“Yes,” he counters and his hands come down on my shoulders.

Panic rushes over me and a wild, intense rush of adrenaline spikes through my blood. I shove his hands away. “No!”

He grabs my wrists. “It will be good for you, I promise.”

“Let go,” I hiss. “Let go.” A familiar prickling in my scalp begins, signaling one of the dreaded flashbacks that can easily debilitate me. “No. No. No.” Pain spikes along my scalp, like a blade carving me from one side to the other. “Oh, God. Not now.”

“Oh God, is right,” he promises. “Over and over you gonna say that.”

My eyes meet his and I see the intent in his. He isn’t going to make me an ID. He’s going to make me a victim if I let him. I am sick and tired of being everyone’s victim. I raise my knee and put every bit of myself behind the blow I land on his groin. He grunts and doubles over, panting in evident pain. The prickling in my head is more pronounced and I shove against the door, desperate to escape before I collapse, but it doesn’t move. Panicked, I turn and push on the steel latch and then burst from the store and into the wind. A quick glance to my right in search of my cab tells me the driver has deserted me. I cut the other way, running blindly as fast as my feet will allow.

Spots splatter in front of my eyes and I dart into a place labeled as a diner, and head for the sign that reads “Restroom”. Once I’m inside the one-stall room, I lock myself in and press my back against the wooden surface. Pain pierces my scalp and I ball my fists and slide down the door, just in time. Suddenly, I’m flashing back to the past.

I park my Toyota Camry in front of the house and shove open the door, wondering what it will be like to be in college a few months from now, without a curfew. Stepping outside, the hot Texas night suffocates me and so does the realization that the porch is dark. How very…odd. I frown and shove my door closed, strapping my small purse cross-body, noting my parents’ Ford SUV is in the drive and opting to keep my keys in hand. If my mom isn’t on the porch waiting to tell me I’m ten minutes late, maybe the migraine she was fighting earlier caught up with her and I need to let myself inside.

Rushing toward the house, hoping to avoid a lecture, I tiptoe up the stairs. The third plank creaks loudly and I freeze, certain that no headache will stop my mother from discovering my tardiness. Dang it, this is Dana’s fault. I think of my best friend. I’d told her I had to leave the movie theater thirty minutes ago, but Jack—aka the captain of the football team—was talking to her and she’s infatuated with him.

Inhaling, I decide to just go for it, and rush the rest of the way up to the main landing. The instant I hit the porch level, a hand wraps around my upper arm. I gasp and a big hand covers my mouth. I reach for it, trying to pry it off of me.

A second later I’m slammed against the wall, that big hand still over my mouth. “Were you inviting someone to grab you and hurt you?”

I blink my older brother into view through the inky black night surrounding us and his hand falls from my mouth. I grimace at him and lift my knee to his groin, stopping just shy of contact. “I should hurt you like I would them. You scared the crap out of me, Chad. When did you and Dad even get back into town?”

He ignores the question. “When you see something unusual like the porch light being out, you don’t just charge forward and hope for the best. Walking around in your fairytale world of Saturday night dates and teenage gossip isn’t going to keep you safe.”

My anger is instant. “Teenage gossip? Did you really just say that to me? I want to be at the digs with you and Dad. I want to be exploring the world. It’s your influence on Dad that keeps me from traveling with you, so don’t even go there, Chad.”

A long, curly lock of his blond hair falls over his brow. “Because I’m f**king trying to make sure you have the normal life I have never had.”

I suck in a breath at the raspy, affected quality to his words that sends goose bumps down my spine. Fear clenches my gut. “What’s wrong, Chad?”

He stares at me and I wish like heck the shadows would soften on his face.

“Chad?” I prod when he doesn’t reply.

He shoves off the wall and scrubs his face. “Nothing’s wrong.” He motions to the door. “Let’s go inside.”

“No. Not yet. Not until you tell me what’s going on. Don’t tell me it’s nothing. Tell me the truth.”

“You can’t handle the truth. If tonight told me anything, it’s that.”

“That’s unfair. I’m living the only life you let me have. What aren’t you telling me?”

Pounding jolts me back to the present and I am on the ground, my legs spread out on the filthy floor of the restaurant bathroom. “Chad,” I whisper, aching from how real he’d felt in my flashback. It had been only months after that when I lost him and everyone I loved. I squeeze my eyes shut, remembering how Mom had opened the door and ended the conversation that Chad would never reopen. Chad had blamed his behavior on a girl and a bottle of tequila I know he’d never touched. I’d have smelled it on him. You can’t handle the truth. I squeeze my eyes shut, ashamed of how right he’d been. Ashamed at how I’ve hidden and blocked everything out. Afraid of what I’d discover. My lashes lift. Not anymore.

I open the bathroom door, and return to the main dining area, and it’s as if my memory of Chad has shifted something inside me. I am suddenly challenged to be more than I have been, but deep down I know this has been coming. Something inside me burns to escape the prison that has been my life. It is almost as if on a subconscious level, I went to work at the museum to tempt fate and force myself to finally act.

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