“I don’t know how to help that,” Seth admits, breaking eye contact in the small rectangular mirror for the first time. I hear him readjust in the seat in front of me as he adds, “I don’t know what I should have done differently.” When I don’t immediately respond to that, he doesn’t say anything else.

The sound of a car driving past us intrudes on the silence and I watch the tires leave tracks on the asphalt after driving through a small puddle. The brutal cold hasn’t stopped the early spring flowers from pushing through the dirt out front of the police station.

Staring at the double doors that hold my cailín tine behind them, I finally answer him, “This is all on me. I know where I fucked up and you did everything right.”

“What if it happens again?” he questions and a coil of anger tightens inside of me. He adds, “What do you want me to do? When you took off, I knew I should have stopped you.”

I don’t have time to answer him. Instead my attention is drawn to the doors being held open by Curt Linders while Bethany walks through them. With her arms crossed, she stands at the top of the concrete stairs, looking smaller than she ever has to me. Her hair is wild as the wind blows from her left and it’s then that her gaze lands on our car.

“You don’t have to worry about it,” I say without taking my eyes off of her. “The next time I’ll be the one taking the fall,” I answer him and push my door open, not hesitating to go to her. Curt’s shock doesn’t go unnoticed. Neither does Seth’s protest to simply wait for her and for me to remain inside the vehicle.

Neither of them understand. At this point, all I want is to be seen with her.

Let them all see. They need to know she’s mine.

I’m drawing the line here, hoping it keeps her beside me regardless of what happens.

Bethany manages to take two steps by the time I’ve closed the distance between us. She’s hesitant even as I wrap my arm around the small of her back.

A sharp hammering in my chest beats faster than my shoes thud on the pavement to get her in my car and away from this situation.

The feeling of failing her, of her knowing and seeing who I truly am grips me and in turn, I hold her closer. I’ll never forget the way she looked at me before running off.

“It was a mistake,” I mutter beneath my breath, but the tension in her body doesn’t lessen and she doesn’t look up at me in the least.

Seth’s quick to get out and open the door for us. I’m only grateful she doesn’t pause before slipping inside.

The door shuts with a resounding click as another gust of wind blows.

“You all right?” Seth asks me and I look him dead in the eyes to answer him. “No more fucking questions.”

I don’t have the answers to give him. None that I’m willing to give, anyway.

The bitter cold from outside doesn’t carry into the back of the car. The warmth is lacking nonetheless as we leave the police department behind in silence.

The dull hum of the car doesn’t last long. “Nothing will happen to you. I promise you.” My words are quiet, but I know she hears them.

Her hands stay in her lap and she answers while still looking out of her window, “Thank you.”

I didn’t expect this distance between us. I didn’t expect the damage to be so obvious. Regret urges me closer to her, leaning across the leather seat to grip her chin between my thumb and forefinger and forcing her to look at me.

She doesn’t resist, but uncertainty lingers in the depths of her hazel eyes and her breathing becomes unsteady.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I should never have let you see that.”

She only swallows, the sound so loud in the quiet space between us.

“No, you shouldn’t have. But I shouldn’t have run.”

“It would have been better if you hadn’t.” There’s no fire, no fight, nothing except hurt. “I know it scared you.”

It’s the way she hesitates before answering. The strained way she breathes in when she looks into my eyes. She doesn’t trust me.

“I don’t know what to think right now. I’m going back and forth.”

“Back and forth?”

“Whether or not I’m capable of standing beside you. Of demanding you tell me what the fuck happened.” Her voice drops as she adds, “And whether or not I can stomach the truth.”

It’s been a long damn time since I’ve felt the sense of losing someone. Of feeling them slip through my fingers. I can feel it; I can fucking see it. I just don’t know how to change it.

“Marry me.” I let the idea slip out, but keep my composure. I can’t lose her. I fucked up, but everyone fucks up at some point. She’ll get over it. I just need time. “They can’t make you testify if you’re legally married to me.” The excuse comes out easily enough.

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