Badd to the bone, p.4
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       Badd to the Bone, p.4

         Part #3 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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  Claire laughed acidly. "Hard feelings? Yeah, you might say I harbor just a few hard feelings, Dad. My whole life I was never good enough. You wanted a son, and you got a daughter, which was the first strike against me. And then I wasn't all nice and sweet and compliant like Mom, which was another strike against me. I have--and have always had--a mind of my own, and that didn't fit in with your high and mighty ideal of how a holy and righteous family should be. I should be seen and not heard, sit still and listen, do what I'm told without question, that's what you always said. Hell, when I was...what, twelve?...we got in an argument about something, something I did that you didn't agree with. Which, let's be honest, was everything. I told you I was just thinking for myself. And you know what you said? You told me, you actually said in so many words that I shouldn't think for myself. I should just follow along with all your stupid, petty rules like an obedient robot."

  "I was trying to teach you right from wrong," Connor interjected. "I was trying to train you up--"

  "'Train a child up in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,'" Claire quoted. "Yeah, I remember. What was the other one from Proverbs you liked so much? Oh yeah: 'Spare the rod, spoil the child.' The problem is, you weren't training me, not at that age, and not as I got older. You were controlling me. There was no way but your way. No choice but what you allowed. And it didn't work very well, did it? You tried to train me up in the way you thought I should go, and what happened?" She paused for effect, but Connor remained silent. "Yeah, I fucking departed from it, didn't I? And that really steamed your corn, didn't it?"

  I tried my damnedest to stifle the snort, but couldn't quite manage it, and everyone turned to look at me. "Sorry, but...Claire, what the heck does that even mean? Steamed his corn?"

  Claire craned her neck to glare at me. "Oh shut up, Brock. Nobody asked you."

  I raised my hands in surrender. "Shutting up."

  "I blame myself," Connor said, after a moment. "I always have."

  "Good. You should."

  "I wasn't...I didn't do a good enough job. You didn't learn any of the lessons I was trying to teach."

  Claire sat back in the chair. "Even now, you still don't get it, do you? No, I didn't learn any of the lessons, Dad. The only lesson I learned was that you didn't care what I wanted, you didn't care about how I felt. I don't know what you did care about--I didn't know then, and I don't know now, but it wasn't me, that's for damn sure."

  "Of course I did--"

  "Well then you sure had a crazy way of showing it. If I made my bed wrong, I got in trouble. If I got less than an A on any assignment ever, I got in trouble. If I was one single minute late coming home from a friend's house, I got in trouble. And not, like, a talking-to or even a lecture. The tiniest infraction, and you'd beat my ass with that fucking stick of yours."

  "It's called spanking, Claire--I hardly think that counts as beating you up."

  "I can see spanking being acceptable in tiny doses, for the most major of infractions, and even then the research shows it has a detrimental effect on children. But you whaled on me with that stick for the littlest thing, Dad." Claire shook her head, whether disbelieving or merely trying to express the depth of her emotions I wasn't sure. "Every little thing, you spanked me for. And then when I got too old to spank, you grounded me for everything you didn't like. If I dared to so much as express a differing opinion, I was grounded for a week. No friends, no TV, no computer, nothing. What do you think I did all those hours and days and weeks I spent alone in my room, bored out of my fucking head? I sat there stewing, hating you."

  "You make it seem like all you did was dare to have your own opinion and I locked you in a dungeon," Connor argued. "You cursed at me, you shouted at me, you refused to listen to the slightest thing I said. If I told you to pick up your room, you made a worse mess. If I told you to stay away from a certain boy, you dated him to spite me. You did literally the opposite of everything I said, no matter what it was, or why I may have said it."

  "Yeah, because I hated you at that point, because I'd been spanked and grounded and shouted at and lectured to and made to feel inconsequential, like a nuisance. You never hugged me, never sat me on your lap and read me stories. You sat me on the couch and preached at me. You read fucking Second Timothy to me, as if a six-year-old girl is supposed to care about any of that. I wanted to play Barbie's, or read a kid's book with my dad. Or play. And you wanted to lecture me about grace and mercy and the fruits of the damn spirit."

  "That's hardly fair--"

  "It's more than fair! I was a little girl!"

  "I was doing my best!"

  "Then your best was complete shit, and you shouldn't have had kids."

  Ho-ly shit. I winced as Claire said that, because even from her, that was harsh.

  "Claire, now really--" Moira started.

  "Shut up, Mom," Claire snapped. "You don't get a say in this. You never stood by me, you never tried to soften anything he ever said or did to me, and you never even tried to mitigate the insane punishments Dad handed down, no matter how minor my fuck up was."

  Moira's jaw snapped closed and she stared at Claire, taken aback.

  "Yeah, I'm pissed. Brock wanted me to clear the air because he thinks it might...I don't know, soothe my troubled spirit or some shit." She glanced at her mom and then her dad. "So yeah, I'm gonna unload with both barrels. I told you, I'm not censoring myself."

  "That hardly seems a reasonable excuse for the vile language you're using."

  "Yeah, well, deal with it. You lost any input as to how I talk when you disowned me for having a miscarriage."

  "It's far more complicated than that," Moira said, "and I don't think we need to bring that up right now."

  Claire jabbed a finger at her mother. "I told you to shut up. And yes, we do need to bring it up. Although you're right, it is far more complicated than that. It wasn't the miscarriage; it was everything to do with who I am...who I was. That miscarriage was the end of everything. Right when I needed my parents the most, you kicked me out on the street. I needed love and support and understanding...I'd just experienced one of the worst things a woman can go through, and you never even stopped to find out what fucking happened. You just tossed me out of the house without so much as a how-do-you-do. I was still fucking bleeding, and you packed me a backpack and told me to leave.

  "I walked, alone, still bleeding, to the hospital, and told them I'd had a miscarriage. I was given a D-and-C, alone. Nobody to hold my hand, nobody to tell me it was going to be okay." She choked, gasped, and had to breathe a moment. I held her hand over her shoulder, squeezing as she began again. "I was twenty years old, and it was my birthday."

  "Claire--" Connor began.

  "No," Claire snapped, her voice a rattlesnake hiss. "You shut your goddamn mouth."

  Connor's mouth closed abruptly, and he blinked hard.

  "You wanna know how I got pregnant? I messed up, Dad. That's how. I was nineteen years old, and I went to a party, got drunk, and had sex with a guy I didn't know. I don't even really remember it. It was a stupid, innocent, childish mistake. It was a mistake people make all the time. A simple, stupid mistake, and it changed everything. It fucked up my whole life and I don't even remember it." Claire let out a breath, pausing to collect herself once more.

  "I told myself it was fine," she eventually continued. "I pretended I was fine. Pretended it never happened. And then a few weeks later, I realized I was pregnant. I was a virgin and I didn't have a boyfriend, I'd had no plans on sleeping with anyone, so I wasn't on birth control. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't tell anyone. I--I was terrified. I didn't want it, I--what was I supposed to do? I couldn't afford an abortion. I know, I tried--I couldn't get the money. I even tried to steal it from you guys, but you didn't have enough cash. I couldn't--I couldn't do anything. So I hid it. I'd sneak trash bags into my room and puke into them as quietly as I could in the morning. I...fuck--I cried myself to sleep every night. Every night, for weeks. F
or months. I was totally alone.

  "And then...on my twentieth birthday, you guys all went to mass, and I stayed home. I was sick. I actually was sick, too, but it was just morning sickness, not a virus like I'd told you. I was three months pregnant, and I couldn't handle going to church, not after what I'd been through, what I was still going through, and that morning I just...I felt like total hell. So I stayed home. So then at one point I went to the bathroom, and I felt this cramp, and then it got worse, and I started bleeding everywhere. I couldn't stop it, and it hurt--" She faltered, her voice breaking. "It hurt so fucking bad. I bled everywhere, for so long. I thought I was gonna die. And then you guys came home, and I couldn't even get off the floor. I could barely move. It hurt, it hurt, god, it hurt so bad. I still remember how bad it hurt, and I've never felt anything that bad before or since. I was relieved, too, but I was scared I was dying, and I was in complete and total agony. And then you came home, found me on the bathroom floor, and you realized I'd had a miscarriage."

  "Claire--"

  "I'm not finished," Claire snarled, her voice a low, cold, vicious hiss. "Did you comfort me? Did you help me get cleaned up? Did you ask what happened? No. You told me to get out. You called me a whore. You called me a slut. You threw me out of your house. You didn't let me get so much as a word in. You just threw me out on the street."

  Connor had tears running down his cheeks.

  "You'd better cry, you bastard," Claire snapped. "Your little girl, your oldest daughter--you called me a whore and disowned me, and threw me out on the street. I'd lost so much blood I was dizzy, and you kicked me out! I walked alone to the hospital, blood still coating my thighs, still in agonizing pain, and got a D-and-C. I slept in the hospital that night, and at Lindsey's house the next night. I didn't tell her what happened, just that I couldn't go home."

  "Claire, please--" Connor started.

  She shook her head, standing up abruptly. "No. You don't get to talk to me." She jabbed a finger at him. "That's what really happened. That's why I became the person I am today. I turned to heavy drinking and casual sex, because I figured if my dad assumed I was a slut, I obviously was one, so I might as well become one. So I did."

  "Claire--"

  "I just don't even understand how, seeing me in a pool of my own blood, you wouldn't comfort me, or help me, or show me love, or at least to stop and ask a few simple questions. Like oh, hey Claire, looks like you're bleeding to death. As your mother and father, how can we show you the bare minimum of human decency and kindness? I mean shit, Dad, you're a fucking deacon in the Catholic church. I'd think you of all people would be required to act like a human fucking being. But no." She stood up, staring coldly down at her father. "I'd have gotten more mercy and compassion from Satan himself than I got from my own parents that day."

  Connor covered his face with his hands. "Claire, I'm sorry."

  She snorted derisively. "Yeah, you are. You're a sorry piece of shit, Connor."

  I slid the chair out of the way and wrapped my arms around her. "Claire."

  She snapped her gaze up to mine. "What, you still think I should forgive him? After what you just heard?"

  I swallowed hard. "Yes. I do."

  She blinked at me in shock. "How can you say that, Brock?"

  "I told you from the very beginning that this wasn't about him, or for him. It's about you, for you."

  "I don't get you, Brock." She shook her head. "I thought you'd understand."

  "I do. As much as anyone can, I do."

  "Then how can you want me to forgive him for what he did?"

  I pulled her aside and murmured my words so only she could hear me. "Because you don't forgive people for them, but for yourself. You can't move on with your life until you do. You'll always hang on to the hurt, the anger, the pain." I sighed and wiped my face with both hands. "I know I sound like Yoda, or the Pope, or something, but it's true. Anger will consume you. It has been consuming you. And now with your dad terminally ill, you're out of time. I'm not saying you should hug it out or try to start some lovey-dovey daddy-daughter relationship. Just that you make the conscious choice to forgive him, for your own peace of mind. And that's it."

  "You go to church, Brock?" Claire asked.

  I shook my head. "Nah. Never been. This isn't about God or the church or the Bible, or even being a good person or anything like that. It's about finding a peace of mind I don't think you've ever had since that bitter day, and you may not ever have it if you don't move past this."

  She rested her head on my chest. "And this is the only way?"

  I nodded. "The only way I know."

  She pushed off me, and stared past me at her father. For a long, long time, she just stared at him, and he stared back, his gaze open, tears running freely down his face. Claire's mother sat staring at her hands, and her sisters were huddled together, looking shell-shocked.

  Eventually Claire stepped past me and stood over her father's bed. "I can't. I just can't. I don't know how--I just don't know how to get to a place where I can forgive the way you completely and totally betrayed me. I probably never will be able to. You ruined me, Connor."

  "Claire--" he sobbed. "I--please, just--"

  "No. You lost any right to speak to me ever again, to call yourself my father." She whirled around, away from him. "You can go fuck yourself, Connor Collins." She pushed past me. "Let's go, Brock."

  I followed her out of the room, and down the hall to the bank of elevators. She jabbed the call button several times, furiously, and I stood near her but not touching her. I heard running footsteps on the tile floor behind us, and saw Tabitha approaching.

  "Claire, wait," she called out, as the elevator doors opened.

  Claire stood in the doorway so the elevator couldn't close. "Hey, Tab. Sorry you had to hear that."

  Tabitha slammed into her sister, wrapping her arms around Claire and clinging to her fiercely. "Don't leave, Claire."

  "I can't be around him, Tabby-cat. I just can't."

  "He's dying, Claire. Another week or two at most."

  "Call me when he dies. I'll come to the funeral."

  Tab blinked at her sister. "You're really not going to come back?"

  "Why? I see him, and I--I'm back there, in that bathroom, hearing him call me whore and slut and telling me to leave and never come back. That's all he'll ever be to me." Claire pushed her sister away, out of reach. "At least this way we can have a relationship again."

  "I love you, Claire. I'm so, so sorry you went through that."

  "Yeah, me too, Tab. Me too." Claire moved her foot so the elevator doors could slide closed between Tabitha and us. "I'll see you."

  Tabitha's last look was at me and, unless I was mistaken, it was a silent plea for me to try to convince Claire to go back before her father died.

  That would be easier said than done.

  Chapter 4

  Claire

  He stood beside me in the elevator, his shoulder brushing against mine.

  I wished he could see how badly I needed him right then. I was crumbling inside. Collapsing. Shattering.

  Seeing Dad--seeing Connor had brought everything back, had unearthed the boiling maelstrom of emotions and turmoil I'd worked so hard for so long to repress. Talking about what had happened...it was wrecking me. I was incapable of expressing that, however, and Brock didn't seem to see it.

  "Claire, babe--"

  I felt myself resorting to anger, because I had nothing else to rely on. "Oh shove it, Brock," I snapped. "I don't wanna fucking hear it."

  "Claire, just listen to me for a second."

  I wanted to listen to him--god, I wanted to. I wanted to crawl into his arms and let him carry me, let him hold me, let him tell me it was gonna be okay. But I couldn't say that. I just didn't know how. I was scared and all I had was anger, the same anger that had festered inside me for so long. My anger was my shield, but it was my nemesis, too. I had to feed it or the tenuous control I had on life would be gone forever. My anger was
propping me up inside, and if I let it all collapse, I'd never recover. So I used the anger and let it flow through me, as Emperor Palpatine might have said.

  I whirled on Brock and glared up at him. "I don't want to hear one fucking word from you, Brock. I didn't want to come here. I didn't want to see him. I didn't want to talk about this shit. Yet here I am, and what have I gotten? Nothing but more hurt, nothing but being told, again, that I am worth nothing. These people have turned me into someone I barely know and, for the last fucking time, I don't want to talk about it."

  He stayed silent, following me to the parking lot and to our rental car. I rounded the hood to stand on the driver's side. "I'm driving."

  He eyed me for a long moment, and then tossed me the keys. He said nothing, just sank into the passenger seat as I cranked the engine. He barely had the door closed before I was backing out of the space and then peeling rubber to fishtail out of the parking lot. Brock appeared relaxed, even as I swung far too fast out of the hospital lot and onto Thirteen Mile Road. I didn't have far go before I reached my first destination; Tip-Top Liquor. I skidded to a halt diagonally between two parking spaces, threw the vehicle into park, and leaped out. Brock waited, seeming to know better at that moment than to follow me. I bought a fifth of Patron Silver and tossed it to Brock as I slid behind the wheel again. More squealing tires as I peeled out of the lot and onto Thirteen Mile again, heading for Woodward Avenue. I barely slowed down and certainly didn't look as I skidded sideways around the right turn onto Woodward, and this time even Brock held on to the oh-shit bar and braced as we barely missed a Smart Bus and then two pedestrians crossing the street.

  "Slow down, Claire," Brock said through gritted teeth. "This isn't going to help anything."

  "Shut up, Brock."

  "You're going to get us killed at worst, pulled over at best. Slow down."

  I ignored him, weaving through traffic with the pedal mashed down. It wasn't even noon on a weekday, so when we got to Scotia Park, not far from where my parents still lived, the park was empty. I parked the Mustang, snatched the bottle from Brock, and stormed across the park to the set of mini-bleachers placed randomly near a towering pair of maple trees, which shaded the metal bleachers from the worst of the sun. I sat down on the bleachers, uncorked the Patron, and took a giant four-gulp swig straight from the bottle, hissing as I swallowed the last gulp.

 
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