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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(44) by Samantha Young|
Ellie? I hurt for her. I wanted to take away her fear. I wanted her to be okay.
But I didn’t do any of that.
Instead I shoved her under my steel trap door. “I’ve got my shift at the bar tonight. I’m going to get in some gym time before then.” I nodded at them robotically and made to move past them.
“Jocelyn?” Braden grabbed my arm, his eyes full of apprehension and fear. And disbelief at my attitude. He needed me.
I didn’t want to need him.
I tugged my arm back gently and gave him a brittle smile. “I’ll see you both later.”
And then I walked out, leaving them alone with their fears.
I didn’t go to the gym. I went to Edinburgh Castle before it closed. The walk up the Royal Mile to Castlehill was brisk and frosty, the cold biting into my cheeks, my lungs seeming to work extra hard against the winter air. Once I crossed the drawbridge, I paid for my ticket, and then strolled under the stone arch and took the pebbled walkway that swept upwards on the right. I headed on up the main thoroughfare, and sketched right to the castle walls. There I stopped, standing by Mons Meg, one of the world’s oldest cannons, and together we stared out over the city. Even in the slightly misty frost, the city was breathtaking from here. I paid the not so inexpensive entry fee to the castle just for this view. And I guess for the majesty of it all. It was where I believed I could find a little peace, and I did this whenever I panicked about never, ever finding the long-lasting peace I sought. Today I needed this.
Blazing through the last few months, burying my head in the sand, pretending there weren’t consequences to loving people, had gotten me where I was. Only six months of making the change into the ‘new me’ and the floor had been ripped out from underneath me again.
That was selfish.
I knew that.
Ellie was the one suffering here, not me.
But that wasn’t true either.
Ellie Carmichael was one of a kind. She was sweet, kind, sort of goofy, funny, big-hearted… and my family. The first family I’d had since losing my own. I felt protective of her, I hurt when she hurt, I thought about her happiness, and what I could to do to help her get whatever would make her happy. Not even my relationship with Rhian had been as close.
I was almost as close with Ellie as I had been with Dru.
And now I was going to lose Ellie as well.
I sunk down to the ice-cold stone ground beside the cannon and wrapped my arms around my body in an effort to choke out the pain. It occurred to me that if I rewrote it all in my head, then maybe I wouldn’t feel this way. Maybe, Ellie and I weren’t that close. Maybe we never had been. If that were true, then losing her would be okay.
I jumped suddenly at the sound of my cell ringing. Stomach leaden with dread, I pulled it out and exhaled in relief when I saw it was Rhian calling.
“Hey,” I answered hoarsely.
“Yo, bitch,” Rhian called down the line, sounding surprisingly chipper. “How’s it hanging? I’m just calling to let you know that James and I are flying into Edinburgh in three days and then heading through to Falkirk to stay with his mum over Christmas. We’re going to nip into see you before we get the train, so I need your address, hon.”
Awful timing. “Things are kind of weird at the apartment at the moment. Can I meet you for coffee instead?”
“Jesus, Joss, you sound like hell. Is everything okay?”
I don’t want to talk about it over the phone. “I’ll explain when I see you. Coffee?”
“Yeah, okay,” she still sounded worried, “The coffee shop in the bookstore on Princes Street. Three o’ Clock, Monday.”
“See you then.” I hung up, my eyes scanning the view and then travelling upwards into the white clouds with their pale bellies and grumpy faces. It was just a vast array of weightless, floating fluff. Their bellies weren’t dark or heavy.
Without the weight, there was no rain.
Jo grabbed me before I could take my next customer’s order and she tugged me all the way back into the staff room. Her hands flew to her hips, her eyebrows drawn together. “You’re acting really weird.”
I shrugged, enjoying the blanket of numbness I’d found and promptly wrapped around myself. “I’m just tired.”
“No.” Jo took a step forward, her face etched with concern. “There’s something going on here with you, Joss. Look, I know we’re not really close, but you’ve always been there for me when I go on and on about my problems, so if you need to talk to me, I’m here.”
I don’t want you to be there for me. “I’m fine.”
She shook her head. “You’ve got this, like, dead look in your eyes, Joss. You’re scaring the crap out of me and Craig. Has something happened? Did something happen with Braden?”
No. And it’s not going to. “No.”
“Jo, it’s really busy out there, can we not do this?”
She flinched and then bit her lip uneasily. “Okay.”
I nodded and spun on my heel, heading back into the bar to get on with it. I saw Jo sidle up to Craig and whisper something to him. His head whipped around to stare at me.
“Joss, what the f**k is going on with you, sweetheart?”
I flipped him off as an answer.
Craig shot Jo a look. “I don’t think she wants to talk about it.”
To my utter shock, Braden was waiting outside of Club 39 for me. My shift had whipped by in a blur. I couldn’t even remember doing anything, so it took me a moment to come out of the fog and recognize him. He stood leaning against the wrought-iron railing, unshaved, staring down at the ground in grim contemplation, his hands shoved into the pockets of his smart, double-breasted wool coat. He turned as I stepped up onto the sidewalk and I almost flinched at the sight of him. His hair was more unkempt than usual, his eyes dark and bloodshot.
For a moment, I almost forgot that everything we’d had these last few months no longer existed. It was buried under the steel trap door. I crossed my arms over my chest, frowning up at him. “Shouldn’t you be with Ellie?”
Braden’s gaze was probing as he looked down at me. My heart hurt. He looked so young and vulnerable. I didn’t like seeing him like that. “I gave her a little whiskey. She cried herself to sleep. I thought I’d come get you.”
“You should have stayed with her.” I made to walk past him and he grabbed my arm tight, almost painfully, hauling me to a stop.
When I looked up at him, he looked less vulnerable and more pissed off. This was a Braden I recognized, and strangely, felt easier dealing with. “Like you should have stayed this afternoon?”
“I had stuff to do,” I replied blankly.
His eyes narrowed as he pulled my body into his. Like always I had to tilt my head back to meet his gaze. “You had stuff to do?” he asked in furious disbelief. “You had a f**king friend who needed you. What the hell was that, Jocelyn?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He shook his head slowly. “Don’t,” he whispered hoarsely, dipping his head so our noses were almost touching. “Don’t do this. Not now. Whatever shit your spinning in that head of yours, stop. She needs you, babe.” He swallowed hard, his eyes glimmering in the streetlights. “I need you.”
I felt that familiar choking in the bottom of my throat. “I didn’t ask you to need me,” I whispered back.
I saw it. The hurt flickered across his face before he quickly banked it. Abruptly, he let go of me. “Fine. I don’t have time for your multitude of emotional issues. I have a wee sister who may or may not have brain cancer, and she needs me, even if you don’t. But I’ll tell you something, Jocelyn,” he stepped forward, pointing a finger in my face, his own hardened with anger, “If you don’t see her through this, you’ll hate yourself for the rest of your life. You can pretend that you don’t give a shit about me, but you can’t pretend Ellie means f**k all to you. I’ve seen you. Do you hear me?” He hissed, his hot breath blowing across my face, his words cutting through my soul. “You love her. You can’t sweep that under the rug because it’s easier to pretend she means nothing to you than it is to bear the thought of losing her. She deserves better than that.”
I closed my eyes in pain, hating that he could see so deep inside of me. And he was right. Ellie deserved better than my cowardice. I couldn’t hide from what I felt for her because everyone had seen it and understood it. She had seen it and understood it. How could I desert her when I was the one who’d let our friendship happen? For her, I would have to be brave, even if it took everything I had left. “I’ll be there for her,” I found myself promising. I opened my eyes, hoping he could see my sincerity. “You’re right. I’ll be there for her.”
Braden squeezed his eyes closed, exhaling heavily. When he opened them, there was a tenderness in them again that I told myself I hadn’t missed for the last five minutes. “Jesus. We lost you there for a few hours. What are we going to do with you, Jocelyn butler?” He reached an arm out as if to wrap me close to him, and I dodged it, stepping back.
“You should go home and get some rest. I’ll see to Ellie tonight.”
Braden tensed, his eyes searching again, his jaw clenched. “Jocelyn?”
“Just go home, Braden.” I turned to leave but he grabbed my hand.
“Jocelyn, look at me.”
I tried to tug my hand loose but he wouldn’t let go, and it took everything within me to harden my features as I glanced back to face him. “Let go, Braden.”
“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding like he’d swallowed sandpaper.
“We’ll talk about this later. Now is not the time. This is about Ellie.”
Looking dangerous now, dangerous and determined, Braden glowered at me. “Don’t even think about breaking up with me.”