One year ago
Ashwood Falls, Ohio
I turned onto my sister and no-good, piece of shit, brother in-law’s, street, and my stomach sank. There was a cop car in the front of their house, lights flashing. The neighbors were all out on the street, watching the drama unfold, enjoying every damn bit of it. I pulled up behind Landon’s patrol car and climbed out, slamming the door behind me. I’d known Landon since high school; he was a good guy, was good to me. He understood the hell I was going through with my sister, how my hands were tied where my niece Tilly was concerned, and thankfully had always let me take her without involving child protection.
Unfortunately, my niece’s distress call tonight was not the first, but it was going to be the goddamn last. Rebecca had shot up, smoked, and snorted shit up her nose for the last time. My older sister was going to rehab again and this time, she wasn’t discharging herself. She was going to leave that worthless asshole Trent for good, and I was taking Tilly, and I wasn’t giving her back until she had her life sorted out.
A muffled yell came from the patrol car. Trent was cuffed in the back, eyes wide and glassy, face red, screaming my sister’s name. The idiot headbutted the window when he saw me.
I flipped him off, pushed open the weather-beaten gate, and strode to the front door. It opened before I could get out my key.
I looked up at Landon. “Just let me grab Tilly and I’ll get out of here. Tell Rebecca I’ll be back to talk to her in the morning.” No way could I deal with her tonight. I was too pissed off, and after seeing Trent, I could guess the state she was in. Attempting to have a conversation with her would be pointless. “She promised,” I said to Landon. “She promised me she was staying clean this time, that she was done with Trent…well, I’m done. I’m so goddamn done…”
“No, Landon, I mean it this time. I’m going to…”
“Just let me get Tilly…”
“Willa,” he said, stronger this time, stopping me mid-tirade.
As soon as I took a good look at him, I knew something bad had happened. Not the usual bad, like Tilly left alone, or freaking out because her parents were passed out, or they forgot to pick her up from school because they were too wasted to drive. Which was all seriously bad stuff—unforgivable—but this was worse. My hand shot out, grabbing for the door frame, my legs suddenly weak. “Tilly?”
“She’s fine. She’s with Mrs. Jones next door.”
Okay, Tilly was fine. She went to Mrs. Jones’ a lot. I’d told her to go there if she was ever frightened and to call me. I trusted Mrs. Jones; she’d known Rebecca and I since we were little. In fact, this had been our family home once upon a time. We’d lived here with our mom. Our dad had decided he didn’t want a family anymore, that he had better things to do. So, Mom had raised us on her own.
I dropped my hand. “Okay, good. Let me pack Tilly a bag and take her to my place. Are you taking them both to the station? Are they being charged with anything?” I tried to move past him, but he blocked my way.
“You can’t go in there, Willa.”
I met his eyes and he shook his head. “What are you…what’s going on…”
My fingers dug harder into the doorframe. “Is she…”
Landon expression turned sympathetic. “Bob’s working on her, an ambulance is on the way.”
I shoved him aside and tore down the hall, ignoring his startled call. I found her on her bedroom floor, skin a weird color, vomit and other shit on her face and clothes, the carpet beside her. Bob, Landon’s partner, was doing chest compressions.
I ran over and dropped to my knees. “Goddamn it, Rebecca, wake up. Wake the hell up.”
“Stay back,” Bob said and carried on trying to save my sister’s life.
She suddenly took a deep, rattling breath and her hand shot out, grabbing mine in a grip so tight it hurt. She said something.
“Don’t try and talk, Becky…don’t…”
“Pr-promise me,” she choked out. “Tilly.”
“You’re going to be okay, you’ll be okay…”
She squeezed my hand tighter, nails digging into my skin. “Promise,” she said again.
I blinked and a hot tear streaked down my face. “I promise,” I whispered.
As soon as she had the words she wanted, her head rolled back so she was staring straight up, another rattling breath passed her lips…then nothing. I shook her. “Rebecca…Rebecca! Do something!” I screamed at Bob. “Fucking do something.”
He reached over, placing his hand over mine. “She’s gone.”
I yanked my hand from his. No. No, she couldn’t be gone.
I stared down at her, waiting for another one of those rattling breaths, waiting for her to fight, to stay with me.
But she didn’t.
Her eyes were wide open, staring straight up. Eyes that were the same shade of green as mine, and there was nothing there. Nothing.
Images of when we were kids flashed through my mind like a movie reel. The two of us laughing, playing, fighting. The day she gave birth to Tilly, me by her side, holding her hand. Just like I was now. We’d been best friends once, we’d been inseparable.
Now she was gone.
Bending low, I pressed her cool fingers to my forehead as excruciating pain flowed through me, the likes I had never felt before, searing a mark on my soul that I knew would never heal. God, I thought…I truly thought I’d get her back one day. That she’d get straightened out, off the drugs, and I’d have her back.
I started to rock, great wracking sobs jarring my whole body.
Her voice echoed through my mind, a promise she’d made me make the last time she was in the hospital, the last time she’d nearly OD’ed.
“Don’t let a man fuck up your life like I did, Willa, like Mom did. I…I need you to promise me you’ll take care of Tilly if anything happens to me. Promise me you’ll raise her right. No man. You’ll look after my baby, you’ll keep her safe, and you’ll do it on your own.”
“I promise,” I whispered, still clutching my sister’s lifeless hand. “I promise.”