Author’s Note: I think it’s best when the characters can help and heal each other. It’s not just one or the other. It’s both of them or a group/family effort. That’s the best way.
“Are you okay? You haven’t said a word since Litchfield.”
Carson glanced toward his brother in the front seat and then lowered his head onto Mackenna’s shoulder. He took her hand, and she frowned down at him, wondering what had brought this on. “I suppose I’d sound like child if I said they’d make me go home.”
“What?” She sat back, looking at him. “Wait—you had another flashback? At the museum? You didn’t tell anyone?”
He sighed. “I didn’t want to. It’s… It’s still not enough, and I didn’t want my brothers trying to make me go back to the hotel or something. I… I just wanted to be with you, and that may be stupid, but I feel a lot better around you than I do around them. They make me nervous or frustrated, but you… you’re different. You always have been, from the moment I met you. I don’t know what it is about you, but I feel comfortable with you in a way I haven’t felt around anyone else before.”
She smiled at him, brushing back his hair. “You know what it is, but you don’t want to say it.”
He straightened up, looking out the other side of the car. “Dad did buy Phantom. He said he did it for us, for a new start. He said he got some kind of deal, but I still don’t know where that money came from or what happened after he showed up with her.”
“I imagine that it wasn’t long after he did that he was killed or everyone would have seen the car before the day you inherited what was in the barn. Must have been the same day.”
“I… I can narrow it down a bit more. It was harvest time. I remember that because I was supposed to stay in the barn. They were treating me like a baby, and I was so mad at them for it…”
“Okay, that’s good. We’ve got another piece,” she said, scooting closer to him so that she could catch his face with her hand. “I think you might just get all of it back today. Or tomorrow. Look at how fast it’s coming now, and soon there won’t be any gaps. You’ll just know. You’ll know everything you had doubts about before, and that… You’ll finally be able to heal.”
He leaned forward, grazing her cheek with a kiss before putting his head down on her shoulder again. “I hope so. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I know my brothers would put a stop to it, but I don’t want to do that. I need it to end.”
“I wish I could help you like you’ve helped me. I feel like I’m just a giant burden. You’re either talking me down or talking me through something, and what kind of a friendship is that?”
“Did you or did you not take care of me when I was drunk? Did you let me sleep on you when I was fed up with Nate? Did you wear a costume because I asked you to? Did you get past all my walls and the defenses I put up so no one could ever hurt me the way my aunt did? You do more than you think, Carson. I just don’t always show it when I’m struggling. I get mad. I get drunk. I don’t have flashbacks because there’s not much to flashback to. That moment after I opened the door to my uncle’s body is never all that clear, and while I can hear that one neighbor of ours creaking around the floor, hunting for me while I hope he doesn’t check the back of my closet, I never remember him finding me. I can hear dozens of arguments with my aunt’s father and all his stupid rules and the way he made me feel like I was nothing, but those aren’t the same as what you have. I didn’t lock them away, not like you did. I don’t have them rushing back at me in the same way.”
“You are a rare and special person, Mackenna. What that idiot said to you—I don’t care what it was—he was wrong. If that neighbor did anything to you, I think we might have to find him and make him pay for it somehow. And if being with me means you can step into a man’s bedroom again without that image in your head or the smell setting you off, then… I’m glad.”
“I should have listed that off, too. The bedroom thing. Thank you for that,” she told him, kissing his cheek. He smiled, and she wrapped her arms around his stomach. All of what he’d done for her made her all the more convinced that he hadn’t killed his father, and she hoped the rest of those memories came back soon so that he’d stop thinking he had.
He was a good man, a rare one, and she didn’t care how screwed up he was. She had a feeling she was in love with him, as much as she’d denied it before, and she didn’t know what they’d do after all this was over, but whatever it was, they’d do it together.