These chapters were part of my first draft of Pushing the Limits and would have immediately taken place after the cemetery scene between Echo and Noah. Lila is Echo’s best friend and Beth and Isaiah are Noah’s best friends. I absolutely adore this scene and it broke my heart to cut it. The problem was, it did not create the conflict or situations I wanted to progress the story forward.
In this scene, Echo is dealing with the aftermath of remembering a portion of the night she repressed. Also, when I wrote the first draft, Noah snuck a peek into Echo’s file, not his own during her hypnosis session.
The warm spring sun bathed my skin. I especially loved its sweet kisses on my arms, skin that hadn’t seen the light of day in years. “What do you think normal teenagers think about?”
Noah’s body shook with silent laughter underneath me. “Who says we’re not normal?”
We lay on an old chaise lounge on his back deck. He’d followed me home from the cemetery and I’d left my car in the driveway, purposely blocking my father’s access to the garage. My stomach dropped when we walked into his foster parents’ house to find them smoking cigarettes at the kitchen table. I expected them to go spastic, since we were obviously skipping school, but they ignored both of us.
“Noah, our discussions center on case files and memory losses. I’m pretty sure we got kicked out during the visa application to the land of normal. We haven’t even made it to the border yet.”
Noah stroked his fingers up and down my arm. I wondered if he thought about my scars every time he touched them, especially the raised one in the middle.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “I guess normal teenagers think about what we think: parties, school, getting laid, files.” His hand stopped stroking my arm.
Does he not listen? “Normal teens do not discuss files.”
He sat up, bringing me along with him, his playful demeanor gone. “We need to talk.”
“Okay.” I was anything but okay. His seriousness filled me with dread.
He focused on my hair, pushing it over my shoulder. “I got into your file.”
My throat tightened and I tried to push away from him, but he kept me close. “I can’t, Noah. I can’t. I don’t want to know. I’m done. I don’t care what’s in my file anymore. My mom experienced a manic episode and my dad abandoned me.” I slid my hand down the raised scar. “The harder I try to remember, the worse my nightmares become. I don’t sleep anymore, Noah. And for what? To find out that everyone failed me? What happens if I find out that my brother failed me too?”
And I couldn’t take that. Someone had to love me enough to not let me down, and Aires was the only one left. My hand flew over my mouth to catch the sob before it could escape. Noah had lost his parents, parents who loved him, and he’d been abused by a system that tore him away from his brothers. What right did I have to cry in front of him? None.
He closed his eyes and kept stroking my hair. “Let’s take a step back, baby.” He reopened them and let his dark brown eyes stare into mine. “You’ve had a horrible twenty-four hours, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he placed his hand over my lips. He continued, “I don’t know what happened between you and your mom, but I know why your dad is wound so tight and I think you need to know, too.”
But I didn’t. I wanted to forget everything that ever happened to me. “I want normal, Noah. Can we just do normal?”
Noah rubbed the back of his neck and I took the opportunity to slide off of the chaise lounge. I avoided the rotted wooden planks to the left and leaned against the railing. He swung his legs to the ground and let his clasped hands hang between his knees. “What the hell is normal? To me, normal is a mom and dad and a home with two little brothers. Even if I get my brothers back, I’ll be closer to normal than I am now, but I’ll never be truly normal ever again.”
And I guess that’s the part that stank and the part relaxation therapy proved to me. Even if I remembered my past, nothing would change. Aires would still be dead. My mom had still attacked me and was out of my life forever and my dad would always choose Ashley over me. “I’m serious. I’m done with therapy and files.” And my dad and everything else. “Can we be a couple without files? Can we rent movies and eat popcorn or order pizza or drive around listening to music and enjoy each other, or is everything about us going to revolve around those files?”
Noah’s lips fell into a thin line and his eyes darkened. Every muscle became pronounced, reminding me of a large animal stalking its prey. “Is that what you think of us? You think I only care about you because you can help me get into those files?”
A light pounding touched the inside of my temples. It’d been a long day and night and an even longer day before that. Memories and thoughts and conversations jumbled in my head, demanding attention all at the same time. Why couldn’t anything be easy? “No.”
He was up on his feet, pacing the length of the deck, either not listening to my answer or ignoring it. “I could have gone for my file, Echo, but no, I go for yours and you don’t even want to know what’s in it. Do you have any idea what I would give to get in my file?”
My mouth pulled down and my throat tightened. “I told you to go for yours first.”
“And I should have listened. What the hell? You are so damned close and you give up.” He shook his head. “And I give up my chance only to find out that the restraining order has been lifted against your mom and you don’t even want to know it.”
My breath slammed out of my chest and the deck tilted. “What?” My mouth sucked in short breaths, but my lungs demanded more. God, I needed air. Even after closing my eyes, everything spun – a dark disillusioned carnival ride.
“Echo? Echo, baby, you need to breath. I’m sorry, baby. I shouldn’t have…Dammit, I’m sorry.” Noah wrapped his arms around me and lowered me onto the deck. He cradled me in his lap, rocking us slowly, while he combed his hand through my hair. He whispered soothing apologies, while he held me tight, kissing my hair occasionally. Slowly, his apologies turned to soft encouraging words that “everything will be okay.” It was only then that I realized that I clutched the front of his shirt and that his shoulder was completely soaked. My body shook harder when I realized that I couldn’t stop, that under the weight of my world, I’d finally broken.
I threw the popcorn into the microwave, set it for two minutes, and hoped it cooked faster than that. Echo immersed herself in some old movie on the television in the basement and even though Beth promised me to play nice….yeah, I didn’t trust Beth. Not with Echo, not now.
The doorbell rang. For once, something in my favor. Echo wanted normal, she’d get normal. Movies, popcorn, pizza, and whatever damn thing she asked for. I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket and opened the door. Instead of the pizza guy, I found a head full of blond hair and pissed off blue eyes.
“Way to go, Romeo.” Lila pushed past me with a canvas bag in hand and walked straight into the kitchen. “All you had to do was go to the cemetery and keep her together until I got out of school. Was it really that freaking hard? Come on! You could have gone for a drive. Taken her to get ice cream. When all else failed, would it have killed you to make out with her?”
“I don’t remember inviting you in.” Or telling you where I lived. I still held the front door open and did a double take when the delivery guy stood on the stoop holding four pizzas. “I ordered two.”
The guy picked up a slip on top. “Yeah, man, but some girl called and added two more.”
When given the opportunity, I planned on throttling Beth. I took cash out of my wallet and exchanged it for the pizzas. “Beth! Get your sorry ass up here!”
Lila’s ass poked out of my fridge as she took things out of her bag and put it in. “Really,” she continued as if I never spoke, “What made you think it was a good idea to tell Echo about her mom? Oh, wait. You didn’t. You threw a hissy fit without thinking because you’re a big strong man and when life doesn’t go your way you throw words like rocks. Neanderthal.”
The microwave beeped as Beth’s light footfalls on the steps became louder. I dumped the pizzas on the table. “What are you doing here and how the hell do you know about Echo’s mom?”
Lila shut the refrigerator door. “I’m her best friend, you idiot, and for some stupid reason she’s into you and wants to give you the opportunity to make up for being an ass. Now, where are you hiding her? The closet?”
“The basement.” And right on cue, Beth opened the basement door.
“How did you know I told Echo about her mom?” I asked again.
“I’m psychic. Texting, moron.”
I opened the microwave and poured the popcorn into a bowl. Beth barely took two steps into the kitchen. “What the hell is that?”
Dammit. I left Beth down there for three minutes and she got herself stoned to the point she had no idea what the hell I was holding. “Popcorn.”
“No, not that. That!” She waved her hand in the air towards Lila.
Damn me, I should just take Echo and run. “Lila – Beth. Beth – Lila.”
“Charmed,” said Lila, but her tone indicated she was anything but.
Beth kept waving her hand towards Lila. “See, Noah. This is why you don’t become attached. Once you start feeding them, they keep coming around, and then bring other strays along with them.”
Lila crossed her hands over her chest. “What’s wrong, queen of darkness? Someone stake your maker today?”
Beth’s eyes flared and she took a step towards Lila. With popcorn in hand, I slid between them. “Enough!”
But it wasn’t enough. Beth grabbed a fist full of popcorn and threw it right into Lila’s face. The world froze for a few chilling seconds as Lila continually blinked then spit a piece of popcorn out of her mouth. “You are so dead.”
“Bring it, prom queen!” Beth launched herself at Lila, but only rammed into me and on my other side Lila swatted over me at her.
“Damn!” I tossed the popcorn onto the table, wrapped a hand around Beth and launched her off the floor. Her feet and arms kicked in the air.
“Let me go!” screamed Beth.
“Yeah, let the little bitch go,” yelled Lila.
“Enough!” I shouted so loudly that the glasses in the sink shook. Both girls went still.
I placed Beth on the floor and stared at her. “Either get your act together or spend the evening upstairs. And if you’re spending it in the basement, grab the pizzas, and hand over twenty bucks.”
I turned to glare at Lila. “And you.” Lila burned wholes in metal with those eyes, reminding me I hadn’t helped Echo at all today. “Go take care of her.”
Lila tried to melt me with her eyes one more time before shoving her shoulder against mine and heading down the stairs. Beth attempted the same look as Lila, but failed, at least with me. Beth was all bark. “You can’t be for real.”
“I am. I mean it, Beth, if you can’t behave then stay away from the basement. Echo’s world has been twisted inside out and I screwed up this afternoon. I gotta make this up to her.” It was the closest to pleading I had ever done with her. A trait I found myself doing more often with the people in my life.
Beth shifted uncomfortably. “She really means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”
I simply stared at her. How could I answer her without giving away how much I loved Echo? That every part of me hurts when she hurt?
Beth grabbed the pizzas. “I’ll play, Noah, but I ain’t paying.”
Four pizzas, gallons of Coke products, three bowls of popcorn, and a tub of cookie dough later, Echo no longer looked crushed, but exhausted. We watched the second of two awful chick flicks. I didn’t get it. How the hell did these movies make a girl feel better? At the end of the first one, the daughter died and right now the health of the best friend in this one took a nose dive. What the hell?
Part of me sulked in jealousy. Lila waltzed into the house and comforted Echo, reading her every need. Knew the right movie at the right time, whipped out the cookie dough and boring girl conversation that made Echo giggle, even succeeded in engaging Beth, but I think Beth faked it to get a spoon in the dough. And what bugged me the most was how content Echo looked cuddled up with Lila. I wanted her to wear that peaceful look with me.
Isaiah lay in bed with Beth and sent me a pleading glance as he stroked a sobbing Beth’s hair. I raised an eyebrow and shrugged a lone shoulder. Girls made absolutely no sense, but if it made Echo happy I’d do this all night.
Three quarters of the way through the longest movie of my life, Echo took pity upon me and rested her head on my shoulder, while keeping Lila’s hand. I wrapped an arm around her and kissed her head. Unfortunately, I think I needed her more than she needed me. I held her closer and inhaled her delicious scent. I willed her to understand. I was sorry. So sorry.
I raked a hand through my hair when the second movie finally ended and weighed the pros and cons of grabbing a beer. I wanted this night to be about Echo, not me. Echo drank sometimes. Even got blitzed on occasion, but I wasn’t feeling she was in the mood. Would she fault me for having one? Because I wasn’t sure I could take one more of these movies.
Lila stared at Echo in disbelief. “She’s asleep,” she whispered.
In an instant, my body froze, terrified if I moved the wrong way, she’d wake up. Lila let go of Echo’s hand at a snail’s pace, obviously facing the same fears. Her awe turned to deep thought and frustration. “I was going to take her home with me. I called and left a message with Ashley telling her that she was going to spend the night.” She met my eyes. “I didn’t think Echo would be up to facing him knowing that he knew she was walking around town.”
Copy that. I still wouldn’t count Echo out of lighting into her dad, but she couldn’t, she shouldn’t do it tonight.
Lila sighed heavily. “Can I trust you with her?”
Lila held my gaze for a long while, before nodding. “Maybe you’re not so bad after all.”