Part #2 of The Nocte Trilogy series by Courtney Cole
The Nocte Trilogy
Lakehouse Press, Inc.
About the Author
Book two in the NOCTE Trilogy
By Courtney Cole
The truth shall set you free.
* * *
Adverb; in truth
Copyright © 2015 by Courtney Cole
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Because you always believe in me,
even when I don’t.
Dante Alighieri said, in his Inferno:
"Do not be afraid; our fate
cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”
Our fate must be worked for.
It must be paid for.
With everything we have.
And it is not until the end,
the very end,
that we will know if it was worth it.
“See you later, Cal. Are you sure you don’t want to go?”
I look up from what I’m doing to see my brother in the salon door.
“I’m sure,” I answer quickly. “I need some time alone. Go ahead and meet your friend.”
“He had to cancel,” Finn scowls. “So I guess I’ve been stood up. Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
I groan internally because I’m not a fan of Quid Pro Quo, but Finn has been looking forward to this concert for months. There’s no way I can really say no.
But then my mom walks in and rescues me.
“I’ll go,” she volunteers, and Finn crows.
“Sa-weet!” He glances over at me. “You snooze, you lose, Cal. We’re blowing this joint.”
I have to smile a bit as they walk away because this one small thing makes him so happy, because most guys our age would never go to a concert with their mom. But Finn isn’t most guys.
I sink into the window seat, leaning my head against the glass as I watch their tail-lights disappear down the driveway.
Especially now, after what Dare told me…after his confession, I need my brother.
Finn and I can’t be separated. I know that more now than ever. We have to protect each other. We have to keep each other sane.
I pick up the phone.
Mom has to know, and it’ll be late when they get home, so this can’t wait.
But mom doesn’t want to hear it right now. And then she screams.
Loud and shrill, in my ear.
“Mom?” I ask, the dread curling around my spine with icy fingers.
There’s no answer.
“Mom!” I demand, scared now.
But there’s still no answer.
Everything swirls around me, pictures and smells and sounds, and somehow, I know she’ll never answer me again. In my mind, I see her face, and it’s bloody and battered.
I can’t breathe and I know in my heart she’s gone as I race out to the porch, as I stare at the smoke winding its way into the night sky, just a little ways down the mountain.
I know it as I sink to a heap on the steps, gripping the phone.
I know it as nausea overtakes me in jagged waves and the world spins.
I know it as Dare limps across the lawn, his forehead bloody.
I know it as he stands in front of me, battered and raw.
“Calla, are you ok?” he whispers, his hand on my shoulder.
There’s blood on his fingers.
“Are you ok?” he repeats.
I somehow manage to move my head, to look up at the man I love, the man I hate, the man I’m afraid of. Through it all, through all of the blood and the smoke, I can only concentrate on one thing.
“Why are you here?” I ask him stiltedly. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“You know why, Cal.” A drop of blood drips from his forehead.
Suddenly, I don’t know anything.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
My thoughts are jagged pieces.
“Where’s Finn?” my lips move.
Dare stares at me, his dark eyes guarded and urgent.
“We’ve got to call an ambulance.”
I’m frozen, so Dare grabs my phone and punches at the numbers.
His voice blends into the night as he speaks to the dispatcher, but one phrase penetrates the fog of my consciousness.
“There’s been an accident.”
I wait for him to finish, I wait until he hangs up and stares down at me before I finally speak.
“Was it?” I ask him, my voice shaking and frail and thin. “Was it an accident?”
He closes his eyes.
Everything is in slow motion.
The waves, Dare’s mouth moving, his words. I stare at him, at the dark stubble on his jaw, at the way he swallows. At the way his dark eyes are impaling me, holding me, scaring me.
“You’ve got one question left, Calla,” he reminds me now. “Ask it.”
The past year swirls through my mind in blurs and snippets. Through everything, Dare has been here. He’s been with me, he’s held me, he’s loved me.
Or has he?
My lips tremble as I try to move them.
“Why were you there that night?” I finally ask, choosing my words carefully. “You weren’t supposed to be. But you were.”
Dare answers my question with one of his own, staring at me cautiously.
“Which night, Calla?”
I’m speechless as I stare at him.
“You know which night. The night. The night my brother died.”
Something wavers in Dare’s gaze, but he gathers himself.
“Do you remember now? Do you remember how bloody I was?”
I’m already shaking my head from side to side, slowly, in shock. Not because I don’t remember, but because I don’t want to.
“There was a lot of blood,” I recall, thinking about the way it’d streaked down Dare’s temple and dripped onto his shirt. It’d stained the t-shirt crimson, spreading in a terrifying pool across his chest. “I didn’t know if it was yours or… Finn’s.”
And for one scant second, I had forgotten that Dare had confessed something to me.
I’d forgotten that I was terrified of him because of it.
Because amid all of that blood, all I could see was my fear of losing him,
“You held me up,” my lips tremble. “When I was falling down. You held me while I waited for… Finn.”
I’d waited for Finn to call.
I’d waited and waited and waited.
The sirens wailed in the night, and I’d paced the floor.
Finn never called.
Dare nods. “I’ve always held you up, Cal.”
“When my father came in, and said… when he told me about Finn, everything else faded away,” I recall, staring out at the ocean. God, why does the ocean make me feel so small? “Nothing else mattered. Nothing but him. You faded away, Dare.”
The truth is stark.
The truth is hurtful.
I lay it out there, like flesh flayed open, like pink muscle, like blood.
Dare closes his eyes, his gleaming black eyes.
“I know,” he says softly. “You didn’t remember me. For months.”
We know that. We both know that. It’s why we’re here, standing on the edge of the ocean, trying to retrieve my mind. It’s been out to sea for too long, absent from me, floundering.
I snatch at it now with frantic fingers, trying to draw all of my memories back. They’re stubborn though, my memories. They won’t all come.
But one does.
My eyes burn as I fix my gaze on Dare.
“You confessed something to me. It scared me.”
Dare’s lids are heavy and hooded, probably from the weight of guilt.
He nods. One curt, short movement.
“Do you remember what I told you?”
He’s silent, his gaze tied to mine, burning me.
I flip through my memories, fast, fast, faster… but I come up empty-handed. I only emerge with a feeling.
Dare sees it in my eyes and looks away.
“I tried to tell you, Cal,” he says, almost pleading. “You just didn’t understand.”
His voice trails off and my heart seems to stop beating.
“I didn’t understand what?” I ask stiltedly. Just tell me.
He lifts his head now.
“It isn’t hard to understand,” he says simply. “If you remember all that I told you. Can you try?”
I stare at him numbly. “I’ve tried already. I… it’s not there, Dare.”
Dare’s head drops the tiniest bit, almost imperceptibly, but I see it. He’s discouraged, disappointed.
He shakes his head. “It is there. Just relax, Calla. It will come. But you should know now that you’re not safe. You have to trust me.”
“You were here for me,” I tell him. “I remember that much. You were here for me all along.”
Dare shakes his head. “No. That’s not true. I came here for a reason, then that reason changed and it was you. I swear on my mother’s life.”
“Your mother is dead,” I point out starkly. “And so is mine. And I’m supposed to just believe you now?”
Dare sighs, a ragged and broken sound. He tries to touch my hand, but I yank it away. He doesn’t get to touch me. Not anymore.
“You don’t understand,” he says quietly.
I stare at him. “No, I don’t.” And you have no idea what this feels like.
“You will,” he replies tiredly. “I swear to God you will.”
A lump lodges itself in my throat as the sea breeze rustles my hair. I take a deep gulp of it, filling my lungs with the clean scent.
“Did you ever love me at all?” I ask, the words choking me, because no matter what, it’s the most important thing to me right now.
Pain flashes across Dare’s face, real pain, and I brace myself.
Don’t hurt me.
“Of course I did,” he says quickly and firmly. “And I do still. Right now.”
He stares at me imploringly and I so want to believe him. I want to hear his words and clutch them to my heart and keep them there in a gilded cage.
But then he speaks again. “You’re not safe, Calla. You have to come with me now. There’s something you need to know.”
I’m frozen, petrified by my circumstances. Go with him to Whitley? With a person I don’t even know anymore, with a person I think I should be afraid of? Confusion consumes me and nothing seems real.
Nothing but two things.
I have to admit that I do feel the danger. It crackles around me, everywhere. It’s here for me. I just don’t know why.
You’re not safe, Calla.
And of course, Dare. He’s here, he’s real, and I love him.
I can’t trust him.
I can’t trust anything.
“I don’t know what to do,” I whisper jaggedly. “I want to hate you, Dare, for lying to me. But I can’t.” I’m too confused, and he’s my anchor.
He grabs my arm and pulls me to him, resisting my struggles, and then I’m limp.
Because here, surrounded by his scent and his warmth and his strength… this is where I belong. How can I argue with that?
“You belong right here, with me,” he tells me, his lips moving against my hair. “You don’t hate me, Calla. You can’t. I didn’t lie to you. I tried to tell you.”
His voice is afraid, terrified actually, and it touches a soft place in me, a hidden place, the place where I protect my love for him. The place where my heart used to be before it was so broken.
“You’re my own personal anti-Christ,” I whisper into his shirt. His hands stroke my hair frantically, trailing down my back and clutching me to him. “Why can’t you just tell me everything right now?”
“Because I can’t,” he rasps. “Because things are complicated, and unless you uncover it yourself, you’ll think I’m a monster. I love you, Calla. I will protect you. You just have to trust me.”
I yank back now, grasping at my courage and my strength. “Trust you? You must be joking.”
He’s surprised, and I’m shattered as I sprint down the beach, my feet sinking in the wet sand, the wind whipping my hair.
I love Dare, more than anything, but I can’t trust him. The only person I’ve ever been able to truly trust is dead.
I need my brother.
I need Finn.
I race up the trail, into my house, and up to my brother’s room.
It’s exactly like he left it.
I sink to my heels just inside the door.
The walls close in on me, four of them and the ceiling, coming closer, swallowing me, crushing me. I cover my ears and rock back and forth because amid everything, I still hear my brother’s voice.
It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok.
I can’t keep hearing voices.
Not even Finn’s.
I’m sane, Goddamnit.
I’m overwhelmed by Dare’s lies, by my fear… and by the very real fact that I’m so very fragile.
“Her hold on reality is tenuous.”
It’s a murmur that cuts through my panic.
I pause, halting all movement, not even breathing. The whisper comes from the other side of the door.
“No, I don’t want to do that. Not yet.” The voice, hissing and firm, and it can’t be real. There’s no way. I’m frozen as it envelopes me, as reality slithers further away.
“We have to. She wouldn’t want this.”
Confused, I stare at the wooden planes of the door, at the grain.
Is this really happening?
Or is my mind playing tricks on me yet again?
I gulp and draw in a shaky breath.
“Anything could send her back over the edge,” the familiar voice cautions, his voice careful and low and familiar. There’s no way it can be him. There’s no way.
Even still, I want to wrap myself in the sound, to hide in it, to escape in it.
But I can’t.
Because the answer is immediate.
The door opens and I look up to find three shadows looming over me.
And someone I can’t see, a faceless, nameless figure lurking in the shadows. I peer closely, trying to see if it’s him, even while knowing in my heart that it can’t be Finn.
I scoot backward until my spine is against my brother’s bed. I’m a skittish fawn, and they’re my hunters. I’m prey because I’m in danger, and I don’t know why.
But they do.
“Calla,” my dad says, kindly and soothingly. “You’re ok. You’re ok. But I need you to trust me right now.”
His face is grave and pale. I look at Dare and notice that his hands are clenched into fists, his knuckles white. The air in this room is charged now, dangerous, and I find that I can scarcely breathe.
I brace myself.
Because deep in the pit of my stomach I feel like I can’t trust anyone.
I squeeze my eyes shut, and push my face into Finn’s blanket. Through the muffled fabric, I hear words. I feel Dare’s hand on my shoulder. I feel the vibration of his deep voice in my chest.
And then I feel his absence.
I open my eyes.
The room is empty.
They’d given up.
Whatever they wanted to tell me, I’m safe from it now.
Because I’m alone.
With shaky steps, I climb to my feet and walk to Finn’s nightstand. I pick up his St. Michael’s medallion and fasten it around my neck.
Holding it in my fingers, I whisper the prayer, each word quick and stiff on my lips.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I say the prayer three times in a row, just to make sure.
I’m safe now. I’m wearing Finn’s medallion. I’m safe.
Verum by Courtney Cole / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes