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Wretched: Chapter 37


It’s been two days since my world was once again turned upside down and I found out that Brayden is a lie. That everything between us was a lie.

I feel dirty.


And more than anything, I feel really, really fucking stupid. I’ve always prided myself on being the brains of the family, but how smart can I be if I let this happen?

Closing my eyes, I lean back against Nessa’s tombstone. “You lied to me, Ness,” I whisper into the wind. “You said family’s all I need, that we have to stick together. Turns out that’s bullshit.”

I shake my head, my fingers threading through the grass beneath me. My lower lip trembles and I snap my eyes back open, staring at the notebook in my lap. I open it, scanning over the messy handwriting and scratched-out words that blur together on the pages. I run a fingertip down the last poem I was able to write. Now every single letter reminds me of him.

My palm tenses and I grip the page, tearing it from the book. It feels good, so I do it again. And again.

Rip. Tear. Rip. 

I don’t stop until every single thing is torn from the binding and in pieces on the ground. My eyes scan the space around me and I grab the shredded pages, placing them on the base of Nessa’s marker, in a little pile on the stone. Reaching into my pocket, I grip the matchbook from Winkies that I brought, just in case, and I move forward on my knees, my fingers shaky.

Every word feels like a confession now instead of an escape. Sappy poems from a broken, lonely girl, pretending to be something strong.

The wind whips across my face, strands of my hair tickling my cheeks, and I breathe in deep, striking the match against the cardboard and dropping it into the torn up parts of me, watching the words go up in flames.

With every second they burn, my soul throbs with an ache I’m sure I’ll wear for the rest of my life. And I hate Nick just a little bit more for stealing the one thing that felt like mine.

He was the king of pretty words, so now I’ll make him king of the ashes.

The fire burns quickly, and then goes out when there’s nothing left.

Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

I reach forward, blowing on the ash until it scatters, floating away over the graves of a hundred different people. Maybe my little love spells can be their calm in the chaos.

“My whole life I’ve lived for other people, and I’m done.” I look at Nessa’s tombstone one last time. “That means I have to stop living for you too, Ness. I hope you understand.”

Sadness weaves its way through me, and although it’s hard, it feels oddly cathartic too, as if deep underground chains are snapping from my body, freeing me from the constraint the blood in my veins and my last name have always caused.

“No matter where I go in life, Nessa, no matter who I love and lose…. I think I’ll always miss you the most.”

Smacking a kiss to the palm of my hand, I press it to her tombstone before backing up and walking away, leaving a single poppy flower at the base of her grave.

I head straight back to the estate, bypassing the main entrance and walking around to the back, going to the cottage instead. Honestly, I don’t plan on staying after everything is destroyed, but in the meantime I can’t stand to see the faces of people who never really cared.

Zeke is sitting on the patio, leaned back in a chair, cigarette smoke billowing in the air around him. And in all of my grief, all of my sadness, I had forgotten a major detail from the other night.

Zeke’s name was mentioned in a room of federal agents.

I squint my eyes, walking up to him as he looks over at me, then back up at the sky.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you, Ezekiel.”

He pauses, the cigarette halfway to his mouth. “They told me you found out, you know? Called me last night, trying to convince me to leave. Witness protection or some bullshit.”

“So why didn’t you?” I slip my hand beneath my skirt, pulling my gun from the holster and resting it on the patio table.

I expected to feel angrier with him, but I guess when I let go of the Westerly name and its importance, the people who betrayed the name start to matter less. Still, it stings knowing he was throwing me under the bus and not caring where I landed.

“How could you?”

He sighs, sitting forward in the chair, looking at me for the first time. “They didn’t give me a choice.”

“There’s always a choice.”

“You know what happened to my father when he went to prison? He turned into someone’s bitch and then was mutilated and hung from the rafters. He still gets mocked to this day.” He shakes his head. “You think I want to end up like that? I’ve been forced to live a life like him. I don’t want to die like him too.”

“So you made a deal,” I add.

He nods. “So I made a deal.”

I tap my fingers on the top of my Eagle. “You know, you’re really nothing but a coward.”

Smoke billows from his nostrils. “You’re right. I am. And it fuckin’ terrifies me. I lived my whole life lookin’ up to my dad. He was it, a god to me. And he’d be disgusted by who I’ve become… But I am who I am.”

I don’t respond, not having it in me to fight. And while the betrayal is still there, I understand living in your father’s shadow and wanting to break free. I can’t begrudge him that, as much as I might wish to.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asks when I stand up and grab my gun.

“No,” I sigh. “But I never want to see you again. Living with the shame of knowing you’ll never be half the man your father was is more painful than any torture I could offer.” Moving around the table, I stop in front of him. “One day, Ezekiel, I hope you find your peace.”

“I don’t deserve your empathy,” he whispers, staring down at his lap.

I swallow around the knot in my throat. “No… you don’t. But I’m giving it to you anyway.”

Re-holstering my gun, I walk past him and into the woods. Who cares if he sees where I’m going at this point.


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