My entire life I had loved the sound of the waves. The natural beauty of the gulf. I was proud to live in such a special place.
But that had all changed.
The crashing waves were cruel. It had been two weeks since the water had taken Jace from me. Two weeks since I cheated death and it had taken the man I loved instead.
“It should have been me,” I screamed at the water. I wanted it to know it had messed up and taken the wrong life.
“He wouldn’t have agreed with you.”
I didn’t want to hear that voice. Not now. Not now that Jace was gone. I wanted him to go away.
“No one should have died, Bethy. And Jace made sure it wasn’t you. It wasn’t the water who took the wrong person. Jace made that decision.” I wanted to cover my ears like a child and scream at him to go away. I didn’t want him here. Why was he still here? He knew it was my fault. He knew this was all my fault, yet he didn’t look at me with hate in his eyes the way Woods did.
“Go away,” I said without looking back at him.
“I’m not leaving again.”
Those were not words I wanted to hear right now. Maybe five years ago I would have loved to have heard Tripp Newark tell me he was staying in Rosemary, but not now. Any and all feelings I had for Tripp had died the day I walked out of the abortion clinic Aunt Darla had taken me to, with an ache in my chest where my heart used to be.
“You can do what you want. Just stay away from me,” I snapped, finally turning my angry glare on him. He was still just as beautiful as he had been when I was sixteen and stupid. He had said pretty words and I had believed him.
“I will for now. But I’ve been running for five years, Bethy.”
It wasn’t my fault he had been running. He had left me without an explanation or apology. He hadn’t answered my phone calls. Nothing. Not even the message I’d left him after I had killed our baby. I had been devastated. He hadn’t even called me back then.
“I loved him!” I yelled, and pointed my finger at Tripp. “I loved Jace! It was real! Damn you! It was real. Don’t come to me and tell me you’re coming back. Don’t tell me you’re tired of running. I don’t give a motherfucking shit! I loved him.” My angry screams had turned to sobs, but I didn’t care. He’d asked for this. He should have stayed away from me.
“I loved him,” I said one more time before turning to walk away.
“I loved him, too. He was like my brother. He was everything I wasn’t. He was good. He was honest. He was strong. He deserved you.”
I stopped and let the pain slice through me. He’s gone. How could he be gone?
“I’m sorry, Bethy. I’m sorry that I just left you that summer. I was young and stupid. My parents wanted things for me I didn’t want and I was scared of becoming my dad. So I ran like hell. I wanted to tell you. Dammit, I wanted to take you with me, but you were sixteen years old. You were an even bigger kid than I was. What was an eighteen-year-old trust fund brat going to do taking care of a sixteen-year-old?”
It was the past. Nothing he said made up for what he’d done. It was over. I had let it go and buried it and moved on.
“I was in love with you, Bethy. You were the first girl I ever loved. You’ve been the only girl I’ve ever loved. I never wanted to hurt you. When Jace was smart enough to fall in love with you I knew you’d be okay. He would give you everything you deserved.”
“Shut up!” I snapped, spinning around and glaring at him “Just shut up! He didn’t know! He loved me and he trusted me and he didn’t know. I never told him. I wasn’t worthy of him. I was never worthy of him. I was a liar. I’m tainted. I’m dirty.”
Tripp took a step toward me. “No, you’re not. Just because you trusted me with your love and then gave me your virginity . . . Bethy, that doesn’t make you tainted or dirty. What we had wasn’t wrong. It was real. I was too young to deal with it but it was very fucking real. It never left me.”
Giving him my virginity was stupid. I had been a good girl then. Sex had equaled love to me. But Tripp had changed all that. He had turned me into something that Jace saved me from. The girl Tripp had destroyed, Jace had salvaged and cherished.
“No. Loving you was stupid, not wrong. Trusting you with my virginity was a mistake, not dirty. But killing the baby that we created because you didn’t care enough to return my calls . . . that’s what made me unworthy of someone like Jace.”
I turned and walked away. This time he didn’t try to stop me.