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Second Chance by Willow Winters (1)

Prologue

Harlow

Ten years ago

April 12


The red, white, and bright blue lights reflect off the large glass windows of the liquor store. The sirens have stopped. I swear they were only screaming in my ear for a split second. They were loud enough to make my heart leap into my throat and send fear flowing freely through my blood.

They were silenced quickly, as if turned on by mistake.

I swear it was all an accident.

“Nathan.” I say his name weakly, searching his cold gaze as I grip his wrists. My nails dig in as my throat goes dry. He doesn’t answer me, doesn’t give me a minute to ask questions. He merely blocks me from the view of the police car pulling up to the curb. His back is to the cops and he doesn’t turn to face them, even as the sound of the cruiser’s window rolling down drowns out the sound of my blood rushing in my ears.

Nathan leans closer to me as my shoulder and ass hit the unyielding wall of the liquor store. His dark eyes look even darker and the lack of any emotion on his face forces my plea for him to tell me how to make this right to catch in my throat. “Don’t say a word,” he hisses in my ear.

One second, one beat of my heart passes feeling caught in an eternity as I look up into the eyes of the boy I thought I loved. The boy I thought loved me back. “Don’t be stupid, Hally,” he says low, beneath his breath.

But I never really knew him, did I?

The boy I knew wasn’t capable of this.

But it was only an accident.

“Nathan, we have to-” I try to speak, but the words are silenced as he narrows his eyes. The shadows from the dim street lights make the sharp lines of his jaw look even more intense.

“You two alright?” I hear a man say from behind us, but my eyes don’t break away from Nathan’s. It’s the cops. So close. So close to knowing everything that just happened only minutes ago.

Nathan’s the first to break. He lets go of my forearm and turns his back to me, leaving the chill of the night to turn the thin sheen of sweat on my skin to ice. I wrap my arms around my chest and as I do, I see a small bit of blood on my arm and then more. Just a large scrape I think, but I’m quick to hide it. As fast as I can, I pull the thin sleeves of my sweater down my arms. It’s evidence.

“We’re fine,” Nathan says, although I almost don’t hear him. My heart beats harder and faster; I’m desperate to escape as I stand on legs that quiver, legs too afraid to do anything.

“And you, miss?” the cop says as a bright light flashes in front of me. The sudden light causes me to wince and then look up at him. The dark blue of his uniform looks black in the low light. The man is older with salt and pepper hair, and looks experienced and wise enough to know a lie. I don’t trust my voice, so I simply nod and almost cross my arms again, but then I remember the blood and my fingers grip the hem of my sweater to keep my arms at my sides.

“You two look a little young to be out here,” the cop says, his eyes flickering from mine to Nathan’s.

We’re in high school. Nathan’s a year older than me and a senior this year.

“Are you from around here?” the cop asks and I’m not sure who he’s talking to, but Nathan answers for us both.

His thin Henley pulls tight over his broad shoulders as he points his thumb behind him. “She’s from the Hills and I’m down here.”

The cop’s jaw goes tense, his eyes burning into me but I don’t look back at him.

I’m not supposed to be here. I hear it before the words even come from his mouth.

I ignore everything that the cop says; I’m not interested in being told where I belong. The only thing I can concentrate on is my ability to breathe. I feel like I’m being suffocated. If I had just listened, none of this would have happened. I already know it’s true and that makes the guilt so much worse.

“Can you take her home?” I hear Nathan ask and it’s as if that’s what they were waiting for. How could he? After what just happened, I’m shaking and fear is still raw and coursing through my blood. How could he leave me after that? Tears prick my eyes as I will him to justify it.

But I already know the answer; it’s my fault. I should have stuck to my usual routine and not taken the wrong way home. The way that leads to nothing but trouble.

I don’t care though. I’m scared. I can’t leave him; I can’t be by myself. I try to scream out, I try to grip his arm, but he whips around before I can do a damn thing and the heat in his eyes is something I never expected to see.

The anger. So much anger.

“I didn’t mean it,” I whimper out of instinct and then pray the cops didn’t hear. Please. He has to know I never wanted this. I never knew it would come to this. Please. Please, God, let me take it back. “I’m sorry.” The words crack as I say them.

“I already told you we were over,” Nathan says in such a deep voice, rough and riddled with accusations. The guilt pounds through my veins, heating my blood and sending a shame through me that makes me sick.

“We have to …” I start to tell him we need to confess. We have to tell the cops what happened.

“We don’t have to do a damn thing and you better not say shit,” Nathan says with a thinly-veiled threat. “Get in that car,” Nathan says with certainty and conviction, and I lose all sense of composure.

“Don’t ever come back, Hally,” Nathan says as I cover my mouth and keep the sobs from coming up. “I won’t tell you again,” he says beneath his breath, ignoring how my world is shattered and my body just wants to collapse and give in to the pain.

I didn’t mean for this to happen. If I could just go back in time.

The night is disturbed by the slam of the police car door and a second officer gets out of the car, stopping Nathan as he tries to leave. I can barely hear what they’re saying and I try to go to him. I will my legs to move, but the first officer is quick to grab my arm. I rip it away from him and stumble back, tripping over my feet and nearly falling as I look up at him, bewildered.

“It’s alright,” the cop says easily, just now realizing how startled I am and I can’t help but notice the look he gives Nathan as if he’s to blame. He has no idea.

“I need you to come with me,” the officer says with a stern voice, no negotiation apparent in his tone. As if he already knows the truth.

Nathan turns to look back at me, but his jaw is clenched and the other officer is quick to get his attention again. Speaking low, in whispers, so I can’t hear. I can only see Nathan shake his head.

I stare at Nathan as the officer talks, willing him to look at me as I’m pulled away from the street. I can’t hear a word, not from the officer leading me away and not from the officer speaking to Nathan. My shoes click on the sidewalk, the cold night air making each breath hurt more and more.

It’s almost like everything’s happening in slow motion. It seems to last an eternity. Each detail captured clearly.

With every second that passed, I could have said something. With every second I could have apologized.

But before I knew it, he was walking away, and I was being driven in the opposite direction.

I stare out of the window, tears burning my eyes as he disappears from view. The dark night only illuminated by a street light and the bright neon glow of a bar. I keep my eyes on the cracked concrete sidewalk rather than look up at the people leaning against the brick wall of the building as we slowly come to a stop at a red light.

“Are you alright, miss?” the cop asks me again, turning in his seat to face me, but I don’t have the decency to look him in the eyes as I lie.

No. I’m not okay. I’ll never be okay.

But no one can know.

It was ten years ago and although that night should have traumatized me for an entirely different reason, the fact that I listened to Nathan and didn’t come forward is what haunts me.

It’s a funny thing, fate. Life goes on day after day and I didn’t notice how all the pieces were lining up like dominoes. I tried to smile as the weeks turned into months and months turned into years, thinking I’d left my past behind me. I thought I knew what was going on around me. I thought I’d survived and had a new life, with the truth of that night being buried ten feet under.

But fate put me where I’m standing right now.

Fate’s the reason the dominoes are falling, crashing into my reality and leaving me shattered.

It’s so easy to blame fate. But I don’t have any other explanation.

Nathan didn’t plan this, and neither did I.

It’s a funny thing, fate. It loves to fuck you over.

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