long ago healed but Amber still found herself looking at it. Stars weren’t that great in

Amber’s opinion. She hated the stars now.

“I’m testifying on Friday. Today we’re going over my testimony.”

“Oh.” Nothing else was said the rest of the afternoon to Amber’s pleasure. Amber knew

that it was time to go when her mother came out of the storage room.

Amber knew the ride to the police station by heart now. Two lefts, then right, and another

left. Her eyes remained closed but when the car stopped she knew they had reached the station.

For a moment her mother sat quietly on the opposite side of the car. Eye’s open now, Amber

turned to her mother and found her mother staring with tear filled eyes.

“Mom?” Amber asked curiously.

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“I want you to know how proud I am of you. No matter what happens.” Tearfully she

reached over and hugged Amber tightly.

“You should have saved that for Friday because I’ll need it more then.” The jab was

meant to be light hearted but her mother’s smile was only half way there.

“I’ll say it again on Friday.” A warmth filled her stomach as she acknowledged her

mothers love. The door to the District Attorneys office was open but they didn’t enter. Instead

both stood outside waiting for the woman to ask them to enter, Amber’s mother grabbed her

hand and squeezed it gently. Amber half heartedly squeezed it back to appease her.

“Come in.”

When Amber entered the office she found the blonde woman no different then she had

been more than a month before. Still petite and platinum blonde, but something in her face was

warmer. Almost as if she knew today would be hard for Amber and she wanted to be as friendly

as possible. A young man closed the door behind Amber as they sat down opposite the attorney.

Silence filled the room as the attorney looked through files. Finally she looked up and smiled a

small smile at Amber.

“Good news is that this is almost over for you. After Friday, you won’t have to do this

again. I just wanted to go over a few things with you. Are you ready?” The blonde hair of the

woman didn’t move when she spoke, but it looked flawless. Amber felt as is she was in a movie

not a real life attorney’s office.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” She whispered through irritation.

A forced smile found it’s way to Ambers face, she felt her mother squeeze her hand

again. Amber thought that they would never finish. Repeating and going over certain images

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more than once. By the end of the meeting, she had a horrible headache that in turn caused a

crippling nausea to flood her uneasy stomach.

“It wasn’t that bad.” Ambers mother said as she started the car.

“Yeah, I guess.” Trees passed by the window quickly on the silent drive home. A part of

Amber hoped to see red when they pulled into the drive way, but it was empty. No red truck and

no Ryan. Instead of sitting in the house with her mother, Amber ventured outside.

The hammock swung invitingly in the summer breeze. To the west, the sun hung low in

the sky, just about to disappear behind the trees. Dusk was one of Ambers favorite times of day.

The hammock rocked beneath Amber as she lay down. Amber hoped to possibly catch some of

Ryan’s lingering scent but all she smelled was pine and honeysuckles.

At every sound Amber sat up hoping that it was Ryan. Amber laid there for as long as she

dared, she wouldn’t want to be there when the stars came out. After a few hours of laying in the

hammock Amber went inside to eat.

“How did the hammock treat you?” Asked her father with a grin. In vain Amber tried to

copy his smile, but it only half way reached her lips.

“Nicely.” Amber replied before throwing herself into a chair at the kitchen table.

Sleep eluded her that night. All she could do was toss and turn. The fear of dreaming

about him and the hope of dreaming about Ryan, made Amber want to scream with frustration.

Amber laid in bed for six hours, staring at the ceiling and counting the individual popcorn things

on the roof. By morning she had counted over two thousand five hundred and sixty seven.

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Amber thought that that was two thousand five hundred and sixty seven too many. Her

mother had offered her the day off but there was no way Amber could sit at home; without

wanting to drive two miles to see Ryan.

On the way to work, she passed the road that led to Ryan’s cabin. When she checked in

the rear view mirror and saw no one coming, she let the mustang stop at the entrance. White

hands gripped the steering wheel as the parts of her fought inside. One part of her wanted to turn

down the road to see his smile. The other part wanted her to drive on… to show him and

everyone else that she could rely on herself. Strength was what she needed and she knew it, even

though it hurt to the very deepest of her heart, she drove on.

The store looked inviting to Amber that morning. She would much rather be stuck there

then at home. At least at work someone was there to keep her mind off of… many different

things. Amber tried her best to smile, just grin and bear it, she told herself.

Debbie seemed to understand that Amber needed a distraction.

“Your mom thought you weren’t coming in today.”

“She thought wrong, since I’m here.” Debbie smiled while looking over her shoulder.

“If you want to get out of here, I’ll take you to get a tattoo.” Amber laughed at Debbie’s

offer and at her sing song voice.

“Maybe another day.” Amber said through laughter. It felt good to laugh but she couldn’t

escape the sense of dread in the pit of her stomach. Tomorrow was going to be a hard day and

Amber wished for it to get here already. The sooner tomorrow came the sooner it would be over.

Amber walked aimlessly around the store, straightening dresses on their racks or

reorganizing a pile of designer jeans. When noon came around she was so caught up in her

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reorganizing that she almost didn’t hear the door chime. Looking up from her spot on the floor,

she wasn’t surprised to see Tiffany entering the store.

“Hey!” Amber yelled as she stood up. The two girls embraced in the middle of the store.

“Hi Debbie.” Tiffany said with a pleasant smile.

“Hello. Off to lunch I suppose?” Teased the tattoo covered woman. Tiffany lifted up a

brown bad that clearly read Pepper’s café. She dropped it on the counter in front of Debbie with

a smile.

“Ham, cheese, mustard, and pickle. You’re welcome.” And with that Tiffany dragged

Amber out of the store. Amber couldn’t help but laugh at Tiffany’s behavior.

“You are so strange sometimes, Tiffany.” Amber had almost forgotten how good it felt to

laugh more than once in a day. Tiffany’s hand remained on her arm as Amber was dragged

towards the parking garage across the street.

“But you love me anyway.” Amber followed Tiffany to her own car. Stopping at the

driver side door, Tiffany held her hand out for the keys.

“Oh no. No way.” Amber shook her head but Tiffany just stood there smiling with her

palm outstretched for the keys. “Nope. Noooo…” After more than a couple of minutes Ambers

resolve broke. She dropped her keys into Tiffany’s hand. Glumly, she walked over to the

passenger side of the car.

“I’m not telling you where were going.” The question wasn’t even able to leave Amber’s

lips before Tiffany answered. Amber actually crossed her arms, huffed, and threw herself back

into her seat. Besides the glare she received from Tiffany, nothing else was said for the rest of

the ride. Surprisingly, Tiffany drove to Amber’s house and parked in the drive way.

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A small part of Amber hoped to see red as they pulled up to the house. But the drive way

was void of any vehicles making her heart drop slightly.

“What are we doing at my house?” Amber wondered aloud to Tiffany.

“We’re going to our fort!” Tiffany yelled while jumping up and down.

Getting to the fort was relatively easy, since they were both wearing tennis shoes. The

sun hung in the sky right above them making the green grass look wet.

“Exactly, why are we going to the fort?” The tree line was fast approaching and Amber’s

forehead stung with the promise of a sunburn.

“Because I want too. Good enough?” Tiffany’s blonde head bobbed ahead of Amber as

she skipped excitedly toward the fort. Amber suddenly ached for Ryan but she pushed the

thought to the side and focused instead on her best friend. Tiffany was much shorter than her at

five foot one compared to her five foot seven. But if one knew Tiffany, then one knew that what

Tiffany lacked in height she made up for with personality. During Amber’s thoughts they had

arrived at the fort. The fort that Amber had run to only two days ago when Ryan had tried to pull

Amber’s secret from her heart. Amber watched as Tiffany tenderly touched the wood panels as if

she could summon memories through touch.

“It hasn’t changed much has it?” She wondered while Tiffany walked inside the fort.

Amber couldn’t help but laugh when Tiffany didn’t need to duck.

“No, not really. It’s a little beat up but that’s it.” Tiffany turned to look at Amber standing

a few feet away from the fort. Amber watched as Tiffany held her arms out to her side and

blocked herself into the doorway. The leaves rustled in the breeze making Amber grateful for the

coolness of the shade.

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“I wish we could be eight again. I was out here the other day, you know.” Finally, Amber

joined Tiffany in the door way of the fort. The magical element of the fort had long ago died but

it still held more than enough memories for Amber. Tea parties in the summer and a refuge from

the snow in the winter, all with Tiffany. The girls sat down together on the damp floor of the fort.

“Remember in fifth grade, when Gordon Dewhurst wrote you that song and sang it in the

talent show. That was the funniest thing ever, what did he rhyme your name with again?” While

speaking Tiffany preceded to poke Amber’s legs. Amber’s face soured in fake irritation, she

curled her lips and tried to look disdainful.

“You mean the last verse? When he sang ‘Amber Hallows looks good when she

swallows’.” The girls rolled with laughter at the memory. Moments later the laughter died and

Tiffany raised herself up onto her knees. She looked Amber squarely in the face.

“Are you scared?” The floor boards creaked under Tiffany’s weight as she crawled to sit

beside Amber.

“Yes.” She whispered so low that she was afraid Tiffany wouldn’t hear.

“I’ll be there sitting beside Stephanie and John.” Tiffany rested her arm around Amber’s

shoulders and Amber let her head lay on Tiffany’s shoulder.

“What if they don’t convict him?”

“Don’t worry about that now. Worry about that if it happens but for now, just worry

about staying calm.” Tiffany squeezed her shoulders while rubbing her arm softly.

“Oh my God. What if I panic on the stand? I’ll make a fool of myself.” Amber harshly

wiped the tears from her eyes. She wished that she could know the outcome of tomorrow.

“If you start to panic close your eyes and think of something that makes you happy. Or

think of someone that makes you calm.” The sun was shining directly into the fort now, since it

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had to be after four in the afternoon. The silence was comfortable between the best friends as

they sat in their childhood shelter, praying for strength and peace in Amber.

Finally the two stood and walked silently back to Amber’s house. Never had Amber been

so grateful to have Tiffany as her best friend. She was more than grateful, there was no word to

fit how much she cared and loved Tiffany. A part of her wished that Tiffany would have been

her sister but she knew they were almost the same. There was a beauty in Tiffany’s ability to

love Amber just the way she was, without pretences or questions. Amber realized she could

never thank God enough for Tiffany, not ever.

The two girls say down heavily in front of the television, groggy from the heat outside

and from reliving their memories.

“Did Stan say anything about going out with Ryan the other night?” Amber tried to sound

uninterested but Tiffany knew that she was most definitely interested.

“I forgot to tell you. They both got hopelessly drunk and Stan ended up crashing at

Ryan’s place. He had the worst hang over ever, Amber! I tried to take a picture of him but he

locked himself in his bedroom for hours. Even when I told him ‘smile for Amber, she needs a

laugh’, he just groaned and threw something at the door.” Tiffany kept a straight face through the

whole thing, even though Amber couldn’t help but laugh. She laughed loudly and Tiffany began

to laugh also when Amber unceremoniously snorted. Both girls felt like they were both back in

high school, warm with laughter and immaturity, but it didn’t escape them both that tomorrow

that would change.

When their laughter quieted the television grew louder. At the sound of the door opening

both turned to look and saw Amber’s father coming in through the front door.

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“Oh, hello girls. Am I missing a party?” The door closed behind him and he made his

way into the living room. He sat opposite them in his favorite recliner, and Amber thought she

saw a look of relief on his face. Relief that Amber was in the house today, instead of alone at the

forests edge.

“No, sir. We’re just passing time with jokes.” Tiffany smiled her pearly white smile.

“Not making fun of Stanley to bad now are we?” Amber and Tiffany couldn’t help but

laugh at the memory of Stan’s hangover. Once their laughter quieted the girls admitted that they

had been picking on Stan.

“He deserves it sometimes.” Tiffany said while staring at the television.

“Your brother’s a smart kid. Just like you.” As he walked behind them towards the

kitchen, he tapped them both on the head like they were children.

“He is not smart.” Tiffany muttered under her breath. Amber reached over and pinched

her with a smirk on her small mouth.

“Leave poor Stan alone. You love him and you know it.” The only sound for the next

hour was the television, since Tiffany was now giving Amber the silent treatment. After finally

having enough of it Amber started to poke Tiffany in the leg, repeatedly.

“Okay! I give in, I don’t hate my brother!” Tiffany yelled with a smile on her face.

Happy with the result, Amber leaned back into the couch and settled into watching the rest of the

nightly news.

“I’m looking for my own place.”

“Really? Where?” That was the problem. The town didn’t have many places to choose

from. Amber knew that she had been putting it off, hoping that maybe Ryan would ask her…

“I was thinking of renting one of the condo’s down by the river.”

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“That’s where the tourist’s come for vacation Amber.” She was right but Amber liked it

there. The water always moved in the river even with a drought, and Amber loved the sound of

water with the heat bugs in the summer.

“But you have to admit they’re nice condos.” Tiffany’s phone vibrated with a text

message.

“They are nice, but that’s twenty five minutes out of town.” Amber watched as Tiffany’s

face dropped a little, and she knew that Tiffany would have to leave soon.

“There’s no where closer that’s renting.” Tiffany smiled in sympathy before stretching

her arms and legs out in front of her. She patted Amber on the knee before standing.

“I’ll help you find a place closer. I have to go, Stan’s waiting outside for me. I’ll see you

outside the courthouse tomorrow morning, okay?” Amber tried to make the smile reach her eyes

but she couldn’t. When she opened the front door she spotted Stan in his little 1997 Honda Civic.

He honked at the appearance of his sister and Amber. Amber laughed when he rolled the window

down and whistled for his sister like a dog.

“If you think he’s funny, you can have him!” The blonde yelled as she climbed into the

car. Stan smiled at Amber before driving away at a speed she wouldn’t dare.

That night Amber didn’t sleep again. Instead of counting the pop corn things again she

decided to do some sketches for the store. Soon she was lost in her world, most of the time her

designs were too different from her mother’s, making compromise their biggest friend. Amber

would often use bright neon colored thread instead of black, she thought it could be her

trademark but her mother hated it. A few of the jeans in the store from their line had bright pink

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stitching and many of the towns girls liked it, but she would have to wait until the store was hers

to expand on it.

Without knowing it, Amber wished for a rock to be thrown at her window. Just a small

rock would have appeased her but the whole night, nothing came. Only the sound of heat bugs

flitted into Amber’s room, but at least she had that small comfort. The drawing was meant to be

of a girl wearing a cocktail dress, but some how it turned into Amber in a wedding dress. And for

some reason her hand drew Ryan in a tuxedo next to her. When the picture was finished and

when it looked to much like the real Ryan, Amber ripped the page from her sketchbook and

balled it up.

By the time morning rolled around there were hundreds of balled up sketches scattered

around Amber’s room. Some had been sketches of women in clothing but most of them were of

Ryan, and his warm gaze. Amber looked in the mirror to check her reflection but wasn’t

surprised to find dark bags underneath her eyes. Neither was she surprised to see that her eyes

were dull and her hair was too greasy for her tastes.

The shower was scalding hot but Amber still shivered at the thought that she would be in

court in a matter of hours. The thought of looking her attacker in the eyes scared her but she

knew it had to be done. Running away was no longer a choice for Amber, the only choice was to

go and deal with it. Life would go on, whether she liked it or not.

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Chapter 10

The Trial & Conviction

Amber held onto her mothers hand like a child. The grip was so tight that she swore she

saw her mother wince in pain, but still she held Amber’s hand. Never had Amber appreciated her

more than at that moment. Through the metal detectors, past crowded courtrooms, Amber and

her family made their way to the designated courtroom. The District Attorneys assistant was

waiting for them outside the courtroom.

Amber outstretched her free hand to shake his. “Hello.” The voice that came from her

mouth wasn’t her own, but instead someone else’s, a stronger woman’s voice. The young man

smiled a little too much at the sight of Tiffany but Amber ignored it.

“When it’s your turn to testify the D.A. will come out to get you. She wanted me to

remind you to remain calm.” The young man’s face was still round with baby fat but not in an

unattractive way. Even though she was scared crazy, Amber still saw her best friend taking slight

interest in him. Only her best friend could hit it off with the assistant to the attorney that was

putting her rapist on trial.

She couldn’t control her leg as it shook violently against the marble floor. Sitting

between her father and mother, Amber closed her eyes and imagined she was some where else.

Calmness washed over her when she envisioned the hammock in her mind, with Ryan laying in

it waiting for her to join him. She heard his warm laugh and loving eyes, just waiting for her to

lay beside him.

“Amber?” Came her father’s voice. Ambers eyes opened to find the District Attorney

impatiently waiting with her head outside the courtroom door. Autopilot turned on at that

moment for Amber. Everything seemed to be in slow motion as she walked towards the door.

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Tiffany followed her in and she assumed her parents were behind her. Amber tried very hard to

keep her eyes on the District Attorneys blonde head, she wasn’t ready to turn to the left yet.

Amber was afraid that her lip would bleed under the pressure of her teeth. The world was

still in slow motion, as the deputy asked her to lay her hand on the bible and when he asked her if

she would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth Amber answered.

“Yes.” The deputy smiled before heading off to the side. Amber found a spot on the floor

in front of her to stare at.

“Can you tell the court your name please?” The blonde attorney’s voice echoed in the

wood courtroom.

“Amber Hallows.” Again her voice didn’t sound like her own but she didn’t care.

“Amber, when was the first time you met Tony Saunders?” Amber’s leg began to shake

violently again, but she feared looking for her family’s familiar faces. If she looked to the wrong

spot she might see him, and that would be awful.

“Nine P.M. on May 5th.” Panic was welling up inside her, she knew she was breathing the

same air as him and nausea rolled deep in her stomach.

“Can you tell us how you first met him?” The sound of the door opening echoed

throughout the room, but again Amber dared not look. Her eyes were now trained onto the

District Attorneys, and the woman smiled encouragingly at Amber. As if she knew exactly how

Amber felt and what was welling up inside of her.

“I was in the field at the Henderson plantation. No one was around and I don’t know

what I was doing out there. He was leaning against the shed…”

“When you say he, you mean Tony Saunders?” The woman interrupted. Amber knew

what she wanted her to do, but she couldn’t.

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“Yes.” The eyes flashed at her in pity for a moment. The woman stepped closer to Amber

before speaking.

“Can you point him out?” Amber felt light headed and weak. Tears threatened

menacingly behind her eyes as Amber begged this woman not to make her. Her head shook

violently for a few moments. Breathing was getting more difficult with each passing second.

“Amber, do you need a moment?” The woman asked with sympathy. Amber felt all the

eyes in the courtroom on her, it was worse than the state spelling bee when Amber had thrown

up on stage.

“I…” Amber’s eyes slid to the right and she saw him. He was smiling as if he had won

the prize and Amber imagined she could read his mind. She imagined he was thinking ‘jackpot’

to himself, glad that he had chosen the weakest girl at the party. Her chin lifted in defiance and a

surge of pure hate ran in her veins.

“That’s him.” She declared with vehemence as she pointed him out. His eyes narrowed

spitefully in her direction but some new emotion swelled in Amber.

“Thank you, now can you continue where you left off?” Amber thought she saw pride in

the attorney’s eyes. The woman’s voice was stronger, like she had waited for Amber to find her

own strength before she could find hers.

“He was leaning against the shed smoking a cigarette. When he saw me he smiled and

walked towards me. He asked me my name, I answered, and then asked him his. He told me his

name was ‘Jackson’.” The attorney smiled encouragingly before turning back towards the

prosecution table.

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“I would like to admit item number seven into evidence. It’s a fake I.D. with that name.”

She held out a bag with the I.D. and flashed it before the jury, and then handed it to the deputy.

“Go on, Amber.”

“After that we sat down in the field. Only a few moments of silence went by before he

jumped on me. His hand covered my mouth when I tried to scream. He punched me a few times

to know the breath out of me, and I struggled for a while before giving up. He’s a lot bigger than

me and I knew I couldn’t get away.” Amber dared a glance in his direction and she found him

staring at her. The look on his face was sick, and Amber suddenly realized he was enjoying this.

The sick man was getting off on her describing the attack. Her green eyes narrowed at him for a

second before turning back to the attorney.

“He raped me, twice. Then he hit me a few times before covering my mouth. I passed out

and when I woke up it was morning and he was gone.” Amber felt the strength leave her body,

almost as if God had granted it to her just for the moment. Only long enough to fulfill this one

task.

“Thank you, Amber.” Apologetically, the attorney sat down while waiting for the public

defender to rise. Amber watched the public defender whisper into the mans ear before receiving

an answer that satisfied him. The defender stood before smoothing his suit jacket. An arrogant

smile appeared on his face as he crossed the courtroom.

“Amber, did you at anytime say no?” Amber thought she had heard him wrong for a

moment. Until she looked to the District Attorney and saw her nod to proceed.

“Of course I did.”

“Are you sure? Because my client seems to remember you asking for more.” The

defender smiling sickeningly at Amber for a second, her face drained of all its color.

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“How dare you.” She whispered brokenly… she felt like all the hope she had of not

panicking was gone. The tell tale signs of a panic attack were looming, her palms were sweaty

and she could feel her heart beating in her chest.

“I’m finished, thank you.” The defender said to the judge. Amber was asked to stand but

again she found it wasn’t she that stood. Someone stronger was controlling her legs, and it was

someone stronger that walked past her attacker. She was supposed to take a seat by her family

but she couldn’t. The walls were closing in on Amber and she was beginning to hyperventilate.

Amber ran from the courtroom and from the courthouse. Summer air slammed it’s way

into Amber’s barely open lungs. Her eyes searched for an open patch of wall to slid onto.

Thankfully she found a spot and fell like a dead bird to the ground. She pulled her legs tightly to

her chest as tremors racked her body. Tears fell from her eyes like rain drops. Wildly her eyes

moved back and forth, from the ground beside her to her shaking limbs.

“Amber?” Amber thought she was hallucinating now. A sob escaped her mouth before

she laid her head on her knees.

“I’m going crazy.” Amber sobbed into her knees begging for it to end. Her hallucination

seemed real when large arms wrapped around her.

“Amber.” This time the voice was closer, as if he was sitting right by her. The tremors

began to subside because of her hallucination. If she was going crazy she didn’t care, because the

sound of his voice was so welcoming and loving. As the tremors ended altogether and she began

to breath again, she realized there really was an arm around her.

“Ryan?” Amber asked as she loosened her grip around her own knees. Afraid to lift her

head and find it wasn’t him, she instead looked straight ahead of her. If she was hallucinating she

wouldn’t want it to end.

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“It’s me.” Suddenly Amber was crying again but this time she was buried in his embrace.

“I’m so sorry! Please forgive me.” She sobbed into Ryan’s chest. The fingers that she

loved so were running through her hair, the way she loved them too.

“Don’t ask me to forgive you Amber. There’s nothing to forgive.” The perfection of his

words were almost too good to be true, as always. Amber gripped his strong arms tightly, afraid

that he would vanish any second.

“Don’t leave me.” Amber couldn’t believe what she was saying. If he hadn’t thought she

was crazy before, he would now, she sounded so needy even to her own ears. Gently, he pulled

her away to look her square in the face. His blue eyes sparkled in the late June sun.

“Never.” One word was all he said, but it filled a void in Amber’s heart. The urge to kiss

him was too great, so she did. Right there outside the courthouse, for the whole world to see.

And he kissed her back like his life depended on it. Amber hoped that he needed her just as much

as she needed him. When the two separated Amber saw it in his eyes, he had missed her as much

as she him the past few days. Slowly he stood and held his hand out to her, she took it without

question.

His hand didn’t let go once she stood. Her chest ached from the panic attack and she

really just wanted to sleep for ages. As they walked slowly towards her family in the distance,

she realized that hadn’t slept in more than forty eight hours. When they reached her family Ryan

still held on to her hand tightly, as if he was afraid she would pull away at any instant. Even as

she hugged her mother, father, and Tiffany; she let her hand remain in Ryan’s.

“We’re so proud of you. Everyone is Amber.” The smile on her mother’s face was

radiant with pride, as were her father’s and Tiffany’s.

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“You did great, I told you that you could do it. You’re stronger than you know.” Tiffany

whispered as they hugged again. Amber smiled at Tiffany, and this time the smile reached her

eyes.

“Thank you for believing in me, even when I didn’t. I love all of you.” Amber met each

of their eyes and she saw tears in her father’s eyes. She knew the tears would never fall but it

touched her just the same. Moments later that district attorney came out of the courthouse with

his assistant following her. Tiffany’s face flushed when he smiled her direction.

“Well the jury’s off to find a verdict. I don’t know how long it will take, your welcome to

wait here. Or you could go home and I can call you with the news.” The end of her sentence was

aimed towards Amber. The woman’s blonde hair looked white in the sun, but Amber thought she

saw something new in the woman. A sort of pride in her work and Amber understood. This

woman was here doing this because she loved it, even though she could be in Hollywood.

“Thank you, for everything.” Amber held her hand out but surprisingly the woman

stepped forward to hug Amber gently. It lasted only a few moments but it was enough for Amber

to be grateful of this woman. The woman that had tried her best to fight for Amber and other’s.

Amber’s mother hugged the woman also, but Amber watched the two women hug with an intent

ear. She heard the soft whisper of her mothers voice as she delicately whispered ‘thank you’ into

the blonde attorneys ear.

Ryan stood to her left, close enough so that his right side touched almost every inch of

her left, and Amber felt comforted in a way she never had before. The presence of this boy

stirred something inside of her but she didn’t want to acknowledge that today, she had other

things on her mind. Most importantly, she wondered how long she would have to wait to know

the verdict of that man that had abused her.

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Amber watched with curiosity as the young assistant to the attorney gave Tiffany a folded

piece of paper with a smile. Tiffany took it with a bigger smile before slipping it ]

inconspicuously into her purse. A squeeze to her hand and chuckle alerted her that Ryan had

seen it to, reminding her of just how closely they thought. Sometimes she felt as if instead of him

reading her mind, that maybe they shared one mind and that all of her memories were his. To her

that would be a most wonderful thing, she thought while standing outside the courthouse.

The attorney remained chatting with Amber’s parents for a while, before her assistant

answered his phone.

“They’ve reached a verdict.” The young man interrupted.

“Already?” Asked the attorney before checking her watch. “It’s only been a little longer

than an hour.” The young man shrugged at her question before heading back into the courthouse.

“Should we come in?” Amber watched her father tighten his hold on her mother, out of

fear or habit. The hand that had held hers vanished before reappearing around her waist.

“It’s your choice.” The woman said to her father with a smile. A different smile appeared

on her face when she turned to Amber and a glow reached her eyes. An understanding passed

between them and at that moment all the strength that had vanished from Amber, returned.

“I want to go in.” Amber proclaimed before turning on her heel and following the

attorney. This time the courthouse didn’t seem as big, since she wasn’t heading to her doom but

instead her future. Ryan was still holding her waist possessively and Amber thought that it was

something she would never tire of. Sitting behind the attorney wasn’t the hard part, but feeling

that mans gaze on her was. She didn’t want to give in and turn to meet his gaze, she decided she

would not give him what he wanted, he had already done that without her permission weeks ago.

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“No matter what happens, I’m right here beside you.” Ryan’s gentle voice whispered like

honey into her ear. A smile found its way onto her lips, despite the circumstances. Amber still

felt the stare of him, anger filled her heart and she turned toward him. Their eyes met through the

sea of heads around her but she wasn’t afraid. The eyes that had haunted her dreams bore into

hers, with a different kind of intensity from that night.

A fire filled Amber’s stomach as Ryan sat beside her, where he belonged. Eyes still

locked on the monsters that had stolen a piece of her soul, Amber smiled before mouthing, “I

win” in his direction. Amber watched with satisfaction as his eyes glazed over before they turned

from her and to the jury. A jury member stood and Amber could feel vindication on her

fingertips, it was so close.

“We the jury find the defendant guilty of three counts of aggravated battery.” Amber fell

against Ryan in relief and she heard nothing more of the proceedings. His sentencing would be

around the corner, and he would most certainly serve time. He would have to wouldn’t he?

Amber wasn’t surprised when she found herself being dragged to dinner by her family

and Ryan. The atmosphere was wonderful to Amber, her parents looked happy along with

Tiffany, and Ryan held onto her as tightly as he dared. Tiffany sat to her right and Ryan to her

left, so she was snugly fit between them in the large booth meant for larger parties than theirs.

“I told you, you could do it.” Tiffany’s smiled was prideful and Amber couldn’t help but

return the smile. At the same moment the drinks came easing the conversation for a second.

“Well, it’s nice to see that when I don’t believe in myself, other’s do.” Amber raised her

glass and so did the others.

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“To Amber’s victory.” Ryan said with pride and everyone agreed with the sentiment by

clinking glasses and saying, “Hear! Hear!” like a chorus of children. Amber flushed scarlet

before turning to Ryan. She wanted to kiss him but she didn’t want to overstep her bounds by

doing so in front of her parents. After dinner they would talk but now they all celebrated. And

Amber was happy.

It was late by the time they had finished at the restaurant. The light summer air had

moved in with the night, making Amber shiver as they exited. Ryan’s armed weaved its way

around her shoulders as they said goodnight to her parents and Tiffany. Amber found herself

being guided to Ryan’s truck instead of her parents, but they didn’t look as surprised as she must

have. Right before Amber entered into his truck, she saw Tiffany running their direction.

“Can I have a moment with Amber, Ryan?” Tiffany asked breathless from her running.

Ryan just smiled and nodded before making his way to the drivers seat.

“Tiffany?” Amber saw a overnight bag in Tiffany’s hand and she was confused when

Tiffany handed it to her.

“I packed you some clothes to sleep in and some for tomorrow. Stan told me Ryan was

going to take you home, so I did this for you.” Amber took the overnight back from Tiffany’s out

stretched hand.

“Thank you. For everything.” Tiffany smiled before kissing Amber on the cheek and

running back to her car. Ryan eyed the bag critically when Amber finally got into his truck.

“What’s that?” Ryan asked curiously while starting the car.

“Clothes.” Amber answered simply. Rolling the window down, Amber stared out into the

moon lit forest on the way to his cabin.

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The heat bugs were already buzzing in the night air and Amber adored it. Amber watched

Ryan drive and he must have felt her gaze on him because he turned in her direction.

“I didn’t think you would come today.” Amber said while Ryan tried his best to look at

her and the road at the same time.

“I wasn’t going to.” The truck rumbled down the road to his cabin. All the lights were

still on and it made the cabin look more welcoming, if that was possible. Silence filled the truck

as it pulled up to the cabin and slowly came to a stop. Amber waited for Ryan to open her door

and then took his hand when it was offered. The day had been draining on Amber, she felt like

she couldn’t deal with much more. She feared that Ryan would say something tonight,

something that would make her want to leave. When he had helped her from the truck, he didn’t

let go of her hand, so he led her by the hand into the cabin. Amber paused just inside the door,

Ryan stopped abruptly at the tug on his hand.

“I need to talk to you.” She proclaimed. All of a sudden she felt weak in his presence,

like the act the had put on throughout the day had suddenly disappeared and all she was left with

was her.

“Okay.” Ryan said while sitting down beside her on the couch. Amber watched how

carefully he sat beside her, like he was afraid one wrong movement by him would break the

trance she was under. Amber couldn’t resist reaching her hand out and taking a hold of his long

fingers.

“Were you in the courtroom today? While I gave my testimony?” Ryan turned away at

her question. Amber squeezed his hand and watched his expression intently.

“No. I wouldn’t do that to you.” He spoke slowly but with deliberation. It sounded as if

he had planned his answer because he had anticipated the exact question she was asking.

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“Oh.” Amber sat silently for a few moments, composing what she should say in her head.

“Well I’m ready to talk to you about it. I think it’s only healthy for it to be out in the open. And

if I plan to spend forever with you, than you need to know this.” At the whisper of the word

forever Ryan turned his head back toward hers. His blue eyes were sparkling with tears and

Amber wished to banish them forever. Tears didn’t belong in his big blue eyes.

“I once told you when you were ready then I would be. I meant it.” Amber smiled at his

adamant reply. Amber stretched on the couch like a cat, laying her head in Ryan’s lap. She felt

his fingers leisurely run through her hair and she felt contented. Slowly and carefully, Amber

repeated what she had said in the court room. The whole time through her story, Ryan ran his

fingers through her hair giving her the confidence to continue.

When she finally finished with the story there were tears in her eyes but not normal tears.

For the first time they were tears of relief instead of fear or sadness. And when Ryan gently lifted

her head from his lap and kissed her tear stained cheeks, Amber felt loved.

“Ryan.” She whispered it like a prayer to God. She felt blasphemous in the way she had

whispered his name. An urgency over came her, something she couldn’t deny.

“Amber.” Ryan said simply as he felt it too. The pull between them was almost

irresistible, almost. A press of lips was all they did, nothing more. Just a chaste press of lips and

Amber felt all the desire in the world. Amber pulled away for air but Ryan only gave her a few

seconds before diving in for another kiss. Suddenly and without warning, Ryan pulled away with

a groan.

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“Not tonight.” Ryan said softly without breaking eye contact with Amber. Amber

expected to be angry with him for babying her but instead she felt, if possible, more in love with

him.

“Okay, question time then.” Amber said with a smile before returning her head to his

lap.

“Lets see, what can I ask you?” Ryan paused and thought for a few seconds while

running his fingers through her hair. Her eye’s closed at the tender touch but she was aware of

his gaze on her face. “What’s your favorite flower?”

The attention to her hair was making her heavy with sleep but she couldn’t drift away to

sleep just yet. Amber opened her eyes to find Ryan staring down at her as she thought he would

be. His hair fell into his eyes but he didn’t even reach up to brush it back. Instead, Amber

reached up and brushed it away from his blue eyes. Ryan’s smile grew at the touch but he didn’t

cease his treatment of her hair.

“My favorite flower?” Amber paused to think for a moment, at least she pretended to. “I

would have to say carnations. They last longer than roses and they come in prettier colors.”

“You don’t like roses?” Ryan asked with a tone of suspicion. The fingers running through

her hair paused for a second before continuing a moment later.

“I like them but their not my favorite.” Amber watched Ryan nod and she held her hand

out to him for his free hand. After interlacing their fingers, Amber closed her eyes once again.

“Who’s your favorite actor?”

“Tom Hanks.”

“That was fast.”

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“Well it was an easy question.” Amber couldn’t help but roll her eyes. He pulled her hair

roughly after seeing her eyes roll and she pretended to pout in pain.

“Are you ready for your big show tomorrow?” The fingers paused in her hair and she

opened her eyes when they stayed unmoving. His face was a mix of fear and excitement. Amber

sat up from her place in his lap before kissing him softly. She watched with half lidded eyes as

he closed his eyes completely to lean into the kiss.

Somehow Amber ended up sitting in his lap while being thoroughly kissed by Ryan.

Without breaking the kiss, Amber slid her hands under his shirt and shivered at the touch of bare

skin. Amber had no doubts about her plans for the night, even though Ryan seemed to. When she

tried to stop the kiss to take his shirt off, she found Ryan pulling away and her wrists being

gripped in his hands.

“Ryan.” Amber groaned through desire.

“Amber.”

She was jealous of his composed tone, although she knew he was just as affected by the

kiss as she was. Amber knew there was nothing to say to change his mind, so she decided she

would play dirty. With a smile, Amber leaned forward and started to kiss his neck. As she did,

Ryan turned his head to the side to give her better access to his neck. She smiled into his neck

when he did this and she felt his hands tighten on her waist.

Amber found that she was unable to stop herself from reveling in Ryan’s obvious

enjoyment of her actions. Before long both of their shirts had come off, and Amber could barely

control her sigh at the touch of his bare skin to hers. Ryan rolled over so that he was now on top

of Amber but he stopped kissing her. Amber felt again as if he could see right through her.

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“What?” Amber asked as Ryan continued to stare at her. A soft smile spread across his

face but he still didn’t say anything. His left hand was tracing the skin on her flat stomach while

his right hand cupped her cheek.

“I love you.” The smile on his face was radiant and his blue eye’s sparkled the way she

loved them to. Her stomach fluttered at his proclamation of love and her heart ached with the

love she felt back for him.

“I love you too.” If it was possible his smile got larger causing Amber’s heart to hammer

faster in her chest. The urgency from earlier returned, they couldn’t keep their hands or lips off

of each other.

Somehow without breaking apart the two of them found their way to his bedroom. The

large wood filled room looked different to Amber as she fell into the bed with the boy she loved.

The room looked more inviting, like it was meant for love to be made in it.

Amber flushed with excitement at the idea of making love with Ryan, she wanted nothing

more. Clinging to Ryan like he was her life line, Amber felt like this was going to be life

changing for her. Nothing mattered more in the world to her at that moment, all that mattered

was the she was with Ryan in every way that was humanly possible. She had to be connected to

him in this way, to make him see just how much she loved him.

She fell in love even more with him when he asked, “Are you sure about this? We don’t

have to do anything tonight.”

All she did was smile at him before removing the rest of her clothes. And he removed the

rest of his. That night Amber didn’t care about falling asleep, dreams, or the stars. The only thing

on Amber’s mind was Ryan, the boy that had saved her in some ways but helped her to save

herself in others.

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Chapter 11

Breaking

Amber wasn’t surprised when she woke up wrapped in Ryan’s arms. Often she would fall

asleep in his bed but this time was different. Nothing was separating them from each other, every

inch of skin was laid bare for her to see. Her eyes lingered on his peaceful face for a few

moments before following the defined length of his neck. Amber began to lightly run her fingers

up and down as arms, just like he would often trace her skin. She watched as he smiled in his

sleep and his fingers curled into the blankets. Surprisingly he didn’t wake up through her gentle

touching and Amber was glad. For the first time she was able to watch him without him

watching her back. The way his eye lashes fluttered in his sleep like butterfly wings made her

mouth go dry. It was always the simple things that had made her adore him, the littlest things

made him the boy she loved.

For the early part of the morning Amber just lay there in his arms, watching him sleep.

Until finally his eyes opened lazily to take in her glowing face.

“Good morning.” Ryan whispered. Amber flushed at his gaze and she felt his hand rub

the small of her back.

“Morning.” She answered.

The morning sun shone through the curtains making Ryan’s eyes look bluer than usual.

But Amber wouldn’t change a thing.. Waking up in Ryan’s arms was something she realized she

could do forever. Words left her when Ryan rolled over to lay on top of her.

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“How about I make you late for work?” Ryan asked with a grin. Amber grinned back.

“It’s Saturday. I don’t work today.” The coffee pot turned on with a click in the kitchen

without breaking the moment. Amber rubbed his back gently, loving the feel of his tanned back

underneath her bare fingers.

“Today’s my show.” He announced with excitement before swooping in for a kiss.

“How about you make me late for breakfast?” Amber asked mischievously. Laughter

filled the room as Ryan did just that.

The two ate breakfast in silence outside on the porch. Amber bit into a bagel while

watching a couple of birds build a nest in the oak a few feet away. She turned to find Ryan

watching her as he often did, a smile crept onto her face. There was something magical in the

way that she always felt comfortable in his presence. No doubts ever filled her heart when she

looked at him, it was impossible not to love Ryan. At least it was impossible for her to try not to.

“What book can you read repeatedly?” Ryan asked when the two finished breakfast. The

birds were halfway finished with their nest now, making Amber smile at their triumph.

“The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve read it too many times to count.” The wind blew gently

across the green fields in front of her. Ryan’s arm snaked its way around her shoulders as the two

sat side by side on the two person rocker.

“Really? I took you for a Jane Austen kind of girl.” Ryan stated with a teasing grin while

curling her hair around his finger.

“No, I can’t stand Pride & Prejudice. Her novels move to slow for me.” Without thinking,

Amber lay her head on Ryan’s shoulder. A peace settled over them as they sat watching the birds

finisher their nest.

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“Well I like Jane Austen.” Ryan stated quietly with a hint of embarrassment.

“That’s because you’re the biggest romantic ever.” There was silence between them for a

few moments before Amber prodded him with another question. “Why don’t you talk to your

family?” The question was quiet and Amber was afraid she had crossed a line when she didn’t

receive an immediate answer. Instead when she looked at Ryan’s face he looked thoughtful, not

angry.

“I don’t talk to my family because I don’t agree with them. I’m nothing like my family.

They’re materialistic, arrogant, hypocritical, and so much more. My father said that music

wouldn’t get me anywhere. So I left one day with the money my grandfather had left me. My

grandfather was a banker in England when my father was younger, and he made all of his money

then. I was always my grandfathers favorite and it angered… my father, I think. Because I got

the love he had always wanted. I knew that my grandfather saw something in me that they didn’t.

He saw my ambition and if he was alive he would have wanted me to try. Even if it meant

failing.” By the end of his explanation, Amber could hear the emotion in his voice. His arm

tightened around her waist imperceptibly, but Amber noticed.

“I’m sure he’s very proud of you right now.” Amber said while curling even more into

his side.

“I think you’re right.” Silence. “Why does Tiffany pick on Stan so badly?” The question

was unexpected but Amber didn’t waver.

“That’s not part of the deal. You’re supposed to ask me questions about me, not Tiffany.”

Amber tried to sound teasing but there was a certain edge to her voice. Clearly she was saying it

wasn’t open for discussion but Ryan was just as stubborn.

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“It’s about you, in a way. She is your best friend.” The gentle rub of Ryan’s fingers to her

arm was comforting but she didn’t want to talk about it. Pulling away from him far enough to

look him in the eyes, Amber bit her lip.

“I may love you Ryan but there’s certain things that stay between best friends.

Sometimes secrets are better left that way, as secrets.” Ryan nodded before pulling her back to

rest against his chest. The steady thump of his heart against her ear soothed away the tension as it

always did. Something about knowing that the heart beating in there, was beating just for her,

made her stomach fill with butterflies. She would never get used to that feeling.

“I love you.” It was the second time she had ever heard him say it, but the three words

sounded so natural to Amber. Almost as if those words were created just for her to hear. Spoken

softly with Ryan’s sweet shyness, those words would always make her feel right.

“I love you too.” Amber said while standing up. It was already late morning and Amber

thought that she should at least show her face at home. “You should be getting ready for tonight,

not confessing your love for me all day.”

Ryan chuckled in amusement at her motherly tone. “Getting ready? I’m already ready.”

Ryan stood from the couch and followed Amber into the cabin. The door slammed shut loudly

behind her, catching her attention and making her turn to look for him. Ryan stood behind her

with his arms crossed and a grin on his face.

“What?” Amber asked with a smile when she saw his teasing grin. A softer smile

replaced the grin as he took a step closer to her before taking her in his arms. Her stomach filled

with butterflies at his gentle pull, he hugged her as if she was as delicate as glass. Some parts of

her hated it but at the same time, the secret part of her adored it because the way he held her

made her feel so loved. So complete in his embrace. While she was thinking Ryan continued to

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hold her tight against his body, and she leaned into his embrace. The shirt she was wearing was

to big for her, and it made it easier for Ryan to sneak his hands under it. A light kiss was placed

at the corner of mouth and her eyes fluttered in anticipation of a real kiss. Words weren’t needed

between them as Ryan slowly pulled down Amber’s defenses by kissing anywhere on her face

but her mouth.

“I’m going to kiss you now.” Ryan whispered against her parted lips before doing as he

said. Her gasp of surprise was swallowed quickly by Ryan. Amber held on tightly to his

shoulders as her world slowed around her.

She was in heaven kissing Ryan, and as his hands rubbed circles on her back, Amber

could do nothing more than hold onto him. The kiss was so powerful that she was afraid her

knees were going to buckle. Nothing more than a slow glide of lips against hers, but to Amber it

felt like perfection. In the foggy background she could hear her cell phone ringing but she was

powerless to end the kiss. When she felt Ryan trying to pull away she held him in place by

gripping his shoulders tighter. Amber could feel him smile against her lips. Ryan pulled away

against her protests, leaned his forehead against hers, and smiled.

“Why did you stop?” Amber asked in confusion. Ryan curled his hand around her neck

while brushing his thumb against her pulse point.

“Your phones ringing.” The soft rub of his thumb against her skin was making her face

flush with desire. She groaned out of anger with her phone, as it stopped and started ringing

again.

“They can leave a message.” And then Amber grabbed his head in her hands and yanked

him forward to kiss him. This time she pressed her lips to his in a bruising kiss. She felt him give

in to the kiss and she found herself being guided to the couch. They fell in a tangle of limbs onto

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the couch but Amber didn’t care. It was the most amazing moment between them yet, she never

wanted to forget it.

Seven long hours later Amber found herself sitting at the same reserved table she had

those few weeks ago. Tiffany sat beside her in the full to capacity bar. The lights were almost

non existent in the bar except for the lights aimed at the stage. Stan had long ago wondered off

with his backstage pass to see Ryan. Amber wasn’t backstage for one reason, she didn’t want to

break Ryan’s pre show customs. Only moments ago, Tiffany had placed four shots in front of

them and Amber had already gratefully downed one of them.

“I wonder where the record executive is seated?” Tiffany tried in vain to make

conversation. The roar of the crowd was deafening as the two sat seated at their table.

“I don’t know.” Amber muttered before looking longingly at the other shot. She knew

that she couldn’t drink it yet, without receiving a glare from Tiffany and a lecture from a certain

someone. Tonight she would have to pace her drinking, plus she wanted to be sort of sober for

Ryan’s big show. The show that would either steal him away from her or steal away his dreams.

Either way someone’s heart would break.

“Look over there, at the other side of the stage. There’s another reserved seat… I

wonder…” Tiffany’s sentence ended abruptly and even under the awful lighting Amber could

see her expression. It was a mix between fear and anger, something that didn’t show often on

Tiffany’s face.

“Tiffany?” Amber asked when the expression stayed fixed on Tiffany’s face.

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“I think I’ve spotted the record executive.” Tiffany stated simply before downing both

shots in front of her within five seconds.

“Hey! Tiffany, you’re going to burn your throat!” Amber clapped Tiffany on the back

when she began to cough from the alcohol. Tiffany’s blonde hair swayed back and forth with

each heave of her shoulders.

“You might want to do your shot now. You’ll need it in a few seconds.” Confusion

settled over Amber but then she turned to look in the direction Tiffany was looking. At the

moment she saw the record executive, Ryan entered the stage and the crowd erupted in

excitement. Amber was torn between watching Ryan and praying that the sprinklers would go

off so that she could avoid the coming wreck.

“I’m so screwed.” Amber said before downing her second shot and smiling in Ryan’s

direction. The first song he played was the one wrote for her and Amber couldn’t help but calm

at the words. Even if her ex-boyfriend was the record executive holding her current boyfriends

future in his hands.

When Ryan’s show finally came to a close, Amber and Tiffany had already downed

another four shots between them. Both were a little tipsy when Stan found them.

“Oh my God. No more drinks for you two tonight.” Stan said when he took in the sight of

his giggling sister and her best friend.

“Aw Stan, just a few more?” Tiffany asked while batting her eye lashes. They were both

definitely borderline drunk.

“No, now sober up quick. The record executive is coming over. Wait. Is that…” Stan

paused mid sentence at the approach of Derek. He looked between Amber and Tiffany with

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comically wide eyes before his eyes finally landed on the bar. Amber thought he was looking for

the easiest way to grab a bottle of vodka, but he was a little late.

“Strange to see you guys here. When did you start coming to the Cherry Street?” Amber

stared at Derek hatefully but she doubted he could see her in the poor lighting.

“When you left.” The expression on Derek’s face changed from surprised to anger in a

split second. Tiffany grabbed Amber’s arm in a tight grip to prevent Amber from falling over.

Stan moved to stand between Amber and Derek slightly, if only to prevent Amber from attacking

him.

“Are you drunk?” Derek asked with a hint of amusement. The smile on his face made

Amber sick to her stomach and for a split second she was reminded of the courtroom yesterday.

“No.” Tiffany answered for them both with a bitter tone. The harsh lighting of the club

exaggerated the color of Tiffany’s hair, making it look almost white.

“Stan, maybe you should take them home.” Derek all but ordered. His suit looked out of

place on him and the silk tie looked good enough for Amber to rip. She hopped off of the

comfortable stool and swayed slightly on her feet.

“You have no right to order him or me around.” Amber slurred bitterly. From the corner

of her eyes she could see Ryan heading towards them with a look of surprise on his face.

Making his way quickly through the crowd, he wrapped his arm possessively around her waist.

The look on Derek’s face changed from anger to complete jealousy in a matter of seconds.

“Hello, Mr. Lukas. That was a very good performance tonight.” Derek’s tone was

carefully void of any emotion, a perfect gentleman during business hours.

“Thank you. Do you know each other?” Ryan had obviously taken in the scene before

him and Amber felt his arm tighten around her shoulder. Her eyes were stuck on Derek though,

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as he took in the ease of which Amber and Ryan’s bodies fit together. Amber slid her hand into

Ryan’s jacket so that she could touch him as much as she dared. When she finally lifted her head

to meet his eyes she saw the suspicion lurking there.

“Oh, Mr. Lukas, Amber and I go way back. So do Stan, Tiffany, and I.” A smirk fell on

his Derek’s lips as he watched Ryan look around at the three he mentioned. “Amber hasn’t told

you?” Amber felt more hate for him than she had ever felt, in that moment.

“How would Amber know that an old friend was my record executive?” Amber’s

stomachs didn’t flip flops when she realized that Ryan wasn’t catching onto Derek’s baits.

“We’re more than old friends. Well I need to go but the label will be in contact with you

shortly. Good night.” Derek looked at Ryan then to Amber before weaving his way through the

crowd. Amber could feel her face flush with anger as she watched him disappear from the bar.

Tiffany’s arm was still firmly attached to hers and she turned to find Tiffany grabbing her purse.

“Amber?” Ryan’s arm was no longer placed comfortably around her shoulder but it was

instead bent at an awkward angle as if he was fighting to keep it there.

“Yes?” Amber’s voice came out higher than normal. Stan froze in the spot he stood and

his head turned to avoid being in the middle of the impending argument.

“How do you know my label representative?” His eyes were only inches from hers and

she found it hard to look away from his searching gaze.

“Derek? We dated.” Instantly she saw Ryan’s expression change from confusion, to

understanding, and then finally to some unrecognizable emotion to Amber.

“You dated?” Amber turned to Tiffany in support but she found Tiffany looking away

pretending not the hear what was being said. When Amber looked back to Ryan she knew that

she couldn’t lie to him.

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“Yes. Through college, but we all grew up together before that.” Realization spread

across Ryan’s face but Amber was still frozen in her spot, afraid that if she moved she would

make Ryan run.

“Well, I bet I wont get the record contract now.” Ryan tried to laugh it off but it broke

Amber’s heart all the same. Tears filled her eyes as she realized that she was once again ruining

someone’s future. At that moment Tiffany turned back to the two of them.

“Don’t put the blame on Amber.” Fire filled the blondes bright eyes, one could see it

under the worst of all lightings, and Stan stepped to her side. At Stan’s movement Tiffany’s

mouth shut closed in the middle of a reply and she turned away from Ryan again. Amber

wiggled out of Ryan’s grasp, swiftly kissed him on the cheek and ran from the bar. The crisp

summer air hit her lungs like a ton of brick. In the distance she could still make out Derek’s

figure walking along the sidewalk.

“Derek!” Amber yelled as she watched the figure pause and turn around. As fast as she

could, she ran in his direction with her hands clenched tightly to her sides. When she reached

him the knowledge of what to say came to her, and she said a silent prayer of thanks.

“Amber?” Derek’s eyes had taken on a dark glow under the streetlight. The smirk that

she hated was still on his face, it made her want to slap him.

“If you don’t give him the deal because of me… I’ll hate you even more than I do now.”

She knew that she sounded bitter and angry, but she couldn’t stop herself. The idea of Ryan’s

dreams not coming true because of her, it wasn’t something she could live with.

“If he doesn’t get the deal it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with his lack

of talent.” The smirk was unbearable now as he took a step toward Amber.

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“Derek. So help me God… you know that’s a lie.” The glow of the streetlight changed

from red to green as they stood there, silent in their anger. Amber watched him with a mix of

emotions, but none of them were what she expected. The feelings she had thought she would feel

were absent. No love stirred in her heart at the sight of him, only bitterness and rage. Bitterness

for his ability to leave her without tears and sadness. Rage for what he threatened. He turned to

walk away from her but he froze for an instant with his back to her.

“Two months was all it took for you to move on?” He laughed out of frustration with her

and she scowled at his implication.

“No. It took me a week to move on and days to fall in love. I never loved you, Derek.

And you never loved me!” She was shocked when he turned around and was in her face within

seconds. The look on his face was nothing she had seen before and his black hair moved in the

breeze.

“You have no idea what I felt, Amber! Don’t presume to know anything about me!” His

arm gripped her wrist when she moved to strike his cheek. His lips curled over his teeth into a

bitter smirk.

“I hate you.” Amber yanked her wrist from his grip before turning on her heal. Only steps

away from him, she heard him groan.

“Tell your boyfriend to expect a call within a week.” It was whispered but Amber heard

it. She froze in her steps and listened to him walk away. As his footsteps fell quieter and quieter,

Amber felt the urge to run. But not back to the bar, she just wanted to run away. The bar sign

glowed red in the night as she walked slowly towards it. She found Tiffany standing against the

wall outside the bar.

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“Everything okay?” Tiffany asked with red rimmed eyes. Amber didn’t have the strength

to speak so she just nodded to Tiffany’s question. As Amber moved to stand beside Tiffany

against the wall three men exited the bar. Amber watched them leave hoping to distract herself

from her thoughts.

“Is Ryan still here?” More people filed out of the bar as Tiffany stared straight ahead.

Amber watched her search her purse for a cigarette only to find an empty carton.

“Shit.” Tiffany muttered before turning towards the bar door.

“Tiffany?”

“Oh, he’s inside with Stan.” Tiffany asked the next people exiting the bar for a cigarette

and looked relieved when one of them produced a suitable cigarette. Amber reached out and took

Tiffany’s trembling hand.

“Did something happen?” By the end of Amber’s sentence she could see the tears falling

freely from Tiffany’s soft blue eyes.

“When you left, Stan’s phone rang. My mother…” The sentence hung like poison in the

crisp night air, poised to infect whoever touched it.

Despite Amber’s own troubles she felt true fear for the shaking women she held in her

arms. Amber crushed Tiffany to her chest while trying to think of what to say. There must be a

word that could relieve the pain but in the moment Amber knew no word to say. All she could do

was hold her best friend outside the bar and under the glow of the sign, hoping to have a clear

vision of what to say. Tiffany trembled in her arms with the cigarette clutched like rope between

her fingers.

“It can’t be true.” Her plea sounded loudly in Amber’s ear but she only gripped Tiffany

tighter in the dark. All of the nights troubles seemed incomparable to what was happening now.

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“Tiffany, I…” Words failed Amber as sobs overtook her dearest friend. The force of her

trembling was causing Amber to sway slightly but she held her ground.

“She died and I wasn’t there.”

Outside the bar, Amber did the only thing she could do. With her best friend enclosed in

her embrace she cried, not for herself but for Tiffany.

Heat bugs buzzed around Amber when she finally arrived home. It was well past

midnight and her eyes burned with lack of sleep. As her car slid to a halt outside her house, she

felt void of emotion. Keys hanging loosely from her fingers, she walked quietly into the house in

the dark and she felt her way through the halls. Nothing had gone as planned for Amber, not one

single thing. The televisions light guided her up the stairs and into her bedroom. With a

numbness not accustom to her, she fell limply onto her bed.

After she had let Tiffany cry on her shoulder for an unknown amount of time, Amber had

handed her off to an almost too composed Stan. The way that Tiffany clung to Stan was

something that Amber would never forget, because it was a way that only a sister could cling to a

brother. Even after watching them leave she was surprised to find Ryan waiting by the door. And

Amber watched longingly as he stepped forward, kissed her delicately on the forehead, and

walked silently away.

Now, Amber was alone in her bed unable to understand how today had turned out the

way it had. She found it hard to believe that a little more than twelve hours ago she had been in

Ryan’s bed. Only twelve hours ago the world had seemed so right and now at a little after

midnight, she couldn’t help but see that the world had never seemed so wrong.

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Before she knew it he had her on the ground, on her back with her skirt violently shoved

up around her waist. He pinned her wrists above her head, he grabbed her left breast roughly

through her thin t- shirt. He let one arm free as he pushed her underwear aside and roughly

kissed her mouth, she grabbed handfuls of grass beneath her fingers.

The world looked different when she woke Sunday morning. Each color coming in

through the window seemed duller in its shine. The dream had been to much for Amber’s

weakened state of mind, she was covered in a cold sweat. When her mind finally caught up with

her body she realized that her cell phone was ringing. Without bothering to check the caller I.D.

Amber answer the phone.

“Hello?” Amber asked with her voice rough from sleep.

“Did I wake you?” Ryan’s voice was filled with worry causing Amber’s heart to skip a

beat. She closed her eyes against the flood of emotion and pushed the sheets off of her legs.

“Yes.” The line was silent for a few moments before she heard him release a sigh.

“I’m sorry.” Amber bit her lip to prevent herself from speaking. The two words weren’t

meant to be an apology for waking her up, he was saying he was sorry for everything. For

scaring her, hurting her, but most importantly he was sorry for making her feel those things. She

knew the words were hard for him to say, so she thought carefully about her words. As she lay

staring at her ceiling, she realized she was beyond emotionally drained. Amber was emotionally

dead.

“I know.” Was her simple answer, for his simple statement. Amber turned over in bed to

look at the alarm clock on the bedside table, it read only six in the morning.

“How’s Tiffany?” In the background she could hear the sound of gravel crunching.

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“When I left her last night she wasn’t talking. Stan took her home.” As she rolled over in

bed she heard the sound of something hitting her window. Sitting up she turned the light on and

padded over to the window.

“Look down.” Amber pulled back the curtains and looked out across the sprawling

acreage. But right below her window was Ryan, standing with a blanket in one hand and a smile

on his face. She wished that a smile like his could find its way to her face, but she knew that she

couldn’t fake it at least not with Ryan. After closing her cell phone she rested her hand on the

window for a minute before moving away.

The stairs creaked under the pressure of her feet as she made her way down them. In the

east the sun was just beginning to rise when she opened the front door. Ryan stood in front of her

with his face turned up toward her window. When he heard the door opened his face turned

down towards her with the smile still fixed on his lips. In the pink color of the sunrise, Ryan’s

hair looked blue and his skin was pale with freckles scattered across his nose. Amber closed the

door behind her lightly as she stepped towards him.

“I came down instead.” She said to break the silence.

Ryan’s lips curved upward into a larger smile as he heard the sound of her voice. His free

hand wrapped around her waist and they slowly walked to the back of the house. Hanging still in

between the trees was their hammock, only moving when Ryan and Amber’s weight made it do

so. Once they were in the hammock, he covered them with the blanket and Amber lay her head

gently on his chest. The sound of his heartbeat soothed her thoughts and she couldn’t help but

close her eyes.

“What’s your favorite season?” Ryan asked while tracing the skin on Amber’s back.

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“Oregano.” Both chuckled at her joke. She enjoyed the rumble of his chest against her

face.

“What’s your favorite season, as is in type of year?” He clarified with a teasing grin.

“Autumn. I love it when the colors of the leaves change. It’s beautiful.” Amber answered

with her eyes still closed in contentment. The wind blew slightly causing the hammock to swing

and the sun rose higher in the sky, just barely brushing the tops of the trees.

“Autumn always seems sad to me. After the leaves change color, they die.” She lifted her

head from his chest so that she could look him in the eye.

“But before they die, they’re really pretty. Did you have any pets when you were little?”

Amber lay her head back onto his chest as he thought about her question. His fingers curled into

her hair sending chills down her spine at the action.

“I had a pet turtle. I found him out by the lake and hid him in the bathroom for a week. I

wasn’t allowed to have pets.” Ryan tightened his arm around her shoulder for a second before

loosening it just as quickly as he had tightened it. Under the blanket, Amber rubbed Ryan’s

stomach through is thin t-shirt. The material moved gently beneath her fingertips and Amber

listened to Ryan’s steady heartbeat.

“I never had any pets either.” Amber spoke through the grogginess of impending sleep.

Her eyes drooped threateningly as she fought the urge to let sleep claim her.

“You can go to sleep.” Ryan whispered gently into Amber’s ear.

“I don’t want to sleep.” The hammock swung beneath them as Amber crawled up so that

her face was even with Ryan’s. Their eyes met and Amber’s stomach fluttered at the intensity in

his eyes. She wanted nothing more than to kiss him but for some reason she couldn’t. Something

inside her was telling her that she needed to talk to him more. Kissing him was something that

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she could do forever, but a piece of her told her to be afraid. Because maybe one day she would

lose him and that wasn’t something she could deal with.

“I love you.” He whispered while cupping Amber’s cheek in his palm. His thumb rubbed

her cheek in an achingly gentle way, and she couldn’t resist closing her eyes and leaning into the

touch.

“Why?” The intensity in Ryan’s eyes increased at her question, making her stomach

flutter in an all to familiar way.

“Why do I love you?” He questioned almost as if he didn’t understand the word. Amber

nodded and lay her head on his chest but still kept their eyes connected.

“Why do you love me?” Amber clarified as the sun finally rose above the tree tops

behind them. The hand that had been cupping her cheek moved to cup the back of her neck. A

gentle tug of his hand pulled her closer to his face so that they were only inches apart.

“That’s the silliest question you have ever asked me.” His chest rumbled with his

laughter. Unable to resist his laughter, she began to laugh too before they both grew still.

The hand on the nape of her neck pulled her in until their lips were inches apart. She

could feel his sweet breath against her lips and she licked them out of desire. When they began to

kiss, Amber’s world spun as it often would. Like time was frozen between them as they kissed

everything away. Pulling apart from each other was hard but they did. Amber stared into his

baby blue eyes, wanting nothing more than to kiss him for all of eternity.

“Thank you.” She said with one last kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“Never thank me for a kiss.” He quipped with a smirk upon his lips.

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“I’m really worried about Tiffany.” Amber watched the sun make its journey up into the

sky. She wondered how long they had been out there, swaying in the breeze gently, unaware of

the doom laying ahead.

“I know. I am too. Stan was out of his mind last night.” The sound of Ryan’s voice

wasn’t normal and she realized with certainty that he sounded quite afraid. Amber sat halfway up

to look him in the eyes. Something about his tone of voice warned he that more had gone on last

night than she knew.

“What happened when I wasn’t there?” Amber asked curiously.

“When Stan got the phone call from his dad it was like Tiffany knew. The moment Stan

hung up, Tiffany started hitting him and saying it was his fault.” Ryan also sat up because of the

serious turn that their conversation had taken. His hair fell into his eyes but Amber didn’t reach

up to brush it away. Instead she sat there in the hammock with Ryan staring towards the sun

hanging above the tree line.

“Ten years ago their mother had a stroke. Tiffany had been with me but Stan had been

outside when it happened. He didn’t find her until an hour later and she had lost oxygen to the

brain. The doctors said that if Stan would have gotten there sooner than the brain damage might

not have been so bad. Tiffany picks on him because she thinks it’s Stan’s fault. And now that

she’s died…. She’ll never forgive him.”

In the middle of her explanation, she had looked away from Ryan’s stare and towards the

house. She remembered that day clearly and she could never forget all the times that Tiffany had

wanted to give up. Now that her mother was gone, Amber wondered if Tiffany would stay here.

A deep fear that her best friend would leave over took her suddenly and she shivered. The idea of

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losing Tiffany wasn’t something that she wanted to think about, so she pushed it away and

turned back towards Ryan.

The love she found in his eyes overwhelmed her for a moment. A hand rested lovingly on

the small of her back as tears filled her eyes. Amber found herself being cradled in Ryan’s arms

and for once she let herself cry. She cried for everything and everyone.

The tears that flowed from her eyes were tears of anger, sadness, fear, but they were also

for hope. Hope that someday soon things would get better. One day everything would fix itself

and Amber would know that everything was right with the world. Because right now life didn’t

seem fair but life had to get better at some point. She wanted more.

They stayed like that for a while. Amber held securely in Ryan’s arms, weeping for too

many reasons for her to say. But Ryan didn’t care because he understood why she was crying.

When Amber had cried herself hoarse she lifted her head from his chest. She was surprised to see

tears in Ryan’s eyes. Despite the moment she couldn’t help but smile and kiss the corner of his

lips.

“Thank you.” Amber said while smiling and rubbing his arm. The blanket lay abandoned

on the ground and Amber picked it up. She then proceeded to fold it and hand it to Ryan. The

smile on Ryan’s face was genuine as he accepted the folded blanket.

“You never need to say thank you.” He captured her hand in his as he spoke. Amber

stared at their entwined hands. The difference between their hands was dramatic to the eye,

Amber’s hands were small and delicate where Ryan’s hands were larger and tanned. Amber

turned his palm over in her hand and traced the lines there.

“When I ran from you on Thursday, why didn’t you follow me?” Her tone was laced with

bitterness and curiosity at the same time. The two were still sitting up in the hammock facing

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each other slightly. The sun was well above the tree line now causing her to squint in order to see

Ryan’s face. The hand in hers turned over the caress her wrist.

“I wanted you to know that you could heal yourself. I don’t want you to see me as your

savior. I want you to see me as Ryan, the man you love.” The words were delivered in an even

tone to Amber but she thought she saw a flash of vulnerability cross his face.

“But you’re my savior because you’re the man I love. Your love saved me.” When she

finished she lifted her chin slightly in a sign to dare him to defy her logic. Instead a smile cross

his face and he leaned forward to kiss her chastely on the lips. Amber sighed at the gentle touch

of his lips to hers. He pulled away leaving her breathless and wanting more.

“You didn’t need to be saved.” He whispered with eyes sparkling.

And then suddenly they were kissing. The sun was behind them and the wind blew

around the hammock, but Amber had never felt anything so perfect before. The way his hands

cradled her head as if she was the most fragile thing he had ever handled, it made her love him

more every time he did it. Each time they kissed felt like the first and last time, making Amber

crave his kisses even more. Amber closed her eyes in contentment as Ryan took her breath away

with his kiss. She clung to him desperately, afraid that at any moment he would pull away. When

she felt him begin to end the kiss she fought with all she had to keep the kiss from stopping. He

smiled against her lips as she pulled him closer and he gave in to her silent pleas. The only thing

that stopped her from wanting more than a kiss, was that they were outside her parents home,

where anyone could see. When she felt Ryan slowly begin to pull away she didn’t stop him this

time.

“You did good last night.” Amber said as the two recovered from the kiss.

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“Thanks. I tried.” Only their gasps of air could be heard for the moment, until he

continued, “Can I ask you something?”

The look on Ryan’s face was new to Amber and she was confused that he was asking

permission. Neither of them asked it any more, since they asked questions of each other on a

daily basis. Ryan stood and held his hand out to help Amber get up from the hammock. As the

two walked back towards the house Amber could almost feel Ryan’s mind racing.

“You know you can ask me anything.” It was the truth and she knew that he heard it in

her tone. The grass was soft beneath her feet and she felt peaceful in the sun’s morning glow.

“Do you dream about that night?” The question shocked Amber so much that she stopped

mid step. Ryan turned around when he felt the pull on his hand alerting him that she had stopped

walking.

“Why would you ask that?” Amber watched the different emotions flicker over his face.

It was an odd mix between honesty and fear, and Amber wondered if he really wanted to hear the

answer to his question.

“You talk in your sleep.” The ground moved beneath Amber and she swore that she was

drowning, even though there was no water in sight. Her lungs paused in her chest, she had to

fight to breathe each breath she took. The hand that was holding hers tightened when she tried to

yank it from his grip.

“Then you know the answer to your own question.” Amber looked everywhere but at

Ryan’s face. She knew that he had known the answer and she was angry that he had still asked it

of her. That night wasn’t something that she wanted to talk about right now, things were too

hard. She would have to deal with her best friends horrors instead of her own for now. After all

losing your mother was harder than being raped, at least Amber thought so.

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“Don’t get mad. You said I could ask you anything.” Ryan pulled Amber along behind

him even though Amber dragged her feet slightly. When they reached the front lawn Amber was

wearing a grimace on her face. But as he often did, Ryan ignored it and pulled her into his arms.

Amber was scared that maybe he was right. Maybe she needed him too much for her own good.

There was no way for her to pull away from him though. The urge to stay with him was far

larger than the urge to pull away and for that she was glad.

“I know you believe in God but do you believe in angels?” Amber asked as Ryan held

her in the new morning light. They swayed slightly back and forth easing Amber’s anger away.

“Angels? I think that God has to have some sort of being watching out for us. I like the

idea of angels though. If I had a guardian angel I like to think my grandfather would be it,

watching out for me.” Ryan placed a kiss to Amber’s neck before pulling away.

“Where are you going?” Amber asked as she watched Ryan walk towards his truck. The

red paint had a strange glow in the orange of the morning and Amber had to squint to see Ryan.

Even though he was only a few feet in front of her.

“I have some things to take car of. Come over tonight?” He shouted as he jumped into the

truck. Amber didn’t have time to respond before he drove away. She only waved and nodded to

answer his question. She watched longingly as the truck sped out of her sight and into the

sunrise.

The emptiness that often came when Ryan left filled her stomach, making her feel like

she was completely and utterly alone. When in truth she wasn’t, she tried to will the emptiness

away by going back into the air conditioned house. The cold air made goose bumps prickle along

her arms and she rubbed them to soothe her cold skin. Once she had warmed up her arms, she

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ran up the stairs to her bedroom. Quickly changing her clothes, she roughly gathered her hair into

a ponytail before running back down the stairs.

The moment she exited the house, she broke off into a brisk jog. Running had always

brought Amber comfort and peace of mind. Something about the pavement hard beneath her feet

calmed her enough for her mind not to race. She didn’t even have to close her eyes to be free.

The road under her soles tore away all of her doubts, insecurities, and misguided anger.

Sometimes she feared the anger inside of herself. She was amazed at how quickly she could go

from calm to rage, but it wasn’t a healthy amazement. Amber ran faster as she felt the anger

bubble inside of her and she hoped that she could banish it by running as fast as possible. In front

of her stretched the highway, with forest on both sides and no cars coming either way. Her legs

burned from the vigorous speed of her running but she couldn’t slow down.

If she slowed her mind would catch up with her, she wasn’t ready to deal with what her

mind wanted. Amber only wanted a few more moments of peace inside her own head. The road

stretched in front of her endlessly and she wished, only for a second, that she could run forever

along the highway. But she turned around to run back the other way.

Those few moments of clarity, as she ran, changed a few things in her head. The fear of

losing Ryan was something that she realized she had to deal with. He was a musician, he would

need to record and tour. She slowed down as she realized the direction her thoughts had gone in.

If Ryan loved her as he said, maybe he would stay. But how could she ask that of him? His heart

was in his music. If she made him abandon that piece of him then he would always resent her.

Resentment was an emotion that Amber wasn’t willing to let Ryan feel. She made up her mind,

he would leave even if she had to force him.

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Chapter 12

Buried

Monday morning was one of the dreariest days that Amber had seen in months. Not one

piece of blue sky could be seen through the thick grey clouds. The sun was hidden high above

the clouds, not even casting glimpses of itself through the cumulus clouds. As Amber stood

under the tent beside Ryan, she felt the vague emptiness return. Even though Ryan stood beside

her, something in her was breaking. Maybe her heart was breaking for her best friend.

Tiffany stood stock still in front of the closed casket. Behind her stood Stan with their

father hanging uncomfortably behind them. Amber and Ryan stood behind them awaiting their

turn to lay flowers on the casket. Clutched tightly in her hands were the brightest pink tulips she

could find in the flower store. She had remembered that before the stroke, Tiffany’s mother had

grown tulips in the back yard. Behind her and Ryan stood both of her parents. Then behind her

parents stood Derek, completely void of emotion but holding tulips in his hand like hers. After

all he had spent enough summers at the house to see the tulips always filling the garden outside.

Tiffany swayed slightly on her feet and Stan was quickly beside her, steadying her on her

uneasy feet. Stan placed his hand on the casket, whispered something, and then led Tiffany to sit

down on the chairs lining the tent. Amber tightened her grip on Ryan’s arm as Tiffany’s father

kissed the casket. The tears fell from his cheeks to land on the casket, but he didn’t wipe them

away. When Amber finally approached the casket she was surprised to find no tears in her eyes.

The tears had long ago fled her eyes, so now all she could do was lay the tulips on the casket and

brush her fingers softly against the warm colored wood.

Ryan’s hand rested on the small of her back and she felt him guiding her to sit beside

Stan. Stan’s eyes were dark with bags hanging underneath them, but Amber thought she had

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never seen him look so handsome. Something in his demeanor had changed in the past few days,

as if suddenly the world rested on his broad shoulders. Amber’s heart ached for him, and for the

silence he had to endure from Tiffany. Of it’s own accord, the hand not holding Ryan’s reached

over to softly touch Stan’s arm . Stan turned sharply to meet her eye at the contact, and Amber

tried in vain to smile comfortingly. A look of complete despair crossed Stan’s face for a moment

before again being replaced with a mask void of emotion.

The pastor stepped in front of them to with his bible open and ready to be read.

“Today we lay to rest Bethany Anderson. She was a loving and caring mother to Stan and

Tiffany. And a devoted wife to Terry Anderson. Many time’s we cannot understand God’s

purpose but a few day’s ago he called Bethany home. Her memory will remain living in us as we

move through life. Now I will read her favorite passage from Revelation. ‘And God shall wipe

away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying,

neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’.’” When he finished

reading, he turned towards the casket and made the sign of the cross. Amber turned slightly to

glace at Tiffany. Tears flowed like rain down Tiffany’s beautiful porcelain face and her body

shook with sobs. Suddenly Tiffany was up and running away from the tent.

Without realizing it she found herself up and running after her. She had always been

faster than Tiffany but today Tiffany was running with a speed she had never witnessed before.

“Tiffany!” Amber shouted when she saw her best friend crumple to the ground like a

broken doll. The ground was soft beneath them as Amber held her best friend through her

weeping.

“I don’t have a mother anymore.” Tiffany whispered brokenly through her sobs.

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“Shhh… It’s okay.” Amber heard footsteps behind her and she turned as much as she

dared to. Behind her stood Stan with his sleeves rolled up. Amber shook her head when he went

to approach them, but Stan only kept coming closer.

“Tiffany.” Her head snapped up at the sound of his voice and the look on her face was

one that Amber recognized. It was the look that Tiffany reserved for people that had done

something wrong and depraved.

“I hate you! It’s your fault she’s dead!” Yelled the blonde as she stood up from the

ground. Amber held her tightly when she tried to run towards Stan. Her arms flailed helplessly

against Amber as she tried in vain to get loose of Amber’s grasp. In the distance Amber could

see her parents trying to calm Tiffany’s father. And she could see Derek and Ryan talking

rapidly as the scene before Amber changed.

“Tiffany, stop! Don’t do this today!” And suddenly Tiffany was free of her grasp,

running full speed towards Stan. Amber stepped back when Tiffany started pounding Stan’s

chest with her small fists. The contrast between them had never been so great as today. Tiffany

barely five foot and platinum blonde, with Stan almost a foot and a half taller than her with dirty

blonde hair. The only thing that bound them together was the fact that they both had their

mother’s nose and their father’s round cheeks. Tiffany was slowly ceasing her punching and was

now leaning gently against Stan’s broad chest.

“I want her back.” Amber heard Tiffany whisper softly into Stan’s chest. Stan met

Amber’s gaze and nodded as Amber started to walk away. Derek and Ryan were still speaking

when she reached the tent. Their voices were barely audible to Amber even when she was only

feet from them.

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“Is she okay?” Derek asked when he saw Amber approaching. Ryan’s arm wrapped

around her waist and Amber saw the flash of anger in Derek’s eyes at the movement.

“I think so. Stan’s with her now.” The cemetery was quiet around them, the only sound

that could be heard was the gentle flow of the stream a couple of hundred feet away. Amber

leaned into Ryan’s embrace slightly and she felt his arm tighten around her waist for a moment.

Then he pulled away to lean in and kiss her cheek.

“I’m going to check on Stan and Tiffany.” Ryan said before walking away. Amber

watched him with an ache in her chest. Even in the gloom of the day, somehow Ryan still

managed to look like he was glowing. The look in Derek’s eyes when she turned back to him

was one of thinly veiled annoyance.

“He’s really talented, you know.” The annoyance remained in his eyes even as he smiled.

Amber narrowed her eyes at the smile on his face.

“I know he is. No one deserves a record deal more.” The passion in her voice surprised

her, but she knew that what she said was true. She wanted Ryan to get all that he wanted because

he really did deserve it. It started to drizzle slightly but neither of them moved for the safety of

the tent.

“If he gets the deal he won’t be staying here. He’ll have to move to Knoxville to record

and then tour to promote the record. You wouldn’t see him for weeks at a time.” The smile on

his face grew sickeningly smug at the sadness that crossed Amber’s face.

“I can deal with that on my own.” Bitterness laced her words. The rain started to fall a

little heavier but still they stood away from the tent, and away from listening ears.

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“Would you miss him more than you miss me?” Derek asked while taking a step towards

Amber. His hands found a resting place on her shoulders and they didn’t budge, even when

Amber gave him a look.

“I love him more than I loved you.” The nasty little habit she had of lifting her chin in

defiance happened, and Derek recognized it for the truth.

“If you love him, you’ll make him go. Because right now, he’s thinking of turning down

a deal to stay here. To stay here with you.” The last two words he spoke were emphasized by a

squeeze to her shoulders. As his point washed over her, Amber turned to look towards the tent.

She saw Ryan standing speaking with Stan as Tiffany sat motionless in a chair. Ryan was staring

at her even though he was supposed to be paying attention to Stan. Amber forced a smile on to

her face and Ryan smiled back.

“He’ll go. Offer him the deal, and he’ll take it. I promise you that.” Their eyes met as the

rain began to pour, and an understanding passed between them. She had never loved Derek

enough to do what she was about to do for Ryan, and Derek knew that. Derek nodded before

running towards the tent, but Amber stood unmoving. The rain was falling hard, and Amber let it

wash over her. She felt alive with electricity each time a rain drop landed on her. Undoubtedly

her hair would be ruined but there was no way for her to move. Her feet were glued to the spot

they stood, and she only moved when Ryan ran out with an umbrella.

“Amber, you’re getting soaked!” Ryan yelled as he grabbed Amber to drag her to the

tent. Amber forced her heals into the ground and in turn stopped Ryan.

“I love you. You know that right?” Amber searched his eyes to see that he did know, that

he understood what she was saying. She needed him to hear the truth of her words, but he only

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nodded before dragging her to the dry safety of the tent. A part of her wished that he could know

what she was doing, but she knew to make it convincing, he couldn’t know.

After the funeral she found herself in Ryan’s truck, driving too fast for comfort towards

the cabin. Her clothes were still clinging sloppily to her body because of the wetness. Something

about the day made it right for what she was about to do. It was the kind of day that made a

person want to stay inside, curled up by the fire place, holding onto someone worth it.

The door opening snapped her out of her melancholy reverie and she gratefully took

Ryan’s hand. When he went to let her hand go, she only grasped it tighter as she followed him

silently into the cabin. The moment the door closed behind her, she threw herself into Ryan’s

arms.

“If I told you right now, that you look absolutely breathtaking wet, would you take it the

wrong way?” Ryan asked wearing a cute smirk on his face. She gasped as he pulled her to him

roughly.

“Would you take it the wrong way, if asked you to make me wetter?” She tried to hide to

laughter from her voice but she laughed anyways. Laughter filled the cabin for a few moments

before the desire swelled once again inside them both.

Their lips met in a brutal crushing of ache, and Amber felt the world shift beneath her, as

his kisses often caused within her. Ryan was gently pushing her backwards toward the bed, and

for once she didn’t object. They landed on the bed in a glorious tangle of limbs, Amber tried to

permanently burn the feeling into her memory. As she unbuttoned his shirt her hands trembled.

With each inch of skin that appeared desire for Ryan swelled inside of her, the desire to be lost

within him. Every time her fingers touched his bare skin, a small current of electricity seemed to

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pass between them. And when their eyes met, at the look in those big blue eye’s her heart

fluttered in his chest.

Often he would look at her as if she was to fragile to handle. But the look her gave her

then, was one of pure need and Amber adored it. The bed was soft beneath them as she wrapped

her legs around his still clothed legs, she smiled coyly up at him before kissing the corner of his

mouth. The kiss lingered for longer than Amber thought she could make it, but when she pulled

away Ryan was pulling her skirt down. She clenched her hands in the sheet at the exquisite

slowness of his actions.

By the time both of them were naked, Amber suddenly felt shy in his presence. All of her

emotions were laid bare for him to see, with no barriers between them. Metaphorically and

literally. She had to fight back tears as she stared into his large blue eyes, the eyes that had

captured a piece of his soul. She kept her eyes open as they kissed just to watch the way his eye

lashes would flutter against his baby soft skin.

“I love you.” Ryan whispered fervently into Amber’s ear. The words opened a floodgate

of desire, adding fuel to the flame of her lust.

“I know.” Amber whispered back while clutching his shoulders tightly. She was afraid to

let go, because she wanted this moment to never end. A part of her wanted to protect Ryan from

herself, but the selfish more dominant part wanted her to love him, as he loved her.

Amber woke to the complete darkness of Ryan’s bedroom. The only thing she could see

was Ryan and the alarm clock behind him. It was four in the morning, she knew that she needed

to leave before it got any later. For a few moments, she lay motionless watching him sleep. The

gentle rise and fall of his chest eased the ache in her heart. She wanted nothing more than to curl

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into him and sleep the morning away, but she couldn’t. Afraid that if she touched him he would

wake, she rose quietly from the bed. Her clothes lay scattered around the room and she took

great care in getting dressed as quietly as possible.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she froze as Ryan reached his arm out to find her. A

grimace marred his beautiful face when he didn’t find her warmth, and she hurried over to lay

her hand in his reach. The moment his hand found hers his face turned peaceful again and he fell

back into a sound sleep. Amber sighed in relief but she couldn’t find it in herself to pull her hand

from his, not just yet.

Tears filled her eyes at the sight of their entwined hands. The perfection of the tangled

limbs was overwhelming, and the softness of his skin was something she wanted to burn into her

memory. His hand loosened in his sleep, making it easier for her to pull her hand from his grasp.

Leaving the bedroom, she found that she couldn’t turn back. She walked deliberately

quiet, with her cell phone in hand she left the cabin. Still not looking back, she walked barefoot

up the gravel road. At the end of the road sat Stan in his car with the engine running and radio

humming. Amber climbed into the car without a word and Stan drove away still silent. Never

before had she been so grateful for his ability to act without asking questions.

“Thank you, Stanley.” The drive to her house was short if he sped, but completely unlike

Stan, he drove carefully under the speed limit, almost as if he was waiting for her to change her

mind. With no one ahead or behind them, the car froze in the middle of the highway. Stan’s

handsome face turned toward her in the dewy light of morning to fix her with a calculating gaze.

“Are you sure you know what your doing?” The grey eyes that were so much like

Tiffany’s stared at her from the drivers seat. Amber tried again to force a smile to her haunted

face, but it was in vain.

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“No one in love knows what they’re doing. Love takes away ones ability to be sensible.”

Bitterness filled every word, but she knew that each word was true. Honesty was never

something Amber lacked, at least when it came to being honest with herself.

“He’ll hate you for this.” The sound of the turn signal broke the tension in the air. Stan

put the car in park when he reached the front door. He turned toward her and in the glow of the

moon, she could see his apprehensiveness written on his features.

“No he won’t. Because you won’t let him. Tell him I never loved him. Lie to him, and

make it believable Stanley. His future depends on this, you know that. He cannot say no to this

deal, even if I have to break his heart to make him take it.” Her hand rested on the door handle

and she stared blankly ahead into the forest. The radio had long ago been shut off, the silence

crushed them in the night.

“I’ll lie because you told me to. Not because I think it’s the best thing for him… or for

you. You picked your battle, Amber. Let’s hope there aren’t any casualties.”

“Oh, there’ll be casualties. But if I win this battle, he’ll win the war.”

And with that Amber opened the door, then shut it behind her, and watched anxiously as

he drove away. For the first time in a long time, Amber looked up to the star strewn sky. Each

star sparkled back at her with a vengeance, and her heart ached. It ached for her, for Ryan, for

her past, and for her future, but most importantly it ached for what it couldn’t have. Happiness,

Innocence, Hope, and Relief. Happiness with Ryan. Innocence of having the ability to choose

who she had sex with. Hope that some day she could fall in love normally and then settle down.

And relief in the fact that she could just live without pretence and fragility.

Because maybe the look the Ryan often gave her was deserved. The strength that she

tried to hide behind wasn’t her own, but someone else’s that she had stolen momentarily. Truth

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was that she had been and always would be a delicate piece of china. The littlest thing could

break her, but this time she would have to pretend harder. And the stars only reminded her of

each and everyone of her faults. The faults that in turn defined her in others eyes and faults that

made her ruined in her own.

To her surprise the kitchen light was on when she entered the house. Sitting at the island

in the kitchen was her father with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper.

“Morning.” Amber said though her voice was rough with tears. The roughness of her still

damp clothes rubbed painfully across her back. The chair next to her father scraped against the

tile floor as he pulled it out for her. She took the seat with a grateful smile before taking a gulp of

his still scalding coffee.

“You’re home early.” Commented her father, while reading the newspaper. She saw him

glance at her from the corner of his eye but he didn’t let the look linger.

“I am.” The material of her skirt bunched uncomfortably around her thighs and the

dampness was making her skin itch. She scratched her side through the material and her father

eyed her critically.

“You’re wearing the same thing as yesterday.” This time he set his paper down and

swiveled in the chair to fix the full strength of his stare on her. She felt her face flush at the

scrutiny.

“I am.” She said again with a barely there smile. Her father read through it though, and he

rubbed her shoulder gently.

“I hope you didn’t do anything stupid.” There was a double meaning to his words. Since

she was young nothing had ever stayed hidden from her father, and often she would never have

to tell him what terrible thing she had done. The truth was, he knew her better than she knew

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herself, like a father should, but sometimes it hurt her. Because it was hard knowing that

someone would love her in spite of herself, but the look he gave her then, was one of knowing.

He knew that she had done something incredibly stupid and he knew that this time he couldn’t

fix it.

“And if I did?” The sullen look on her face increased at her father’s frown.

“I can’t fix it this time can I?” His face grew more serious at the sight of the tears

gathering in her eyes. One lone tear found it’s way lose of it’s captor and weaved it’s way down

her porcelain cheek. The hand resting on her shoulder lifted to wipe away the salty droplet.

“No, you can’t.” Only one tear fell because Amber wouldn’t let herself cry more than

one. Behind them the stairs creaked, alerting them of Amber’s mothers presence. Her father

pulled his hand away from her cheek and gave her a look, the look that reminded her to look

happy in her mothers presence.

“You two are up early.” Amber watched as her mothers eyes lingered on her clothing

before sliding over to meet her father’s eyes. Something passed between them, in the time it

takes to breathe, her mother ignored the state of her clothes and walked to the coffee pot.

Without a word she filled her cup with coffee before leaving the kitchen for the living room.

“Why don’t you go change. Then you should go visit Tiffany.” It wasn’t suggestion and

Amber knew it, no matter how old she got, he was her father and she could recognize an order

when she heard one. She stood from the chair she had been seated in. The world felt different all

of a sudden to Amber. Once inside the safe walls of her bedroom, she fell without grace onto her

bed and she tried to cry. But not one tear found it’s way to her eyes. When she realized that no

tears would come, she stood from the bed and changed her clothing in irritation.

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Donning a pair of light blue sweats and an old high school shirt, she descended the stairs

noisily. The sun was just beginning to make its lazy appearance above the trees when she exited

the house. While driving to Tiffany’s house, she watched the sun steadily rise above the tree line.

There was such grace and beauty in the sun, because no matter how bad the day, it would rise.

Even if the earth betrayed it the sun would still rise, or even if the earth turned it’s back on the

sun, still it rose. No word’s between them, but the sun would still rise and a new day would come

even if the earth didn’t appreciate it.

Without the sun, the earth’s plants wouldn’t grow, no rain would fall, and the air would

be stagnant, but did the earth thank the sun? No. All the earth did was circle the sun unceasingly

with a sarcastic little spin and no utterance of a thank you. If only the earth could learn to love

the sun the way it deserved, because even though the sun was sometimes brutal in it’s warmth,

the good always out weighed the bad. Would the earth ever thank the sun? No, the earth would

only take from the sun without apprehension. Even if the sun’s heart broke in saving the earth’s

happiness, the sun would still do it. Because isn’t that what love is about? Providing that

someone with what’s best for them even if they didn’t know it. Even if they don’t like it.

With a heavy heart, she watched the sun creep up slowly into the sky without a single

pause. Amber realized that she and the sun had more things in common than she realized.

Because the sun’s love for the earth made it do all that it did, even if it didn’t seem like the best

thing at the time. Someday down the road, all of the suns harshness gave way to better times.

The car came to a restless stop in front of the old farm house that Tiffany and Stan had

always called home. Sitting in front of her was the car that had rescued her that morning, and as

Amber passed it she let her fingers run gently against the side. As if thanking it for it’s duty.

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It may have been barely six in the morning but she knew that Tiffany would be awake.

Tiffany could only sleep when it was dark out meaning that she almost always woke with the

sun. So as she knocked on the door she wasn’t surprised when the door opened seconds later.

Before her appeared a disheveled and distraught Tiffany. Relief crossed Tiffany’s face at the

sight of Amber and the door opened enough to let her pass.

“Morning.” Amber said with a tone that was as cheerful as she dared. The door closed

heavily behind her as Tiffany walked gracefully to the wide open living room. Light streamed in

from every direction, highlighting the colors in Tiffany’s hair, making it look almost white

instead of blonde.

“Not good I suppose.” Answered the blonde from the sofa. Amber sat down beside her

with less grace.

“Depends on your definition of good.” The television came to life before them. Tiffany’s

lips pursed at Amber’s statement but she didn’t say anything, she only nodded her assent.

“I heard Stan leave earlier than normal this morning. I assume he helped you with

something.” Tiffany’s head turned towards Amber and her eyes had an angry look about them.

“He picked me up from Ryan’s.” The anger disappeared only to be replaced with

annoyance. Tiffany laughed bitterly in Amber’s direction and she realized that Tiffany wasn’t in

the mood she usually was, this mood was darner. Something about her was off and she sat frozen

in place trying to figure it out.

“Of course he did. What are you doing this time Amber? Playing with Ryan? Or breaking

his heart?” Tiffany stood in one lithe movement from the sofa to stand across from Amber.

Hands on her hips and glare on her face, Amber thought she looked like a frantic animal about to

capture it’s prey.

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“Tiffany. Please don’t start an argument with me.” Amber said with a shake of her head.

The blonde in front of her visibly surrendered with a shrug of her rounded shoulders.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t want Stan involved with your schemes.” The apology was

welcomed by Amber but the word schemes angered her. She knew better than to pick a fight

with Tiffany while she was in a mood. So she let the word go and watched as Tiffany resumed

her seat beside her.

“If I had someone else to go to I would. But all I have are you and Stan.” Around them

the room got brighter with morning light but Amber kept her eyes fixed on Tiffany’s pale face.

“Why did he have to pick you up? Couldn’t Ryan take you home?” She still kept her eyes

trained on Tiffany as she pondered how to answer the question. How could she explain why she

couldn’t bare to wake Ryan. Not only for her own but also for his sake.

“I left him asleep. If I had woken him up…” The sentence hung in the air as Amber tried

to find another way to explain it. “Derek told me yesterday that Ryan was thinking of turning

down a deal with his company to stay here. With me.” Amber watched Tiffany’s face fall in

realization of what she said. Blue blood shot eyes gazed back unblinkingly with a horrified

sadness.

“So, you’re going to break his heart to make him take the deal?” Tiffany looked as if she

was having trouble pronouncing the words.

“Yes.” Amber answered with certainty. The certainty in her words surprised her but she

held onto the certainty she felt. She would need it later on.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say.” Her head shook with each word she

said, blonde hair flying around her round face. She continued shaking when she spoke again,

“You’re going to end up his greatest hit.”

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Amber heard the truth in her words. She knew that Tiffany was right. Next year when she

turned on the radio she would probably hear Ryan’s voice singing about the love that had broken

his heart. But Amber felt the resolve strengthen in her, and she reminded herself that even if she

was his greatest hit, at least he would have one. Getting stuck in this town for love wasn’t

something Amber wished on Ryan, even on their darkest days.

“At least he’ll have a hit.” Amber kept her face carefully void of emotion but she

watched Tiffany’s face fall in resignation.

“I think he’d rather have you.” The floor creaked behind them and they both knew it was

Stan. Amber felt the couch dip beside her under his weight.

“What are we talking about?” Stan asked with his eyes fixed on the television.

“Amber’s stupidity.” At the teasing tone in Tiffany’s voice Amber leaned back into the

sofa in comfort.

“We discuss that often around here.” He jabbed and Amber laughed in mock humor.

“I’m sure you both do.” And with that silence fell around them, comfortable silence. The

room got brighter with the morning but still no words were spoken. Because her dearest friends

knew that she needed the silent companionship they were providing. Amber leaned into

Tiffany’s side as the reality of her decision weighed on her. All three of them seemed to be

anticipating the same thing, a hurried knock on the door with an angry shout. They sat tense on

the couch just waiting for it, and when it came Amber’s heart sank. There was no turning back

now.

Stan reached the door but his hand paused on the door handle. Turning back fixed his

sister with a questioning glare, too afraid to ask Amber for his next move, looking instead to his

sister for permission. Amber stood quickly from the sofa to avoid being seen.

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“Are you sure about this?” Stan asked hurriedly with his hand on the door.

“Completely.” Once her word’s were spoken, she knew there was no turning back. She

clutched the wall behind in her as the door opened. Stan held the door open enough so that only

he could be seen.

“Is Amber here?” Came the frantic question through the door. Amber’s heart skipped a

beat at the mention of her name from the lips she would never kiss again.

“No, Ryan. She’s not.” Stan’s hand was turning white from it’s grip on the door handle.

The stern clip of his voice caused Tiffany to stand and join him at the door. Amber hadn’t

expected Tiffany to join in after their discussion earlier, but her best friend stood beside Stan

with resolute strength.

“Her cars out front. Do I look stupid to you?” Ryan asked softly, almost to softly for

Amber to hear. The worried tone of his voice pulled at Amber’s heart but she didn’t move from

her spot against the wall. Hidden in the shadows she prayed for the ability to pull through.

“No, but what you are doesn’t matter. What does matter is that she doesn’t want to see

you anymore.” The door shook violently with the force of Ryan’s hit it. Amber flinched in

sympathy for the oak door. But she was impressed when Tiffany didn’t. Instead Tiffany stood

beside Stan with her face red with anger.

“Don’t lie to me!” Ryan yelled from the other side of the door.

“You knew this was coming Ryan.” Stan said with an air of indifference. The tension was

palpable between the three at the front door.

“I know why she’s doing this. It’s Derek isn’t it. Does she love him more than me?” The

anger was gone from Ryan’s voice, now replaced with self-deprecation. Amber trembled as she

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slid down the wall, how could he think that of her? The lies were building up, and she knew that

no matter what she said now, he would never forgive her. After all, she wouldn’t forgive herself.

“Derek has nothing to do with this man. She just doesn’t want you anymore. Take the

record deal dude. Get out of this God forsaken town and make a name for yourself.” Amber

covered her mouth to prevent her sobs from escaping. Tiffany moved back from the door as Stan

stepped outside with the door still in his grasp. The door closed behind Stan and Tiffany came to

sit beside Amber against the wall.

“You’re welcome.” Tiffany wrapped an arm around Amber’s shoulder and cried with her.

They cried for two different love’s lost. One friend lost the love of a mother and the other the

love of a man. But both were love’s still the same, and each heart ached for the love to be back.

The girls heard yelling coming from outside but Amber blocked it out. Moments later the

truck could be heard speeding down the gravel driveway and as the sound disappeared, Stan

reappeared from behind the front door. His face was grave but he sat down on the other side of

Amber without one word.

“I hope we did the right thing.” That was the only thing Stan said before resting his hand

on Amber’s trembling shoulders. It was foolish what Amber had done, but she felt relieved in a

way. Because now that it was done, she knew that Ryan couldn’t resent her the way she had

feared. Oh, he could resent her for other things but not for taking away his dreams. Only for

taking away something else, but Amber was sure he could get it with someone else. Some day

down the road.

Amber didn’t know how long the three of them sat there in silence. Stan didn’t cry but he

held both of the girls as they did. The day passed before them and Amber realized the emptiness

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she had felt before without Ryan’s presence, was nothing compared to the emptiness that now

filled her heart.

Chapter 13

Drinking buddies

“Stan said he left the day after Ryan blew up. The cabins back up for rent now.” Tiffany

said over lunch one week later. Only seven day’s ago she had left him without an explanation

and it had taken Ryan one day to leave.

“Did he take the deal?” The waiter refreshed her water as she asked Tiffany her question.

Tiffany’s hair was up making her appear younger than she actually was.

“Derek’s company has given him half a year to record an album. He’ll be living in

Knoxville until it’s finished.” Amber pushed her country friend steak around her plate. She

turned to look out the café window in the silence.

“The sentencing is on Monday. Will you come?”Amber knew that she didn’t need to ask.

The two had spent every day together for the past few days and Amber was sure it wouldn’t

change any time soon. Their friendship was needed more than ever on both their parts. Both were

afraid to be alone, making it a good deal for both of them.

“What time?” Tiffany asked through a mouthful of food. A giggle escaped Amber’s

throat at the sight of lettuce stuck in her friends teeth.

“Ten in the morning. You’ve got something in your teeth.” Amber said while pointing to

the spot in her mouth that the lettuce appeared in Tiffany’s. After a gulp of water the lettuce

disappeared and their companionable silence returned while they finished their meal.

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“I’ve been thinking about something.” Tiffany stated when their table was clear and no

distractions were left between them.

“Okay.” Across the street stood the Blank twins, Amber watched them with an careful

eye. Tiffany followed her line of sight and she sighed at the sight of the two troublemakers. They

were eyeing Amber’s car with a little too much interest for her taste.

“They steal it, they buy it.” The statement tore her attention from the twins and turned it

back to Tiffany. “Anyways, I think we should rent a place together.” Tiffany sat back in her seat

and Amber felt her gaze fall heavily on her, watching for a response.

“That sounds… sensible.” Amber sad with lack of excitement. The thought had occurred

to her when her mother had suggested moving out. With both of their incomes they could get a

nice place closer to town than the river side.

“Well, the new apartments down on Walter street have a few more spots open.” Amber

smiled in Tiffany’s direction.

“Let’s do it.” And just like that the decision was made.

It had been too easy for Amber’s tastes. Friday they had gone and toured the open

apartments. They chose they the two bedroom and two bathroom. Dining room, Living room,

and Kitchen included. It was one of the largest open, Tiffany and Amber both fell in love with it.

So on the same day of their tour, they paid the first and last months rent and had their keys hours

later. And then they were moving in on Saturday with the help of Stan and Amber’s father.

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“How many shoes do you girls own?” Stan shouted as he entered the apartment with

another box of shoes. Amber laughed at him before returning to placing dishes in their assigned

shelves. She watched her father arrange their newly bought furniture.

“Unlike you, who wears one pair of shoes until they fall apart, we match them with our

outfits. Like your supposed to do.” Tiffany took the box from his arms with a smirk before

returning to the bedroom with the spoken about shoes. Stan cast an exasperated look in Amber’s

direction, she only shrugged in response.

“I think I’ve got everything arranged just right for you girls.” Amber’s father said with

satisfaction as he came into the kitchen. He leaned against he counter next to Amber with a

fatherly smile fixed on his lips.

“Thanks for the help, Dad.” She said while placing the last piece of crystal into the

cupboard.

“You’re welcome. You didn’t have to move out so quick you know. After everything that

happened with…” Amber sent him a scathing look before he said the name. Her father’s mouth

snapped shut and his face turned red.

“I’m going to go help Stan with the rest of the boxes.” He said thoroughly shamed.

At her fathers disappearance, the kitchen was encompassed in silence once again. In the

distance she could hear Tiffany moving things around in her side of the apartment. A numbness

washed over her at the thought of Ryan. Right now, he was probably writing a song and getting

ready to record it. Just the thought of his soothing voice sent chills down her back. The kind of

chills she used to get at his touch, the desire she used to feel was absent, instead she felt a strange

mix of lust and anger. Breaking her out of her reverie, the front door slammed closed behind

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Stan. She watched as her father and Stan carried boxes into the living room with joking smiles on

their faces.

“Is that all?” Amber asked the two of them from the kitchen.

“Yes, all done.” Her father said from his spot on the sofa. Amber left the kitchen to join

the two men in the living room. Music drifted softly from Tiffany’s room as Amber sat down

between the men. The soft sound of the violin filled the living room giving Amber a sense of

ease.

“Thank you for your help today Dad, Stan.” Amber patted both of their arms gently to

emphasize her words.

“I didn’t really have a choice. It was help and get cookies or not help and get no cookies.”

Stan lifted his hands and weighed each option. The apartment was full of light from the windows

lining the living room. Outside the windows, stretched the town of Cedar Creek. Amber

imagined that if she looked hard enough later that night maybe she would see the bright lights of

Knoxville.

“I helped without being bribed for cookies. But I have to go, dinner time with your

mother. Call her tonight so that she doesn’t worry.” He placed a kiss to her forehead and tapped

Stan on the head before heading towards the door. Pausing in the hallway he turned around to

face Tiffany’s bedroom door.

“Bye, Tiffany!” Echoed her father’s voice through the apartment. Tiffany came running

form her room flushed with sweat. She ran straight to Amber’s father and hugged him.

“Thank you!” Tiffany said sweetly while still hugging him. Amber watched her father pat

her on the back before pulling away from her embrace. He smiled in Amber’s direction and then

walked out the apartment.

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“What are you doing in your room to get all sweaty like that?” Stan asked curiously form

his seat on the sofa.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Commented the blonde with a smirk and a wink.

“Gross.” Stan replied loud enough for only Amber to hear.

Rising from the couch, Amber walked to her side of the apartment. The room wasn’t as

filled with light as the living room but the two large windows facing west had a good view of the

town at sunset. She closed the door behind her, then walked over to the window and stared out it.

With her hand pressed against the window, Amber prayed a prayer of forgiveness. Forgiveness

for what she had done and what she would undoubtedly do soon, breaking someone’s heart was

bad business and no one wanted that lingering around them un-forgiven. At the sound of a

knock on her door, Amber turned from the window to see Tiffany opening the door.

“I’m cooking dinner, are you going to eat with us?” Tiffany asked while leaning against

the door frame. Her face clearly told Amber that it wasn’t a choice, so she nodded her agreement

to the question.

“We’re on our own now.” Amber chided with a smirk. Tiffany’s face filled with worry

until it was replaced with a child like excitement.

“I like it so far. Don’t you?” The blonde questioned.

Amber looked past the blonde to Stan napping on the couch behind her. Being on their

own was new and exciting, but Amber wasn’t used to it yet. Home had always been a comfort

for Amber, it was the one place free of judgment. And though she knew that her home would

always be minutes away, living some where other than the home she identified with was strange.

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“It’ll take getting used to.” She ventured with a half smile and nod. Tiffany returned the

smile as she turned to leave the room. Amber watched her go before turning her attention back to

the window.

Below her was the whole town of Cedar Creek, going about their business at the end of a

Saturday. Still Amber couldn’t help but think of him. Her mind wandered aimlessly among the

many memories of Ryan, and it settled on their second date. The moment was so clear that it

seemed to have happened only yesterday. A soft voice singing a melody that wouldn’t ever be

the same to Amber, she would never be able to listen to Hey Jude again without thinking of

Ryan.

“Amber, dinner’s ready.” Unconsciously, she had leaned her head against the cool

window in her thoughts, as she pulled away she watched the patch of fog that had appeared from

her breath disappear. Down the street she could see the Blank twins eyeing her car again. The

taller of the two leaned against the window, while the shorter stood as a look out. With a smile

she pushed away from the window.

“Stan, the Blank twins are trying to be gangster again.” Amber watched Stan’s face grow

red with anger at the mention of the twins names. A bowl of pasta appeared in front of Amber,

with mozzarella cheese in the shape of a smiley face. The chair Stan was sitting in ground

against the tile of the dining room floor as he stood too quickly. Without a word he left the room

and then the apartment. Tiffany slumped down beside Amber at the table with a glass of wine in

her hand.

“Those boy’s are going to get it tonight. Stan’s not in the mood for it.” The wine

disappeared with her words and Amber stood to retrieve the bottle along with a glass for herself.

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“I’m thinking of leaving the door’s unlocked. Takes away the fun, doesn’t it?” Marinara

sauce the color of blood swirled dangerously in her spoon.

“Don’t be stupid. I’ll talk to their mother before I go into work tomorrow. This town isn’t

big enough for two petty thieves.” Only the sound of silverware could be heard in the apartment,

since the music had long ago been turned off. Amber watched as Tiffany filled both of their

glasses with more wine.

“Has Stan said anything else about Ryan?” Amber tried to sound nonchalant, but she

ended up sounding strangled instead.

“Amber. You know the deal, no talking about Ryan until were drunk. If your drunk you

won’t remember it.” Amber mentally scoffed at Tiffany’s words. She remembered everything

that happened when they were drunk. The front door slammed loudly and moments later Stan

appeared, looking satisfied with himself.

“I don’t think they’ll be going any where near your car from now on.” A triumphant

smile graced his face as he joined the two girls at the dinner table. Tiffany watched him sit with

narrowed eyes.

“What did you do?” Tiffany asked without a smile.

“Nothing.” A spoonful of pasta found it’s way to his mouth but Amber had lost her

appetite. Glass of wine in hand, Amber walked with a purpose toward the living room window

seat. The sun was just disappearing below the tree line casting an purple glow across the once

blue sky. Amber downed the bitter wine in two gulps after spotting the first star of the night. One

hand pressed against the window while the other hand clenched into a fist.

“Stan left.” Amber heard Tiffany say to her right. An empty shot glass filled her vision

with a bottle of vodka floating to the right. After taking the shot glass she held it out to be filled

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with the liquor. Tiffany picked up Amber’s stretched out legs to sit down opposite her on the

window seat. When she sat down she placed Amber’s legs in her lap before filling her shot glass

with the liquor also.

“To misery.” The clear liquid glinted invitingly in the day’s last light. Tiffany raised her

shot glass with a tip and Amber followed her lead.

“To misery.” Tiffany repeated before downing the shot in one hefty gulp. Mimicking her

friend, Amber took the shot in one swift sip. The apartment was dark behind them as the sun

completely disappeared behind the trees. Before them stretched the town with all of it’s

intricacies without apologies, something that Amber wished she didn’t have to apologize for.

“I’m so bored of this town.” Complained the blonde sitting across from her. Tiffany had

her back to the town as she said this, but Amber’s eyes were glued on the darkening subject.

“I’ll never be bored of Cedar Creek. It’s home.” She mumbled.

Amber watched the main street glow with headlights un-forgivingly, nothing about the

town would ever be boring. The truth was that the town couldn’t bore her not only because it was

home, but because it held a safety.

Even though she had been raped barely outside the town’s limits, she knew that if she

left, the moment she returned the town would welcome her back with open arms. Not many

people left Cedar Creek because of the sentimental value it held in it’s residents hearts. Most of

the people in the town had always lived there, Amber’s father had grown up in Cedar Creek.

When he left for the army he returned home with Amber’s mother. But the town being as

graceful as it is, welcomed her with open arms just as they welcomed all other new comers.

Small town’s weren’t known for the welcoming attitudes but Cedar Creek was different. It was

home, for Amber and everyone else.

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The shot glass in her hand was filled by Tiffany as she sat engrossed in thought. She

closed her eyes at the gentle burn of the vodka down her throat, and she could feel the alcohol

bubbling in her stomach. Lightheaded and borderline buzzed, Amber leaned her head against the

window to prevent her head from swaying.

“It may be boring, but I’ll never leave.” Resentment and a drop of bitterness filled

Tiffany’s voice lending to the scratchy sound of her vodka burned voice.

“Good. You’re not allowed to leave.” Amber leaned forward to poke Tiffany in the side.

Her best friend swatted her hand away before filling the shot glass again. Their third shot of

vodka in less than twenty minutes, Amber realized she might get to hear about Ryan sooner than

usual. Tiffany was a notoriously cheap drunk, meaning that within the next few shot’s she would

be rambling on with no purpose as Amber listened for Ryan’s name among the rambles.

“I hope that assistant district attorney is there on Monday. He gave me his number.” Red

splotches were already appearing on Tiffany’s cheeks, either from the vodka or the admittance of

wanting to see the assistant district attorney. Amber held the shot glass out for filling but Tiffany

just stared at the empty piece of glass.

“I’m sure he’ll be there. Can I have more, please?” Amber batted her eye lashes but it had

no effect on Tiffany.

“That’s like your fifth shot already. You’re becoming a boozy.” She stated it like a fact,

without derision or attitude, she just put it into the void between them as simply as she could.

Amber shrugged and leaned over Tiffany to take control of the vodka. Resisting the urge to drink

right from the bottle, she filled her shot glass and threw it back. A delicious burn slid down her

throat before filling her stomach with the same intense burning sensation. Out of the corner of

her eye she could see Tiffany filling her own glass.

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“What’s wrong with taking shot’s like a man? You drink like a sissy.” Amber stated as

she filled the shot glass again. The world was getting hazy around her but she didn’t have any

thoughts of slowing down yet.

“Damn. I forgot how cranky you are when you drink. You didn’t drink once while you

dated, or did whatever you did, with Ryan.” Tiffany threw her shot back like Amber had but she

only sputtered at the burn. The sound of Ryan’s name filled the ache in Amber’s heart for a

moment. But it returned seconds later in the absence of his name. She had to talk about him, if

she didn’t the void would stay empty, and she needed to fill it with his memory.

“You said something about him earlier, can you remember it now?” Tiffany’s eyebrows

knotted with trying to remember if she had in fact mentioned Ryan, or if Amber was tricking her.

The fogginess her mind was under clouded her face, and for a moment Amber pitied Tiffany’s

clear inability to drink without getting drunk.

“Oh, yeah. I said something about him?” A questioning look filled her face for a second

before continuing, “Stan said that he’s spending all of his time in the studio. Apparently the label

wasn’t expecting such dedication from a ‘rogue soul’. That’s what Stan said you see. But I think

Ryan’s just putting all of his heartbreak into his music. Since some bitch ruined his life.” Her

words slurred together slightly but Amber understood every word.

Each time Tiffany said Ryan’s name, Amber’s heart fluttered in her chest. And she was

transported to a memory that seemed too distant for the length of time since it happened. Only a

week ago Amber had felt Ryan make love to her, but she knew inside her heart, that it had been

the last time. No matter how many men would enter her life, not one of them could replace the

Ryan shaped hole in her heart.

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The only light filling the apartment was that of a candle lit feet away on the coffee table.

In her hand the vodka bottle was little more than half empty but already Tiffany was showing

signs of being finished.

“If he’s recording that quick than maybe breaking his heart was the right thing to do.”

Amber watched Tiffany nod her agreement before getting up and stumbling towards her room.

When she heard the door shut firmly, the shot glass fell to the floor and she lifted the bottle to

her lips. Coldness washed over her at the thought of actually having to live the rest of her life

without him. Without his voice, smile, eyes, or anything Ryan related. Hidden behind her

bathroom mirror was the sole picture Amber had of the two of them together. In the picture they

were laying in the hammock, with Amber’s head resting softly on Ryan’s shoulder and the sun

shining brightly above them. The angle was awkward because Amber had taken it herself, but

that didn’t matter. At least she had one solitary picture, even if Ryan’s eyes were closed in it, she

could always imagine the big blue eyes.

“What have I done?” She asked the darkness.

The answer came in the form of silence. Around the living room were pictures of Tiffany

and her family, along with Amber with her parents, but on the wall to her right were pictures of

the two girls together through out their years of friendship. In the darkness Amber could barely

make out the shapes in the frames, but she wished that in one of those frames was the picture

now hidden in her bathroom. But if she was forced to see that picture on a daily basis, falling

apart would be inevitable. The difference between it being hidden and out in the open was great,

because though it was hidden she knew it was there. Whenever she needed to see it all she had to

do was pull it out from behind the mirror. That was a better option for Amber, because having it

in a frame would show others how much the man had meant to her.

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Amber tried to tell herself that was the reason, but the real reason was that as long as the

picture was hidden, it was only hers. A little piece of the happiness she once had, hidden from

other’s, for only her enjoyment. As it should be. Without looking to the stars, Amber sat the now

empty bottle of vodka down before laying down on the pillow covered window seat.

Night claimed the quiet streets behind her back, the glow of a streetlight began to slowly

fill the room when it turned on. In the silent darkness, she felt her resolve begin to slip away and

the tears that had been building behind her green eyes threatened to fall. To stop the tears, she bit

her lip hard enough to cause pain. Laying on the window seat with the dark world stretching out

behind her, she couldn’t think of anyone or anything besides Ryan. Every thought that crossed

her mind had something to do with him.

Her green eyes adjusted to the darkness but she still felt trapped in a world without light.

Without Ryan there to steady her she felt emptier still. It was shocking to Amber, shocking that

she could miss this man so much, when she had barely known him two months. But in those two

months he had been her world, he had once said he didn’t want to be her savior. At the thought

of her own foolishness for letting him become just that, she clenched her hands into fists.

How had she let him become such an integral part of her life, of her soul? It wasn’t

enough to know that they slept under the same moon, stars, or sky. She wanted everything with

him. No, she wanted more than everything. Amber wanted forever with Ryan, but what hurt the

most was that he clearly didn’t want that anymore. Even if she ran to him now and begged for

forgiveness, she wouldn’t blame him for throwing it back in her face. Love wasn’t supposed to

hurt, it was supposed to heal, but somehow Amber had hurt Ryan and herself in the process of

granting him his dream.

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Sacrifice. One word described her actions for Ryan. By sacrificing her happiness and her

forever, she got Ryan his dream and she tried so hard to reconcile that within herself.

But it was hard to sacrifice such a perfect love for a dream, a dream that had started off as

Ryan’s alone but had turned into the joint dream of two souls. Because Amber had learned so

quickly that though she loved him more than any words could describe, by loving him she

needed to make him leave. To make him grab his dreams and make them come true for himself,

that was what Amber had done for him. Sacrificing one’s own happiness for another’s wasn’t

easy, but Amber knew that she could do it. Just as one word could describe her motives, one idea

gave her hope.

The idea that maybe one day she would pass him on the street, and maybe she would hold

his gaze just long enough to steal his heart back. After all of his dreams came true, Amber would

see to it that hers did. Her only dream was to be with Ryan, forever. And by sacrificing her own

dream, Ryan could attain his and in some unimaginable way that would have to do for now.

“To sacrifice.” Amber muttered before letting the darkness claim her, as it had claimed

the town that lay before her.

“Wake up, sleepy head.” Tiffany’s voice rang through Amber’s head. The bright light

from the window burned her eyes but she opened them still.

“What time is it?” She asked with voice still rough from sleep.

“Eleven in the morning.” Answered the petite blonde. Hair up in a pony tail and running

clothes on, Tiffany seemed to be waiting for Amber to wake.

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“How long have you been waiting to wake me up?” Amber asked while pushing herself

up into a sitting position. The room spun slightly around her for a moment before righting itself.

Luckily it looked as if she would avoid a hangover, narrowly.

“About an hour. I made coffee, and it’s your friend.” A cup of coffee was pushed into her

cold hands, it warmed them slowly back to life.

“I’ll go change.” Dragging herself to her room with coffee in hand, Amber proceeded to

dress in track shorts and a sports bra. With a yawn, she took another gulp of the hot black coffee.

“Ready?” Tiffany asked from her waiting spot near the front door. Downing the coffee in

three last gulps, she placed the cup in the kitchen and without a word followed Tiffany into the

hallway.

When they reached the main road, Amber breathed in the sweet smell of the summer air

around them. Summer was always good to Cedar Creek, the green gave the town a healthy look

about it. The past few years Amber had run alone but it was nice to run with Tiffany for a

change. Back in high school the two had been on the cross country team together, because both

of them loved to run. It was a habit for both of the girls to run away from their problems, in a

literal and metaphorical sense.

Every now and then she would look over to Tiffany only to find her concentrated intently

on the road before them. The only sound was that of their shoes clapping rhythmically against

the pavement. Amber felt at ease on the road, she always had, but she felt even more so at ease

with Tiffany to her left.

“Let’s turn around now.” Tiffany suggested before slowing into a turn, Amber followed.

They retraced their path step for step, again without a word passed between them. In front of

them the town came into view, with people walking down the streets. Each person they passed

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waved or nodded in their direction. Amber couldn’t resist waving back, although her running

mate could.

At the solitary stop light sat a bright red truck. Amber’s heart plummeted to the very pit

of her very being. Frozen to the spot, she couldn’t run and when Tiffany realized that she wasn’t

beside her, the blonde jogged back to where Amber stood.

“What?” Amber heard Tiffany ask but she didn’t answer. Instead she stared ahead at the

truck, waiting for the window to roll down and for Ryan to appear. The light turned green and

the truck sped away, but it wasn’t Ryan. Ryan’s truck had stickers all over the back and the truck

in front of her was blank in the rear.

“I thought it was Ryan.” Amber resumed running and Tiffany eyed her carefully.

“And if it had been him? What would you do? Tell him that you call out his name in your

sleep and that the only time you can talk about him without crying is when your drunk.” Tiffany

picked up the pace at the end of her sentence, Amber struggled to keep up. Her legs burned at the

effort but she didn’t slow the littlest bit.

“You don’t know what your talking about.” They were running up hill now and the

apartment’s were in Amber’s sight. She pushed herself harder, only to see Tiffany’s back as she

sprinted to the stairs. Amber bent down with her hands to her knees when she reached the stars.

“I won.” The blonde gloated over Amber. Still trying to catch her breath, Amber decided

to react non-verbally by simply giving Tiffany the middle finger. “Real mature.” She

commented.

And then she was climbing the stairs like she hadn’t just run five miles.

“Aren’t you tired?” Amber shouted up the stairs, still trying to catch her breath.

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“No. I’m not out of shape like you.” The blonde’s legs disappeared around the corner,

leaving Amber to catch her breath at the bottom of the stairs. Bent over her knees, Amber gasped

for breath but she forced herself to climb the stairs.

When she finally reached their level, she found the front door wide open. After entering

the apartment she firmly closed the door behind her. Sitting at the dining room table with a glass

of water and magazine was Tiffany, with a smirk on her face.

“Thanks for leaving me.” The apology was half assed and they both knew it. Amber

filled herself a glass of water before sitting down beside Tiffany.

“You’re very welcome.” Chided the blonde as Amber lifted the magazine slightly to see

what magazine it was.

“You’re reading Dazed?” Neither of the girls were big magazine readers, but Amber

noticed that Tiffany would purchase a magazine if something inside it really interested her. The

blondes face grew red and she tried to gently push it aside.

“Stan left it here.” And then the magazine disappeared, Amber was too scared to push the

topic further. With a dignity she didn’t know she had, she gracefully dropped the subject.

“What are we doing the rest of the day?” Amber watched Tiffany’s face return to it’s

normal hue in relief, and it worried Amber a little.

“Let’s have a movie day!” Tiffany shouted with glee as she ran towards the boxes labeled

‘movies’. Once she finished the glass of water before her, she got up and made her way to where

Tiffany stood. Movie after movie was pulled from the box, but none of them met Tiffany’s

standards. And when she found a movie she was interested in, Amber had to forcefully say no

because of the content. Watching a two hour movie about romance gone wrong, wasn’t what

Amber wanted to sit through.

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“Can we please just watch a comedy?” Amber begged with a loud groan. The next thing

Amber knew the box was being turned over and all the movies fell from the box. Tiffany

proceeded to close her eyes, then she reached down to grab a movie.

“The movie I touch first is the one we watch.” Amber closed her eyes to pray for a

comedy. When Tiffany straightened up Amber groaned at the movie in her hand.

“I swear that you have magical bad movie finding abilities.” The blonde shrugged her

shoulders in innocence before pushing the DVD into the player. Falling back onto the sofa,

Amber watched her friend throw the case to the ground.

“Suck it up.” Tiffany said while throwing herself onto the sofa beside Amber. Before

them the television came to life with commercials quickly filling the screen. A cloud passed in

front of the sun turning the apartment completely dark for a few moments. The opening scenes of

Titanic rolled along in front of Amber, she surprised even herself by actually watching the film.

Titanic had always been a hard movie to watch for Amber. Mostly because it was so

involved, so much so that if the viewer missed one moment then the rest of the film would seem

some what off. Engrossed more so that ever, Amber found herself watching it with her elbows on

her knees. The slight banter between Rose and Jack didn’t annoy her as usual, the play between

them comforted her. Suddenly she could see the connection between Titanic and her favorite

movie, Casablanca. Both couples sacrificed in the end, and that realization hit her just as Jack

was beginning to draw Rose’s naked body. The scene played out before her, and a vague sense

of loss filled Amber’s stomach with dread.

Unable to watch the overwhelming heart break any longer, Amber got up from the couch

and stormed off to her room. The door slammed closed behind her as she threw herself onto the

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bed in the center of the room. Curling up into a ball, Amber began to cry. She couldn’t tell if she

was crying for her own heartbreak or for that of the characters in Titanic.

“Amber?” Came the quiet question from the door. She sat up quickly with her back to the

door, harshly she wiped the tears away before turning towards the door.

“Yeah?” Amber asked as calmly as she could, but her voice shook against her willing it

calm. The bed dipped beside her under Tiffany’s weight.

“We can watch another movie.” Wiping the tears from her eyes, Amber tried in vain to

flash a smile towards Tiffany. “Oh, Amber.” Suddenly the blondes arms were around her, giving

her strength as they often would.

“I just want to go back two months.” Amber whispered brokenly into Tiffany’s blonde

locks. The blonde rubbed Amber’s back soothingly as she cried.

“I know.” Tiffany whispered warmly into Amber’s ear. As the tears began to wane,

Amber hesitantly pulled away form Tiffany’s embrace.

“If you want to talk about your mom, I’ll listen.” Silence filled the apartment for longer

than Amber expected, making her think that she had said the wrong thing. But at some point

Tiffany’s face went slack and a few tears filled her blue eyes.

“I can’t yet. I’m still pretending she isn’t gone.” Just as Tiffany had done moments

before, Amber pulled her friend into a tight embrace offering support in the crucial moment.

Visions of the funeral filled her head, accompanied with memories of that night. Memories of

that night were still fresh in her mind; she could still feel his fingers tender on her face, so unlike

the intruder that had torn her apart from the inside out. The fingers that healed her in so many

ways, fingers that Amber ached to feel again.

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“I wish I could bring her back for you. I would trade places with her in an instant, if only

it meant you could have her back.” Amber’s tone was sullen along with her face. The tears from

early were gone, instead her eyes were now filled with regret and derision.

“Don’t say things like that. My mother wasn’t really living any way, we all know that.”

Tiffany spoke with such eloquence that Amber’s breath was blown away, she hadn’t expected

that from Tiffany. The blondes blue eyes sparkled with unshed tears, but her face carried a

strength that Amber had only seen a few times before.

“Still, I would bring her back if I could.” The two girls stared at each other for a few

minutes, in the dark of Amber’s bedroom and with the scent of vanilla candles filling their noses.

“I wouldn’t. I think she’s happier where she is now. At least she isn’t trapped anymore,

she’s free.” And Amber knew that no more words needed to be said, because Tiffany had spoken

her piece and that was the end. All she could do was nod before standing up from the bed.

“I’m going to go see my parents. I’ll be home later.” Tiffany nodded and then Amber left

the apartment. Amber wondered if her parents could clear some things up for her, because

maybe love wasn’t black and white. Maybe it was grey, and maybe, just maybe her parents could

help her find the difference between sacrifice and martyrdom.

Amber arrived at her parents home in record time. The house before her still looked like

home, and as she walked inside she discovered it still felt like home too. The scene that greeted

her was that of her parents curled up on the couch together watching an old movie. Which was

strangely black and white.

“Hello.” Amber called from behind them, and she couldn’t contain her laugh at their

reactions. Both of them jumped almost out of their skins at the sound of her voice so close

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behind them. She watched her mother press her hand to her chest to calm her rapidly beating

heart.

“Oh my, Amber! You scared the daylights out of us.” Said her mother with a smile.

Amber smiled too before walking over to kiss them each on the cheek. The chair opposite them

was unoccupied and Amber sat down on the chair softly.

“Sorry.” Though she wasn’t really sorry, she still said it.

“Do you need something?” Her father asked from his place beside her mother. Their

hands were still interlocked atop the green throw.

“I just wanted to ask you some questions.” She watched as her mother leaned forward to

pause the movie. Amber fumbled quietly inside her head with what questions to ask first.

“Okay.” Knowing smiles graced both of their faces, almost as if they knew what she was

about to ask.

“Mom, if you could make all of Dad’s dreams come true just by being apart from him,

would you do it?” Amber watched the smiles slip from their face as if they hadn’t been expecting

that exact question. A look passed between her parents for a few seconds before her mother

turned back towards her.

“Yes. Yes, I would.” Amber had expected that answer, because she knew that most

women who were truly in love would answer same way. Sitting back in the chair, Amber

wondered if she had the power to go through with her plan. The plan to never see, feel, or hear

Ryan again for months, maybe even years.

“Amber you’re forgetting something.” Effectively broken out of her reverie, she looked

towards her father with her eyebrows knotted.

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“What am I forgetting?” Amber asked with genuine curiosity. A warm smile crossed her

fathers face and she saw him squeeze her mothers fingers gently.

“If she could make all my dreams come true just by being apart from me, maybe I

wouldn’t want my dreams anymore. If I couldn’t have my dreams and her, I wouldn’t want them.

Because when my dreams come true, I would want here right there beside me. Every step of the

way.” At the end of his words, he leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on her mothers smiling

lips. Everything seemed hazy around her at his words… and suddenly Amber wondered if she

had made the right choice. But she pushed that thought away quickly, and told herself that her

fathers feelings weren’t necessarily how Ryan felt. Right now Ryan was probably enjoying every

single ounce of his dreams, and that’s all that mattered to Amber.

The drive back to her and Tiffany’s apartment was silent. All she could think of was

getting back there and drinking half a bottle of vodka. When she arrived back at the apartment,

she found Tiffany curled up on the sofa watching another romantic movie. At the sight of the

sappy love story, Amber threw herself toward the kitchen and retrieved two shot glasses along

with the bottle of vodka. She fell silently onto the sofa beside Tiffany, and still silent she filled

the shot glasses. Tiffany stared at her questioningly for a while, and her eyes narrowed when

Amber threw the shot of vodka back as if it was water. Amber’s vision blurred at the sting of the

liquid on her throat, and it fell into her stomach like gravel.

“You were only gone for an hour.” It was an accusation, like an hour couldn’t possibly

have changed the state of Amber’s mood as significantly as it looked like.

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Amber laughed bitterly at Tiffany’s words before throwing back another shot. Tiffany

was still holding onto her first shot when Tiffany hastily threw back her third. The emotions

were beginning to numb at the onslaught of vodka and for that, Amber was happy.

“We both know the power of an hour.”

Many things could happen in an hour, this Amber knew. One could be outside for an hour

as their mother had a stroke. One could be brutally raped for an hour as a party went on not a

mile away. Sixty minutes. Within that amount of time the world could change, or it could stay

exactly the same. An hour was viewed differently by almost every human being, but no matter

where one was, an hour was still just sixty minutes out of millions in a lifetime.

“You might want to slow down.” Tiffany commented on Amber’s pace, she was already

on her fifth shot.

“No, I plan on getting trashed. Join me or don’t for all I care.” Amber stood with the

bottle of vodka and clumsily made her way to the window seat. Just as the night before, the sun

was beginning to set over the forest at the edge of town. The shot glass lay abandoned beside

Amber on the floor, and instead she was drinking straight from the bottle. Amber was trying hard

to ignore the sound of the movie, instead concentrating on the town below her and the vodka

burning her throat on it’s way down. The delicious delirium of drunkenness hung over her like a

cloud poised to rain.

No longer able to hold the vodka bottle in her unsteady hands, she gave up and lay it

down to rest on the floor beside her. The setting sun in front of her was blurred by the drunken

haze across her eyes, and memories flooded into her mild state of awareness.

First a memory of that night, the hard pain of him inside her, slowly ripping her apart as

she screamed in pain. Then another memory of a completely different type, the memory of the

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first time she felt Ryan’s fingers soft against the bare skin of her back. Each memory was one of

a man’s touch, but one was as harsh as the other was gentle.

“Amber, let’s get you to your room?” At the sound of Tiffany’s soft voice, Amber turned

her head sloppily to the left in order to look Tiffany in the eye. Amber laughed bitterly when she

felt a tear escape her eye. With no coordination to speak of, Amber tried to wipe the tear away

but instead Tiffany did it for her.

“I’m supposed to make a speech tomorrow…” Unable to finish her sentence, she just

waved her hand dismissively in the air. She felt Tiffany’s hand beneath her arm and with more

strength than Amber knew she had, Tiffany was guiding her towards her bedroom. The bed was

soft beneath as she felt onto it, she crawled to the middle and curled into a ball.

“It’ll be over tomorrow.” Whispered the blonde while drawing the blankets over Amber’s

prone form. Amber’s eyes were heavy with sleep and alcohol but she fought to keep them open

to stare blankly in Tiffany’s direction.

“No, it won’t be. It’s not over until I have Ryan back.” Wrapped securely in her blankets

she drifted off to sleep with thoughts of Ryan floating their her light headed mind.

“I love you.” Whispered Ryan while cupping Amber’s cheek in his palm. His thumb

rubbed her cheek in an achingly gentle way, and she couldn’t resist closing her eyes and leaning

into the touch.

“Why?” The intensity in Ryan’s eyes increased at her question, making her stomach

flutter in an all too familiar way.

“Why do I love you?” He questioned almost as if he didn’t understand the word. Amber

nodded and lay her head on his chest but still kept their eyes connected.

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“Why do you love me?” Amber clarified as the sun finally rose above the tree tops

behind them. The hand that had been cupping her cheek moved to cup the back of her neck. A

gentle tug of his hand pulled her closer to his face so that they were only inches apart.

A dull throbbing pain pulsed in her head as she sat up in bed. The alarm clock to her left

read seven in the morning letting her know it was time to be up anyway. Shutting the alarm clock

off on the way she walked in a zigzag pattern to the bathroom.

The scalding hot water of the shower threatened to lull her back to sleep but she escaped

the pull by washing her hair roughly. Steam gathered quickly in the shower as she took her time

washing herself.

After the shower she stood naked in front of her walk in closet. In her old closet the

clothes had been lovingly categorized by style and color, but now she realized that she didn’t

know where anything was. Her father had placed the clothes in the closet in a haphazard manner,

but it matched Amber’s mood at the moment. Since she didn’t know where each outfit was, she

reached forward and grabbed a black pair of slacks and green oxford shirt. Amber found herself

not putting any care into her appearance, which was something she never did, being the

successor of a boutique owner almost demanded good fashion sense. While her outfit looked

perfectly put together, she let her hair curl instead of straightening it, and the curls gave her hair

an almost wild look. A light dab of blush to her cheeks, only to make her look as if she wasn’t

completely drained of life. And then she was ready for her nine A.M. appointment with the devil.

“Morning sunshine.” Tiffany called from the kitchen with a cup of coffee in each hand,

one for herself and one for Amber. A grateful smile wound it’s way across Amber’s pale lips.

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“Thanks.” The coffee burned her tongue but she drank it anyway, just to feel some sort of

feeling. Even if it was pain that she felt. Once both of the girls finished their coffee, they were on

their way out the door. A sense of uncertainty followed Amber down the stairs and into the car…

it was a different feeling then she had felt the day of the trial. Because at the end of today, if she

had a panic attack she would have to fend for herself. No angels would appear in the nick of time

to save her today.

The drive to the court house was slow and full of tension for Amber. Almost so that when

they arrived, it took her a few moments to realize that they had in fact arrived at the court house.

On the steps to the courthouse stood her parents both wearing identical comforting smiles.

Amber hugged them gratefully and she held onto her mother a little longer than she would

usually.

“Are you ready?” Her mother asked as they pulled a part. A bitter smile formed on

Amber’s lips.

“As ready as I can be.”

Not many people were at the court house this time and Amber seemed to prefer it that

way. This time she didn’t feel like the world was watching her with bated breath. Unlike the last

time, the four of them walked into the court room without assistance. The row behind the District

Attorney was empty, waiting for them to arrive.

Amber sat down directly behind the attorney but she didn’t raise her eyes to the other side

of the courtroom for a few minutes. And when she did look that way she saw nothing but an

empty chair. He wasn’t there yet. Tiffany sat to her right and Amber reflexively reached for her

hand. At the touch Tiffany smiled and gently squeezed the hand that held hers.

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Amber couldn’t feel anything, almost like she was numb of the emotion the day carried.

At the sound of the door to her left opening, she turned her head to take in the view of him. He

was wearing the same suit as last time and she saw him searching the room for someone. When

his eyes landed on her she realized he hadn’t been looking for family, but he had been looking

for her. The smug grin on his face unsettled her stomach and she felt her face flush out of panic.

“Stand for the honorable Judge Bidden.” The deputy announced and everyone occupying

the room followed his direction. A sea of people stood among Amber in the room, many of them

she didn’t know but a few of them she did. She spotted a few reporters from the local television

station sitting in the corner, but other wise she felt alone in the day’s battle.

“Today is the sentencing hearing, which means that no lawyers will speak today. But if

the victim would like to make a statement, she can.” The old man’s eyes turned to hers and

surprising not only her family but also herself, Amber stood. Again she felt as if her body was on

autopilot, she wasn’t guiding herself to the pulpit but instead something else was. And it wasn’t

she that held the little door open for her, but instead the assistant attorney, that wore a

sympathetic smile on his handsome young face.

“Go ahead Miss Hallows.” The grey and wrinkled judge said, and Amber saw a vast

kindness in his eyes. It set her slightly at ease but it didn’t stop the chills from covering her body,

at the notion that he sat not feet from her on the left.

“The man to my left raped and beat me not many weeks ago. He left me bruised and

battered in a field, but he didn’t take away my will.” Her chin lifted in defiance like it often did,

even though she was on autopilot. “I’ve wasted too much time being his victim. What he did

made me stronger, and turned me into the woman you see before you.” She felt herself sway

slightly but she only gripped the wood in front of her tighter. The jury was blurry in her vision

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but she kept her head turned in their direction when she began to speak. “He deserves what ever

sentence you place upon him, because while he might remain in a jail cell, I’ll be fighting my

way out of the prison he left me in.”

And just as before, the strength inside her that couldn’t be hers, led her back to the seat

waiting for her. Her father’s arm delicately snaked around her shoulders but still she felt as if she

weren’t there. Like she was disconnected from her own body, as if she was watching the

proceedings from somewhere else.

Amber couldn’t keep her mind on the proceedings before her. Different images floated

through her mind at a rapid speed… some images were of the man sharing the room with her but

most were of Ryan. No matter how hard she tried to keep him out of her thoughts, it seemed

impossible not to think of him. But the memories vanished when she felt her hand be squeezed

by Tiffany, everyone in the courtroom had stood for the Judge’s return to the room. Time had

slipped away from her in the dimly lit court room, she found the jury ready to give their

sentence.

She clung desperately to Tiffany’s warm hand as the world seemed to spin endlessly

around her.

“Has the jury come to a unanimous decision?” The kind looking judge asked of the

jurors. A representative form the jury stood with a piece of paper in their hands.

“Yes, we have.” Amber could feel her heart hammering in her chest. It’s frenzied pace

made Amber’s head light headed and she swayed again on her feet, but Tiffany steadied her

gently.

The juror continued in his unconcerned monotone. “We, the jury, have sentenced the

defendant to eight years incarceration without the opportunity for parole.” And the sound that

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broke the silence was that of his chair screeching loudly against the wood floor. A guard only

feet away pulled the flailing arms behind him, the arms that had brutally held Amber down

through their torture.

“Eight years! She wanted it!” He screamed and a nasty snarl formed on his lips, and his

eyes turned in her direction. Their eyes met over the sea of people between them, and Amber felt

nauseated at the connection of their eyes.

“Don’t listen to him.” Tiffany whispered into her ear but she couldn’t move her body.

She was frozen in the spot she stood, with her eyes fixed on the man being dragged out of the

courtroom. Her father had taken hold of her arm in a matter of seconds, she found herself being

dragged out of the courtroom away from the pressure of the crowd. The panic attack was already

swelling inside of her, so much so that by the time they reached fresh air, it didn’t make a

difference.

“Amber, breathe for me. Please, in and out sweetie.” Her mother sung in a soothing

voice, but it didn’t make a difference. She couldn’t breathe and her eyes searched for the one

person that could make it better. When her eyes didn’t find him, they rolled back into her head at

the absence of oxygen.

“Oh my God! Call an ambulance!” Tiffany shouted but it sounded miles away to

Amber’s ears. She felt her body arching in search of a way to get breath to her brain, but it was

impossible. The world vanished before as she slipped away into an unconscious that she was far

to familiar with.

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Bright white light assaulted Amber as she opened her eyes. The light made her close her

eyes reflexively and she groaned at the pain the light caused in her head. A dull throbbing pain

ached behind her eyes, when she tried to lift her hand to rub the pain out of her eyes, she found

that her hand was firmly attached to something. She pulled at her hand causing what ever was

holding her hand down to let go.

“You’re awake.” Came a voice from her left. She recognized it but it took her a few

moments to realize it was Tiffany. Opening her eyes again she saw that her best friend looking

pretty worse for wear.

“Where are my parents?” The voice that wasn’t hers asked, it sounded scratchy and deep

to her own ears, so unlike her own voice.

“In the waiting room, trying to get some rest. I’ve been sitting with you for the past few

hours.” Tiffany had leaned forward during her words, to be only inches away from Amber’s face.

“Hours?” She asked while clearing her throat of the scratchiness.

“You’ve been here for about ten hours. You had a panic attack after the sentencing.” A

comforting hand was placed on her shoulder, but Amber still felt alone. Her body ached from the

torture it had just been put through, and her heart ached for an entirely different reason. Some

distant part of her had expected Ryan to show up and rescue her from herself, but he hadn’t. And

left to help herself, she had failed miserably.

“Can I leave now?” The hand on her shoulder squeezed slightly.

“I’ll go tell your parents you’re awake. Then the doctor will come in.”

Amber watched Tiffany leave, and when she was alone in the cold hospital room, she

fought hard to not fall apart. Turning over in the small hospital bed, unable to contain herself, she

began to cry. Even the sound of the door opening and closing wasn’t able to quell her tears. The

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bed dipped behind her as someone lay down beside her, and she felt her mother’s arms wrap

around her firmly.

“Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be okay.” Her mother whispered, but Amber only cried

harder at the words of encouragement.

“I just want things to be the way they used to be.” Amber said through her tears. She felt

her mother tighten her arms around her for a few moments.

“I know. But wouldn’t you rather feel real love, than never feel any at all?” Through her

tears, she recognized the question and the truth in it. But it was too soon to think that way now.

She let the statement be the end of their conversation, instead of speaking she just laid in her

mother’s arm and pretended that things were simple again. Like the way things had been when

she was little, when a hug from her mother could fix everything.

Amber’s life fell into a routine of sorts after the sentencing and hospital trip. Go to work

at eight in the morning. Have lunch with Tiffany at noon. Get home a little after five. Then she

would finish off a bottle of red wine, and end the night with a good cry. But after a month of self

loathing, Tiffany had enough of Amber’s behavior.

“Amber, I have something to tell you.” Tiffany said from her seat opposite Amber at the

dinner table. Her bleach blonde hair was twisted tightly a top her little head, but her blue eyes

still narrowed in Amber’s direction in their usual manner.

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“What?” Bitter red wine slid down her throat after her question. Tiffany stood from the

table and took the bottle of wine from Amber’s grasp.

“Hey!” She shouted in anger.

“I’m going to talk to you while your still slightly sober.” Amber watched with seething

anger as Tiffany proceeded to dump the wine down the drain.

“You didn’t have to be so dramatic.” She whispered with an edge of annoyance to her

voice. Tiffany came back to the table but instead of sitting opposite Amber, she sat next to her

this time.

“I talked to Stan, and he said that Ryan’s just as miserable as you. You need to see him,

you can’t live like this forever.” At the mention of his name Amber’s heart skipped a beat. A

wash of desire ran through her as his face flashed in front of her.

“I… what?” Tiffany tilted her head at Amber’s lack of words.

“I want you to go see Ryan. So do your parents… even Stan’s rooting for you. This has

got to end, and I’m putting my foot down. You’re grabbing your keys and driving to Knoxville

right now.” Amber abruptly stood from the table at the clear order in Tiffany’s words.

“You can’t make me do anything.” Anger laced her words, and they came out more bitter

than she had meant them to. Tiffany stood from the table too, they stood face to face for a few

silent seconds.

“I can and I am. I’ll drive if I have to. I’ll also strap you into the seat against your will.”

A power struggle took place between them in the dining room of their apartment. They must

have stood staring at each other for at least five minutes until Amber backed down.

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“I’ll go if you’ll drive. I’ve been drinking.” As quickly as the fight had started it ended.

Tiffany grinned at Amber’s inability to win the fight, and she bounced to the front door with the

car keys flashing brightly in her petite hands.

“Let’s go.” As scared as she was she couldn’t fight the little bubble of joy that had started

in her stomach at the thought of seeing Ryan, hearing him, or even touching him.

“Put your seatbelt on.” Tiffany said while starting the mustang, as they pulled out of the

spot Amber could see the two blank twins staring at her car longingly. Amber waved at them

from the passenger seat when they passed them.

“It’s like a three hour drive Tiffany.” At the mention of the long drive, Tiffany didn’t

even flinch. Amber thought fleetingly that Tiffany could have planned this, along with her

parents and Stan.

“I don’t care.” Quipped the blonde.

The car all but purred at the chance to be driven at speeds it had only ached for, because

Tiffany was going at least seventy by the time they reached the towns limits. Amber turned the

radio on out of boredom but she turned it off with an angry sigh when no music could be found.

“I need to get satellite radio.” Amber said to the silence. With nothing else to do she

looked out the window to the forest passing beside her.

“Do you know what your going to say to him? I mean when you finally see him?” Out of

the corner of her eye she could see Tiffany glancing at her from the drivers seat.

“No, I guess I’ll have to wing it.” She replied tonelessly.

“You can practice on me if you want.” Tiffany said while laughing lightly. Amber

couldn’t help but smile at her friends suggestion.

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“Thanks for the offer.” With their conversation over Amber focused on the trees passing

outside her window.

Amber had no idea what she was going to say to Ryan when she finally saw him. A

million different words could be said. But none of them would be enough. Sorry seemed out of

place for the occasion. Maybe she would beg for forgiveness. Just the thought of seeing him sent

her mind into a flurry of images, while her heart felt as if it would explode at any moment.

Oh, but she was terrified. What if he didn’t want to see her? How would she live if she

found out he hated her and never wanted to see her again. Life without him seemed so dull… and

after the past weeks without him she knew that she couldn’t be without him.

After an hour of silent driving, the stars had come out and the moon hung threateningly

large in the night sky. They sped through forests and fields, but Amber didn’t look at them. For

the first time in a long time she stared at the stars. Some of them twinkled from their home in the

sky while others just hung lazily in their spots, but they looked the same as they had that night.

As she stared at them from the passenger seat, something finally snapped inside of her. She

couldn’t spend the rest of her life avoiding the night sky, it was beautiful and majestic. No matter

the atrocities that had been done to her under it, the stars still shone brilliantly. Their splendor

and beauty still took her breath away, much like the way Ryan’s voice or smile did. And that was

when she realized that the stars and Ryan had a few things in common. They were both there

through the good and the bad, even when she tried to pretend otherwise.

All she could do was pray that when she arrived before Ryan, that God would give her

the confidence to say what she needed too. Too quickly the lights of Knoxville appeared in her

vision and the car slowed down.

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“Stan said that Ryan’s playing at a club tonight. Some sort of showcase or something, I

don’t know how you’ll get back to see him.” She said while negotiating her way through the

cities traffic.

“I know how.” And it was true, she did.

Chapter 14

Words

Amber found herself running beside Tiffany toward a club glowing before them. A light

wound around the corner and people stared at them as they ran past. Of course they both ran too

fast for anyone to stop them because they were so good at running. When they reached the front

of the line two bouncers eyed them anxiously at their out of breath appearance.

“Are you on the list, or am I going to have to escort you to the back of the line?” The

largest bouncer asked menacingly with arms crossed in front of him. Tiffany turned to stare at

Amber, eyes large with questions on how they would get inside.

“I’m not on the list. But if you call Derek Matthews he’ll tell you to let me in.” When the

bouncer started to protest Amber narrowed her eyes and stepped forward slightly. “Call him or

you’ll be fired.” Both of bouncers looked torn between anger with Amber for threatening their

job or picking her up and carrying her to the end of the line.

“I don’t know who you think you are…” Started the bouncer but Amber realized that

anger wasn’t going to work. So she let a few tears fill her eyes and her lip began to tremble.

“Please?” Amber asked with the saddest voice she could muster. The two bouncers

looked at each other before the one that hadn’t spoken grabbed his Walkie.

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“Can I get Mr. Matthews to the door, immediately.” Said the quiet bouncer without any

expression in his face. Amber smiled at the two of them in gratitude.

“Thank you.” Tiffany said with a good southern smile. They stood out of the way of the

line waiting for Derek to come out. Two minutes later the doors barged open and Derek came

walking out. He was dressed in his best suit and Amber smirked when she noticed he was

wearing a tie she had bought him years ago.

“What’s going on?” Derek asked of the bouncers. The silent bouncer pointed in our

direction as Derek looked around for the problem. His face fell when he saw the two girls

standing at the front of the line. He ran over quickly to where the two girls stood, then he

grabbed their arms and dragged them toward the club doors.

“What are you doing here?” He asked with his hands still gripping their arms.

“I need to see Ryan.” She said with her chin lifted in defiance. Derek recognized the

movement and he realized that he couldn’t prevent what was about to happen. His perfectly

placed hair was ruined when he ran his hand roughly through the black locks.

“Can you at least wait until after his show?” Derek was negotiating with the girls, but

Amber smiled at his inability to fight with her.

“I guess. Is he on stage yet?” Amber asked as her and Tiffany followed Derek into the

packed club. He pushed his way through the crowd with Amber and Tiffany staying close to him.

“No. He’ll be on in five or so.” He shouted over the roar of the crowd. Amber suddenly

felt unsure of herself, what if Ryan saw her in the crowd and couldn’t go his show? So many

what if’s were running through her mind as she sat down at the table reserved for Derek. When

they sat down, Tiffany rubbed her arm comfortingly but it didn’t put her at ease. The whole club

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roared as Ryan stepped onto the stage, but Amber found herself breathless. At the sight of Ryan

she was unable to move or barely even breath.

“Thanks for coming out everyone! The first song I’m going to sing is called Be Your

Man.” Amber watched as his fingers started to strum his guitar softly. The band behind him

didn’t move until after he sang the first verse.

She whispers in words

That I cannot understand

But I don’t care

I still want to be her man

It was the first song that Amber had ever heard him sing. But at the same time she felt

like she was hearing him for the very first time. His voice sent chills down her spine, and

memories of him singing to her in the hammock swam before her. Amber wanted nothing more

than for him to see her but at the same time she wanted to watch him play without him knowing.

All of the emotions running through her were to unidentifiable to nail down.

“How’s everyone doing tonight?” Ryan shouted with a smile. The crowd answered with a

yell and a few shouts, but Amber still stared at him. “This next song is rated PG-13. It’s a song

about doing the deed. Who wants to hear a song about making love?” As the crowd answered

with their hoots and hollers, Ryan smiled and started to strum his guitar lightly. She watched as

his eyes closed before leaning into the microphone softly.

“Sing it all away” you cry to me

Your eyes plead for an cure

I trace all your imperfections with my finger tips

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Baby, don’t look so unsure

I can pull you inside that house

Make the problems disappear

With my lips covering yours

I will kiss away the tears

Love me, need me, hurt me

Your eyes all but plead

I give into your words

With everything left inside me

“Sing it all away” you whisper to me

And I find I can’t deny your plea

I want to make love to you

Never anyone else, oh your words are so true

Through the song, couples in the crowd had started to sway to the music. The band never

joined in, letting Ryan’s guitar be the only instrument leading the song. But when Ryan finished

she saw his hand grip the microphone tightly, and she could all but see him remembering the

words she had said. He wrote the song about her, it amazed and astounded her that he had the

strength to sing it. If it had been her having to sing a song about him, she knew that she wouldn’t

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have been able to do it. But that just showed where they were different, where she was weak he

was strong, they complimented each other perfectly.

“Did he write that about you?” Tiffany asked as Amber stared longingly at Ryan.

“What do you think?” Amber replied bitterly. The blondes eyes turned into nothing but

little slits at Amber’s tone. Derek caught the little fight between them and he eyed the two girls

critically.

“Everything all right?” He asked unsure of the situation.

“Everything is fine.” While they had been talking Ryan had finished his set and left the

stage. But the crowd was screaming for an encore, Amber couldn’t help but clap along with the

crowd. Hundreds of people screaming Ryan’s name, and still she felt like she was the only one in

the room when he walked back out onto the stage.

“This is it guys. Thanks for coming and for your support!” No band was behind him this

time, it was just him and his guitar. Amber recognized the song immediately as he plucked

gently at the strings.

“Oh my God.” She whispered to no one in particular. Ryan was staring straight ahead

into the audience, but Amber was sure that he was thinking about the same memory she was.

I heard there was a secret chord

That David played and it pleased the lord

But you don’t really care for music do you?

Well it goes like this the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

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She wasn’t surprised that he remembered her favorite song. After all she remembered

every word he had ever said in her presence, why would he forget her words? But as he sang her

favorite song, she realized that the song coming from his lips was completely different. For the

rest of her life, just like Hey Jude, she would always imagine him singing Hallelujah. It would

never be the same, and for that she was glad. The song ended and the crowd erupted with

applause.

Amber couldn’t jump from her seat quick enough. She almost forgot that she needed

Derek to get backstage. When she reached the backstage entrance Derek and Tiffany reached her

moments later. The bouncer eyed them strangely but when Derek stepped forward in front of her

the bouncer didn’t stop Amber from following. Tiffany didn’t follow, she just smiled

encouragingly in Ambers direction and for that she smiled back.

The hallway was packed with people running back and forth. Amber stayed close to

Derek’s back as they walked the halls, pushing through throngs of people that she was sure

Derek had ordered around earlier in the day. They reached the door with a piece of paper labeled

‘Ryan Lukas’ on it. For the first time that night Derek turned to look Amber in the eye.

“Good luck.” Derek said with a smile before opening the door.

Amber stood frozen in place. Before her Ryan sat with his head in his hands at a vanity.

The noise outside the room was so loud that he hadn’t heard the door open. Quietly she entered

the room and just as quietly she closed the door shut behind her. Once she was in the room she

saw the two sofas and fruit littering the coffee table. Her hands began to tremble at the possibility

that this was actually happening. Just the idea of being in the same room with him scared her.

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But finally seeing him in front of her, she felt like the world had stopped spinning. With courage

that she didn’t know she had, Amber spoke.

“Ryan.” The name echoed in the small dressing room, but he heard it. Quicker than she

could of imagined he was out of his seat and standing. His face looked as if he thought he was

hallucinating, she watched him shake his head in disbelief.

“What are you doing here?” Ryan asked when he realized that she was in fact in the same

room with him.

“I came to see you.” She took a step toward him but he took a step back. He held out his

hands to stop her from coming any closer. Amber’s heart slowly began to break.

“I don’t want to see you. Get out of here.” His eyes were hard and gaze cold. She felt like

she was staring at a man she had never seen before. Suddenly she was afraid that maybe she had

hurt him too much this time. Maybe she could never get him back.

“Ryan, please. I love you.” It was the only thing she could think of to say. No other

words could possibly undo what she had already done.

“Don’t say that.” Ryan spit out. The bitterness in his face stung Amber to the core. An

anger appeared on his face, an emotion that she had never seen on his beautiful face before.

“But it’s true. I’m here to say I’m sorry. And that I need you. And that I love you… can’t

you forgive me?” She pleaded with him, just as she knew she would. Now that the moment was

here, it wasn’t going the way she had hoped or even prayed that it would.

“Amber, you broke my heart. You had Stan break up with me for you. How courageous

of you.” He took a threatening step forward making Amber shut her eyes out of fear. Panic

gripped her body, but she fought hard against it. When she heard only silence, she opened her

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eyes to find Ryan staring at her again with wide eyes. A look of regret passed over his face but

he stayed standing in front of Amber.

“I shouldn’t have come.” Then she was running, faster than she had ever run before. And

she knew that this time, just as he hadn’t when she ran away the first time, he wouldn’t follow.

Amber pushed her way through the crowds of people. Without Derek to guide her it was

hard but she finally found her way to the backstage entrance. Tiffany was standing against the

wall and when their eyes met, she knew things had gone the worst way possible.

“We’re leaving, now.” Amber said through the panic beginning to claim her.

“Yes, we are.” Tiffany said before grabbing Amber’s arm and hauling her out of the club.

They ran to the car just as they had run from it less than an hour before.

“That went the worst possible way it could of gone.” She stated simply to the pitch black

filling the car. Tiffany drove slower than before, since there wasn’t a hurry to get home.

“What happened?” Tiffany asked before taking a right to get on the highway. Speaking

about what happened was harder than she thought. Amber stared out at the stars while she

repeated her and Ryan’s conversation to tiffany.

“God, I thought he was going to hit me.” Amber said at the end of her recount of the

events that had happened minutes earlier.

“Ryan would never hit you.” The blonde stated with confidence. Amber knew that it was

true but she had been truly afraid in Ryan’s presence. He had been so angry, beyond angry, he

had been enraged.

“I know that… but he was so angry. I imagined it going in a completely different

direction.” She felt stupid because she had expected him to kiss her and tell her he forgave her.

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“At least he knows you still want him.” Even though he knew she wanted him back, he

hadn’t acted as though he wanted her back too. The whole encounter seemed so strange to

Amber, she had dreamed a more romantic reunion. How silly that had been of her.

Maybe she just needed to get used to life without Ryan because it looked like that was the

way things were going to be. Life with Ryan didn’t look like it was ever going to happen. Amber

had never felt so hopeless before.

“Tonight was a mistake.” Amber said barely loud enough for Tiffany to hear.

“You might think that now, Amber. But a few days, weeks, or years from now you won’t

think that. Sometimes mistakes turn into your greatest successes.” Tiffany kept her eyes on the

road as she spoke but that didn’t prevent Amber from seeing the hope in her eyes. Hope that

everything would turn out the way it should for Amber, the way that she hoped it would.

By the time they arrived home it was four in the morning. Tired from the driving and

emotional beatings both girls walked silently to their separate sides of the apartment. Safe in the

shelter of her bedroom, Amber curled into a ball on her bed and cried. At least she tried to cry,

but no tears could find their way from her tired eyes. That night she fell asleep praying for the

one thing she wanted most, Ryan’s happiness.

Not one selfish thought crossed her mind, one solitary prayer passed from her lips, and

that prayer was for Ryan’s happiness. Amber prayed that Ryan would find happiness in all that

he did, and if that happiness wasn’t with her but with someone else, then she prayed that he

would find it. And if he found the happiness she prayed for with another woman, then she would

be happy.

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Because when you sacrifice your own happiness for another’s, what you think is

happiness might not actually be. Amber left Ryan heart broken, while leaving herself cracked

along the edges.

Breaking hearts was a nasty business, and while it left one heart broken it would often

leave another cracked. Heart’s don’t break alone, they take prisoners.

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Chapter 15

Seven months later

Time passes slow for some and fast for others. But for Amber it seemed as if each day

crawled by without incidence. The worst part of time was the weekends, because it was only

Amber and Tiffany alone in the apartment. Only the store kept her sane these days. As she had

always done, she would lose herself in the clothes and the customers. So when her mother started

to slowly cut back her own hours and leave the store running safely with Amber, she thrived.

Before she knew it her mother had decided to take a break, indefinitely.

“You’re taking a month long vacation to Europe?” Amber asked her mother

incredulously. Her parents stood in front of their house with their baggage safely stowed away in

their car.

“Yes. And you’re in charge of the store, it’s your turn now Amber. I want to retire and so

does your dad.” Amber watched as her father shrugged his broad shoulders at her questioning

gaze.

“Well, I guess I hope you have fun. Can you at least call me every now and then?” She

questioned of her happy parents. Both of them smiled and then they each hugged Amber

goodbye. As she watched them drive away, Amber felt utterly and completely alone.

“They went to Europe? For a whole month?” Tiffany asked with an air of disbelief later

that night as the two girls settled at the table for dinner.

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“Yes. No warning or anything. Mom left me in charge of the store, she said it’s mine

now.” Amber still felt like it was too good to be true, she had been waiting so long to be in

charge of the store. And now that it had finally happened it just felt sort of anticlimactic.

“Well, that’s what you wanted right?” The blonde asked before taking a sip of the red

wine Amber had poured into her glass moments earlier.

“I guess. I just didn’t expect it for a few more years is all.” The radio was playing softly

in the background but Amber did her best to ignore it. In the past year she had learned to keep

the radio off and most of the time Tiffany did the same. After all, hearing your ex’s voice singing

love songs on the radio wasn’t easy for anyone. Tiffany made eye contact with Amber before

getting up from the table and turning the radio off.

“Sorry.” Tiffany said as she returned to the dinner table. The rest of the evening passed in

silence between the two girls until Amber stood from the couch to head for bed.

“Night.” Amber called with her back turned to Tiffany. The blonde stayed quiet until

Amber reached her bedroom door.

“His CD went double platinum today. The new single was released today, it’s called

Broken.” Ambers hand froze on her bedroom door at Tiffany’s audacity. When she collected

herself enough to speak evenly, she turned around and settled a glare on the blonde.

“Don’t ever mention him to me again. Do you hear me?” Anger seeped from each of

Amber’s words. Her hands trembled at the effort to control the rage coursing through her body.

But the blonde wasn’t having any of it, so she stood from the couch and fixed her own piercing

blue gaze on Amber’s matching green.

“You can’t pretend like he doesn’t exist forever or that you’re okay. Don’t you forget that

I live with you Amber Hallows. I see every empty wine bottle in the morning. I hear you talk in

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your sleep. You can’t hide from me what you hide from everyone else. You’re not living Amber,

you’re barely surviving.” The blonde stood inches from Amber by the end of her speech. Amber

could feel her face flush instantly with anger. She lowered her eyes to Tiffany’s and then just as

quickly looked away.

“There’s no living with a broken heart Tiffany. Do you think I want to be this way? I

don’t want to be alone. I want to be with him…” Before she could go any further, she shut

herself off and clamped the emotions that could make her feel. Not feeling was a better option

for Amber than actually feeling at this point.

“I know you’re heart broken. I know that!” She stepped forward and laid her hand on

Amber’s shoulder. “But you’ve got to find a way to let him go. He let you go a long time ago.

Let him go, Amber, it’s time.” And then she was walking away, leaving Amber with nothing to

do but go into her room and think.

With the door firmly shut behind her, she opened the very bottom drawer of her vanity

and lifted out the clothes delaying her from finding the object she wanted. Three DVD’s lay at

the bottom each labeled with a different date. She grabbed one randomly and slid it into the

player. Leaning against her bed for support, she watched as Ryan’s face appeared on the

television. It was his very first music video, the song that had been meant for her, now almost

every American couples wedding song.

I can pull you inside that house

Make the problems disappear

With my lips covering yours

I will kiss away the tears

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Amber sat motionless on the floor of her bedroom. Listening to the sweet melodic voice

that had changed her life in so many ways. If she closed her eyes and tried hard enough, she

could feel his lips on hers as he whispered blasphemous vows of love to Amber.

“Sing it all away.” She whispered as the music video faded to black. Just as she had done

so many times before, she started it back again only to feel emptier than before.

It was just another Tuesday to Amber. Open the store. Do inventory. Make calls to

different fashion designers. Pretend like she wasn’t dying inside.

“You okay kiddo?” Debbie asked from the counter. Soft pink satin slid beneath Amber’s

fingers as she hung the beautiful dress in it’s place on the wall.

“Yes, why?” It was her automatic response to the okay question. Anything else might

give people the impression that she was actually, not okay.

“You’ve seemed off lately.” Debbie observed from her place at the counter. Amber

turned back to look at the tattoo covered woman.

“Have I? Must be all the new responsibility.” Amber lied. Lying got easier and easier

each time she did it, and Amber found that she didn’t really have to try any more. It was almost

natural to her now.

“No, it’s something else. I’ve noticed this for the past year. You’re aura’s a sickly green.

And that means loss of one’s true love.” Amber smiled through the instantaneous nausea.

“You know I don’t believe in that stupidity.” She whispered as she moved to stand in

front of the counter that Debbie was behind.

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“What? Aura’s or true love?” Debbie asked to lighten the dark turn the conversation had

suddenly taken. But Amber realized that she didn’t believe in either any more.

“Both, I guess.” Amber answered with a hint of wistfulness to her voice.

“Wait, I see a change in your future. True love’s going to find it’s way back to you.” Said

the woman with a sure smile. Amber cocked her head at the declaration and fixed a questioning

glare on her.

“How can you be so sure?” She asked of Debbie but the woman’s face turned a violent

red.

“Holy Mary mother of sweet Jesus.” Debbie muttered before backing up all the way to

the back break room. The door rang behind Amber to signify the new presence of a customer.

Curious about the woman’s sudden departure, Amber stayed with her back to the store.

“Can I help you with anything today?” She called with her back still to the customer. A

strange sensation flooded Amber’s stomach but she ignored it. When no answer came, with

eyebrows knitted and eyes slightly glazed, she turned around. The sight that greeted her made

her light headed and a million different emotions flew through her head. Ryan stood less than

three feet away from her.

“Hello.” Ryan said with a smile. Amber thought she was hallucinating for a few moments

until she saw the limo parked outside the store and the all to real carnations in Ryan’s right hand.

“What are you doing here?” Amber asked Ryan with accusation in her words. Ryan

stepped forward slightly and he held the carnations in his hand awkwardly.

“I came to see you.” He declared with a quirk of his lips. Confusion settled around

Amber at his smile, and she had to fight hard to keep from running into his arms.

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“No.” Amber said with a shake of her head. The room was beginning to spin because of

the lack of oxygen to her brain. Somewhere a long the way Amber had forgotten how to breathe.

“No?” He asked while taking another step forward. His closeness made Amber feel even

more light headed than the lack of oxygen was doing. Slowly she began to breathe again and she

held her hand out to prevent him from coming any closer.

“I can’t do this.” Her hand trembled in front of her and Ryan noticed with a smile. The

beautiful carnations were laid down beside her before Ryan took a step back.

“I understand. But if you change your mind, I’ll be waiting for you at seven at the

hammock.” He backed away while holding Amber’s gaze. As the limo drove away, Amber

leaned back against the counter heavily with exhaustion. The encounter had been so different

from their last one, and Amber was shocked that his presence could still take her breath away.

“He what?” Tiffany asked with a look of stupidity on her face. Amber stood with her

back to the muted television and she stared at the blonde sitting on the sofa.

“Ryan came to the store. He told me to meet him at my parents house. At seven.” The

two girls turned to the clock at the exact same moment. It was six thirty.

“You’ve got to change, and quick.” Proclaimed the blonde while jumping from the sofa.

Bleary eyed and breathless, she followed the blonde into her walk in closet. Dress after dress was

thrown without a moment between them as Tiffany searched for the right dress.

“Found it!” She exclaimed when she found the dress she had been thinking of. Amber

stared at the green sundress with uncertainty.

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“Are you sure?” Amber asked the blonde but she didn’t receive an answer. The dress was

shoved into her arms and her bedroom door closed behind Tiffany as she left the room. Amber

tore out of her clothes and all but threw the dress on. A glance to the mirror caused her to throw

her black locks into a messy bun before taking it back down and running her fingers through it.

Tiffany burst through the door and grabbed Amber’s arm while leading her through the

apartment.

“You don’t have time to get made up. Go!” Tiffany yelled with a shove to Amber’s back.

Amber smiled in glee as she flew down the stairs. The smile fell from her face when she saw the

empty spot that her car usually sat in.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Amber yelled as she looked around franticly for her car.

After a year of not coming close to her car, the Blank twins must have finally decided to steal her

car. God really had a sense of humor.

She looked at her watch and her heart skipped a beat at what it read. Six thirty eight. With

no time to waste, Amber kicked off her heels and ran at the fastest speed she knew.

“God don’t let him leave, please.” She prayed as she ran through down town and towards

her parents house. There was only one road out of Cedar Creek. If Ryan left the house he would

have to come down this road to leave the town, that was the only solace she had. Ignoring the

ache in her feet, she kept her pace steady and fast.

Finally, after what felt like forever, she saw a black dot in the distance. It was the limo

and it arrived before her quicker than she expected. But she didn’t stop running, even as the limo

slammed to a stop in front her. The door to the back flew open and Ryan jumped out of the limo

wearing an almost unearthly beautiful smile.

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“Why are you running?” Amber hadn’t expected that question, but she couldn’t answer it

anyway. She dragged in a couple of deep breathes before looking into the blue eyes in front of

her.

“My car… it doesn’t matter. Say what you need to say.” She said as she delivered her

lungs with much needed air. Ryan stood still in front of her with his hands placed awkwardly in

his suit jacket pockets.

“I…” The lips she had dreamed of froze on their words. Amber forced a smile to her lips

through her fear and doubt.

“Say it. I’m ready.” Amber waited with bated breath as Ryan fought to find the words.

After a few moments of silence their eyes locked and her stomach fluttered as it always did.

“I’ve missed you so much. Every moment we spent apart was waging a war inside me.

Do I call? Do I write? I just didn’t know.” Again he paused in the middle of the street. Waiting

for something, she didn’t know what.

“I’ve missed you too.” She admitted. He smiled brilliantly, successfully stealing every

inch of composure from her body, along with her breath.

“You asked me a question once and I never answered it. Ask me again.”

The sky darkened above them as the sun disappeared completely behind the trees. Stars

began to appear while Amber tried to remember the question. Then she remembered it and hope

flared inside her heart. A kind of hope that terrified her.

“Why do you love me?”

Behind her back, she held her hands tight to each other as they trembled violently. A

breeze blew between them causing Ryan’s hair to fall into his eyes. Without a trace of

embarrassment, she reached her delicate arm to brush it away, lingering her touch against his too

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soft skin. Ryan grabbed the hand that had just brushed the hair from his face. Their eyes locked,

taking Amber’s breath away at the power of his gaze.

“I love you because without you, I don’t know who I am.” In the darkness she could see

him trying to desperately find the right words to say. His eyes closed in the effort to find the

words, the right words, the perfect words.

“Just say it Ryan. I’m a big girl.” A flicker of some alien emotion crossed his face.

Distant memories of his faces ran between them but none of them were like this one. She thought

it might be assurance, like he knew what he was about to say was the right thing, without a

doubt.

“All the fame in the world cannot replace how you make me feel. When I look at you I

see my future, my past, and my present. You’re my reason, Amber, you’re the reason I’m

breathing. God put me on this earth to love you and if we aren’t together… if we aren’t together

my dreams don’t mean a thing. You’re my dream. Don’t you see?” He asked harshly while

taking a step towards her. She stood unmoving before him, contemplating the words to say until

he brought her back into the moment.

The hand holding hers squeezed ever so slightly when she didn’t respond. For the second

time in her life she was speechless, all the words in history of man kind didn’t have a place in

that moment.

Words were insignificant compared to the depth of the love she felt for the man standing

before her. When she didn’t respond, she saw the desperate hope in his eyes turn into a terrified

rejection. Even though no words could be said, she did the only thing possible to make him see

that she felt exactly the same.

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Under the bright stars of Tennessee, Amber kissed the man that made her dreams come

true. The man that brought her world to life without even trying. She kissed him as if her life

depended on it, and in some ways it did. Oh, the kiss was so much better than what she had

dreamt of.

As they kissed, Amber looked up to the stars. They took on a different meaning as Ryan

kissed her breath away. In that moment, she realized why exactly the stars shone. But to her

surprise, not one scientific reason came to mind.

The reason the stars shine is because God put them there to guide lost lovers back

together. Just as sailors lost on the seas would use the stars to find their way back to their loves,

Amber knew that they had somehow guided her to Ryan. The stars had given her life new

meaning, and for that she would always be grateful.

Sometimes dreams came true in ways one couldn’t expect. Through the touch of another,

promise of a kiss, or the joy in finding a kindred spirit. But of one thing Amber would always,

always, be certain. Life didn’t turn out to be exactly like your dreams.

Dreams aren’t even close to the power of love in your real life.

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