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If You Dare: Chapter 33

After

Violet

I stupidly thought Wes had fallen in love with me. That he’d forgiven me, against all odds.

I was wrong.

Of course he hasn’t forgiven me. I’ve known since that day outside the courthouse that Wes would never be able to forgive me for what I did to Chloe. To their family. To him.

Maybe he convinced himself he could, for a little while. Kissed me, fucked me, held me, protected me, opened up to me.

But no matter how hard he tried, forgiveness and trust remained out of reach.

Even with the evidence of my supposed infidelity staring him in the face, he should know I’d never betray him like that. He knows what kind of guy Trey is and what he’s capable of doing to me. Wes shouldn’t believe a sadistic psychopath like Trey over me, but his mind has been warped by what his ex did. He thinks what he witnessed between me and Trey was a repeat of the night he found his ex in bed with another guy, especially because he believes I lied about Trey threatening me with a knife.

I’m still in love with him, and I know I will be for a long time. Long after he’s moved on and fallen in love with someone else. The reality of that future already makes my chest ache.

Aneesa storms into the room when she finds me still in bed. “It’s been three days, Violet. You can’t wallow over that asshole forever.”

I’ve hardly left my bed. Haven’t showered, haven’t gone to class, and haven’t written a word. I can’t wrap my head around how I’ll ever finish my book now. How can I write a love story when I’ve lost my muse?

Aneesa rips the blanket off me like that will convince me to get out of bed. All it does is make me curl into a tighter ball. At least my breakup with Wes has gotten Aneesa to talk to me again.

“I’m not bringing you food anymore. You’ll need to actually get out of bed and go to the dining hall with me.”

“I’m not hungry,” I mumble. Since Chloe died, I can’t remember the last time I had an appetite.

Aneesa sits on the edge of my mattress, features softer and voice gentler. “You need to keep living your life, Violet. Go to class and get your degree. You can’t throw away everything you’ve worked for over Wes Novak.”

I grab my pillow to stifle my sob. That’s what Aneesa doesn’t understand. None of this is just over Wes. Every night, I relive the same nightmare, waking with a gasp in a puddle of sweat. But it’s not a nightmare—it’s a memory. Of the night I would give anything to take back.

My words crack alongside my heart. “I miss her so much.”

Chloe would have all the answers. She would know what to say to Wes to get him to see reason. Know what to say to me to pull me out from this pit I’ve fallen into that I’m not sure I’ll ever claw my way out of.

But she’s not here. My best friend drowned right in front of me. Because of me.

Being with Wes helped me forget, helped me gather the pieces of my shattered heart and start to put them back together. But that deep, raw wound has never healed.

Maybe it never will, and I’m still not sure how I can keep living when she isn’t.

“Chloe would want you to take care of yourself.” Aneesa’s voice is low and soothing as she rubs my shoulder, shaking with a sob. “She wouldn’t want to see you punishing yourself for the rest of your life, Violet. Chloe’s already forgiven you. You need to forgive yourself now.”

I hurt my best friend. I lost her.

The ache of her absence still weighs heavy on my chest every day. With every breath.

I’ve been expecting Wes to forgive me. But how can he when I can’t even forgive myself?


Wes

Coach has been riding my ass the entire practice. “Head in the game, Novak!”

Blades cut through ice and guys shout. Sounds that used to get my adrenaline pumping, but I can’t get my mind off Violet. She’s seeped into my brain like poison.

I can’t trust her. I saw what she was doing with Trey with my own fucking eyes. Saw the pictures he took of her smiling on her knees before him. Forgiving her for Chloe was impossible enough. Every time I turn around, she stabs me in the back.

Coach blows his whistle when a tall girl steps onto the ice. He shouts at her that this is a closed practice, not that that’s ever stopped any of the puck bunnies, but she completely ignores him and waves at me, a deep scowl on her face.

Behind her, the librarian hobbles up. Oh fuck. I’m in deep shit.

“Give me five minutes, Coach,” I call.

He rolls his eyes but lets me go.

When I reach the wall, the librarian plants her hands on her brittle hips. “I thought I told you not to hurt her.”

Before I can defend myself, Aneesa jumps in. “You have no right to treat her like this. I’m sorry you lost your sister, but it was an accident, and you’re not justice incarnate. You need to leave Violet alone.”

My nostrils flare. So she sent her only allies on campus after me. Like I’m the fucking problem here. Typical women protecting their own even when they’re in the wrong. “Don’t worry. I’m happy to leave her alone.”

“She didn’t cheat on you, and you know that. Why she was with you in the first place is a mystery to me, but Violet isn’t that kind of person. She wouldn’t do that, least of all with a guy as shitty as Trey. Even if she chose you, she does have some standards.”

I cross my arms, just about done with their little intervention. “I know what I saw.”

Before Luke showed me those photos, I would’ve thought the same. That Violet wouldn’t be capable of betraying me like that. The same way I wouldn’t be capable of doing that to her. Too in love with each other to think we could find somebody better. Too in love to want to hurt each other like that.

But I’ve seen the proof myself. Britt tried making excuses too, sent me dozens of messages begging to get back together, but I didn’t fall for it with her and I’m not gonna fall for it with Violet.

She’s already gotten her second chance. Not my fault she wasted it.

The librarian steps forward, pointing her finger in my face. Even though she’s almost two feet shorter than me, the deep furrow to her brows is intimidating. “You listen to me, boy. That girl is sweet as pie and she doesn’t deserve to be treated like dog shit.” The curse leaving her mouth almost surprises me enough to laugh if I wasn’t being scolded. She hits my chest. “You better grow up and be the man you’re pretending to be if you want to deserve her.”

I skate back over to the team, circling the center of the rink while Coach gives a “motivational” speech that’s mostly a list of everything we’re doing wrong. Luke nudges me. “What was that about?”

I snort. “Guilt-tripping me about Violet.”

“Have you talked to her?”

“Hell no.”

“Why not?”

I give him an incredulous look. “Why would I? You were there too. You saw exactly what I did. And the photos.”

“Yeah.” Luke drops his gaze, dragging his stick along the ice. “Maybe I had it out for Violet too. For Chloe. I didn’t question those photos—I just believed Trey outright because I hated Violet so much for what she did. But . . .”

“But what?” I snap, not liking the direction this is headed.

“But the more I think about it, the more it doesn’t sit right with me. We know what kind of girl Violet is. And the type of guy Trey is. You seriously think she’d strip in the middle of the night on campus and let him take photos of her?”

That doesn’t sound like Violet at all. “I’ve got no idea what she’s capable of anymore.”

“Novak! Valentine! Listen up!”

We fall silent while we pretend to listen to Coach rattle on until Luke adds, “I’ve got your back no matter what. But if Chloe was here, we both know whose side she’d be on.”


Violet

Aneesa is studying while I binge-watch Netflix when someone knocks on the door.

For a second, my stupid heart flutters. But the knock isn’t heavy enough to belong to Wes.

Aneesa opens the door, and my mother barges in.

She’s in her hotel manager uniform—dark slacks and vest over a blue button-up so pale it’s almost white, complete with a cute little bowtie.

She beelines straight to my bedside and frowns. “So this is what you’ve been so busy doing?”

My eyes flash to Aneesa. “You called my mom?”

Her eyes are wide. “No, I swear I didn’t.”

The same way she swore she didn’t report Wes to Dean Forrester.

Mom waves us off. “She didn’t call me. After my daughter didn’t answer dozens of texts or calls for three days, I decided to visit campus myself to make sure she was still alive.”

“Well, now you know.”

She perches on the edge of my bed, features softening with concern as she brushes my hair behind my ear. “Violet, what happened? What’s wrong?”

My eyes burn as the tears build up anew. “I tried telling you. I told you I shouldn’t stay on campus. Now Wes hates me more than he already did, and everywhere I look, everywhere I go, I’m reminded of Chloe. I know you blame me for killing her and ruining our lives. That’s fine. You can punish me and treat me like shit forever. But my best friend is dead and if I want to lay in bed for three days and finally take time to mourn her, that’s what I’m going to fucking do. And I’m not going to let you or Wes or anybody stop me.”

I can’t believe I just said all that. The words poured out of me unbidden. But I don’t regret a single syllable. All of it what I’ve been longing to say to her for months.

Mom’s face falls. I miss how close we used to be. Ending Chloe’s life meant ending the relationship with my mother as I knew it too.

We sit in silence for a few moments until she turns to Aneesa. “Would you mind giving me and my daughter a few minutes?”

Aneesa nods quickly and scrambles out of the room, grateful for an excuse to escape. The door quietly clicks shut behind her.

Mom clasps her hands together tight in her lap. “I . . . I don’t know what to say, Violet,” she starts. “You’re right. I’ve been punishing you for what you did. The legal fees, the judgment from colleagues and the community, the strain between us and the Novaks . . . I’ve been taking it all out on you. That was wrong of me.” She reaches for my hand, a lump sticking in my throat. She used to hug me every time she saw me, but I can’t remember the last time she touched me. “You were affected by losing your best friend too, and I’m sorry I didn’t support you more through that.”

“It’s been awful,” I whisper, my voice hoarse. “Especially having to mourn her alone.”

For a little while, I had Wes. But just as soon as we’d found our way back to each other, I lost him again.

Mom scoots closer, running her fingers through my hair. “I am so sorry, sweetheart. I’m sorry I’ve let you carry this huge burden on your own.”

Even though I assumed I was all cried out, more tears hit my pillow. “I thought I could finally talk to Wes about it. But he hates me again.”

She shakes her head, somehow adamant. “He doesn’t hate you, honey,” Mom soothes. “He’s hurting. And he’s carrying his own guilt over that night.”

I prop myself up on my elbow. “What guilt could he have?”

“He was her big brother. He was supposed to protect her and he couldn’t.”

I shake my head quickly. “That’s not his fault. He couldn’t have done anything.”

“Exactly. But that’s not how he feels. He only seems to hate you because he hates himself, and he’s taking it out on you—the most obvious target. He was there, and he didn’t get to her in time. I’m sure you can understand how heavy a burden that is to bear.”

I’m not sure how to process Mom’s words. I never considered that Wes may feel any amount of guilt about that night. “So you think Wes was just lashing out at me?”

She presses her lips together. “I’m sure he was very upset with you for your role. But he knows it was an accident. He knows there’s a reason the judge gave you a not-guilty verdict. But Wes is certainly struggling with his own inner demons. A battle I would wager he’s losing.”

If she’s right, I wish I’d heard the admission from Wes himself. Wish he’d been willing to open up to me about his darkest feelings eating away at him.

I would’ve told him it wasn’t his fault. That he has no reason to feel guilty. Even if he never wants anything to do with me again, someday I’ll tell him.

Mom squeezes my hand. “And Violet? The same is true for you. What happened was a horrible, tragic accident. But it wasn’t your fault.”

I throw my arms around Mom and sob into her shoulder. The words I’ve been needing to hear since that night.


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