They were the last two people she expected to see on her front porch that morning, but there they were. Grinning goofily at her as she opened the door, her eyes puffy and red, bleary from lack of sleep, stinging from the ever-constant prickles behind them.
She stared at them open-mouthed, too shocked, too confused, to even say anything.
“You don’t really look like you’re ready to go on a road trip.” She watched as Mark’s eyes trailed from the top of her mussed-up hair all the way down to her bare feet, causing an uncharacteristic urge to wrap her arms around herself, suddenly embarrassed by the t-shirt and skimpy pajama shorts she is wearing.
“Why are you here?” she managed to spit out, trying to work up enough strength to glare at them.
Derek grinned. “You would know if you bothered to answer your phone.”
That was not the right thing to say. Her glare turned to ice. She made a move to slam the door and snarled when it wouldn’t budge. Derek’s hand was in the way, stopping the door before she had a chance to pointedly slam it on them.
“Amy called us.” His voice was soft, gentle. He might as well have been screaming. “We know about Sam. We know about …. well, we know.”
Addison blinked. How could she?
“She had no right! She had no right to tell you!” The anger coursing through her veins at that very second was stronger than anything she could ever remember feeling. They were not supposed to know. No one was supposed to know. Not ever.
“She’s worried about you.”
“I’m fine!” She stomped her foot for emphasis, but it was her luck that their pounding on her door roused her from where she had been lying for hours upon hours on the couch. Bare feet on tile doesn’t make much noise, and suddenly Derek and Mark were looking at her with such a mixture of sadness and pity that she wanted to scream or burst into tears right there. She didn’t know which.
She struggled for a moment to find that surge of anger, but it was gone. Vanished.
“I’m fine,” she said again, but her voice caught on the last note and she had to bite her lip to keep from sobbing. They pretended not to notice.
“I still don’t understand why you’re here,” she finally managed. “This isn’t a good time. I’m … I’m going away for a few days.”
“We know,” Mark said and he grinned. “We’re going with you.”
For the second time that morning, words leave her. She just stared at him uncomprehendingly. “W-what?”
“Amy told us,” Derek said, jumping in. “She told us you were planning to drive to New York, to get away from a few days. We decided we’d go with you.”
Her eyebrows arched, rising up into her hairline.
“And why would you do that?” she said. In the back of her mind, she was already plotting a hundred different ways to kill her former sister-in-law.
This was not part of the plan. Not by far. The plan was to leave L.A, to get away, to be by herself. Far, far away from Sam and people who were supposed to be her friends and dreams that would never be hers.
The two men standing in front of her were definitely not part of that plan. The last thing she needed was two more reminders of everything that had gone wrong in her life.
They weren’t talking, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“No,” she said. “No way. Absolutely not. You don’t get to come.”
“You don’t get a choice, “ Mark said.
Addison glared. “The hell I don’t, Mark Sloane!” she seethed. “This is my life, my decision. I say who comes and who doesn’t. You …” She jabbed her finger at him for emphasis. “Are not coming.”
In the corner of her eye, she saw Derek shoot Mark a quick look as if to say he warned him not to say anything. But when Derek turned back to her, his voice was quiet, soothing. She knew that tone way to well. It’s how he got her to do whatever he wanted back in New York.
She crossed her arms over her chest. She was not falling for that this time.
“Addie,” he said. “Just think about it. Remember back in New York when we’d take little road trips? We had a great time. It could be like that.”
She shook her head. “We went to the Hamptons,” she grumbled. “It wasn’t exactly a road trip.”
“It was still fun,” Mark argued.
“This is different,” she said.
“It doesn’t have to be.”
Derek sighed, breaking into the conversation. “Why do you always have to be so stubborn? Come on, Addie, we want to do this. Let us come.”
It hit her then. Not by anything Derek said, not even by the way that Mark was bouncing from foot to foot. But by the look she still saw in their eyes.
“I don’t need a babysitter,” she snapped.
“This isn’t what that is,” Derek said, a little too quickly. She glared.
“What did Amelia tell you? That I’m so distraught I’m going to drive off a bridge? Disappear and never be seen from again? And you guys what? Want to come rescue me?” She scoffed at that, a slight laugh leaving her throat. “Well, you know what. You just wasted a trip. I don’t need rescuing.”
Derek cocked his head and stared at her. She looked away. She didn’t want to see into his eyes.
“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe we have things to run from too?”
“No,” she said. “No. You are not coming. Absolutely not.”
But in the end they wore her down. That was probably their strategy in the first place. She was too tired, too numb, to miserable to put up much of a fight. She didn’t want them to come, but she couldn’t keep fighting them off. All it was doing was making her want to curl up in a ball and cry.
So finally she gave up and let them in. She pointed them in the direction of the kitchen and mumbled something about food, then waved her hand toward the stairs to indicate guest rooms. She led them to the living room, handing them her laptop and letting them pour over Google maps and plot out their trip.
She didn’t care where they went or what they did. She just wished everyone would leave her alone. But that wasn’t going to happen, so she lay on the couch while they talked, pretending to listen while they discussed routes and sightseeing and hotels and all such things she didn’t really care about.
She just wanted to get away. The trip was a distraction. The thought of it being anymore was just too much for her to bear.
She was contemplating if it would be possible to just sneak out in the middle of the night without anyone noticing when Derek’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“Twenty-four hours, Addison,” he said. “Twenty-four hours. If you don’t want to be with us after that, we’ll leave.”
She narrowed her eyes. She hated that he still somehow managed to know her so well.
“How about twelve?”
“Twenty-four, Addison. You have to at least give us a chance.”
She sighed. “But how do I know I can trust you?”
He shrugged. “I can’t help you with that.”
“Fine,” she said. “You win.” And she pointed her finger at them again. “Twenty-four hours only.”
With that, she resumed her prone position on the couch, being careful not to look at them. But finally, she had enough.
“We’re leaving at eight a.m.!” Derek called after her as she left the room, but she gave no indication that she heard him.
Amelia still wasn’t home. Her former sister-in-law hadn’t been home in awhile actually. She tried to remember the last time she had seen her, but she was too exhausted to put much thought into it. Derek had said it was Amelia who had told them everything, so she figured Amelia must know Derek and Mark were here.
Addison made her way out to her back deck and lay down in one of the chairs, pulling a blanket up over her. She could see the waves, hear them pounding, but the time when the sound of the ocean rising and falling had brought her peace, had brought her comfort, was long past. Now, she was just numb. She’d been hurting too much for too long. She didn’t think she could even remember how it felt to care about something or how it felt to smile, or worse, how it felt to be happy.
She fell asleep eventually. Or she must have, because the nightmare came again. She was back in the bathroom and she could see the blood. It was everywhere and it was spreading, faster and faster, covering the floor around her. She tried to stop it, but there was nothing she could do. Like always, she cried out. But no one heard her. No one was there.
Except this time someone was there.
Addison was startled back into consciousness by the feel of strong arms wrapped around her. Her head was against someone’s chest, but she would have known the feel of it anywhere.
For a second, wrapped in his arms, she felt almost safe, almost protected. Her face and his shirt were wet, and she realized she must have been crying in her sleep again.
“I’ve got you. You’re okay.” Derek was murmuring into her hair, his hands stroking her back. She tried to remember the last time someone had held her. It certainly hadn’t been since … well, since then.
It took him a few moments to realize she was awake. Once he did, he pulled back a little so he could see her face.
“You were having a nightmare,” he said softly. She just nodded. He seemed to understand she didn’t want to talk.
“Why don’t we just get you to bed?” he said softly. “We’re going to start our trip in the morning anyway.”
She expected him to help her to her feet, was prepared for it really, so it took her by surprise when he stood up with her in his arms.
It felt so nice, though, she didn’t protest. She just laid her head on his shoulder and let him carry her upstairs. Neither one of them spoke as he carried her up the stairs and to the master bedroom, nor did they speak when he laid her on the bed and tucked the covers around her.
He was leaning down to give her a quick kiss on the forehead — “Good night, Addie,” — when she spoke.
“Stay with me?”
It’s all she said and all he needed. He smiled at her and slipped into bed beside her. He didn’t hold her or snuggle with her. That wasn’t their relationship anymore. But he did reach over and let his fingers settle over hers.
That was enough. She slept through the next six hours without any nightmares, something she hadn’t done in six months.