November 9

Page 30


Ben makes a face like he’s in pain again, but this time he’s very convincing. “Go on,” he says, forcing the words out of his mouth.
“He tried to take off my bra at one point and I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want him to see it. He was really nice about it and didn’t ask me to keep going. And if I’m being honest, that bothered me a little. I kind of wanted him to console me and act like he still wanted me, but he seemed a little relieved that I stopped it.”
Ben rolls onto his back and rubs his hands up and down his face. After a moment, he resumes his position, looking down on me. “Please don’t ever speak to that fucking douchebag again.”
A surprising wave of heat rolls over me with those words. His thumb brushes my jaw and his expression is full of sincerity. “What didn’t you want him to see?”
The confusion on my face prompts him to be more detailed. “You said, ‘I didn’t want him to see it.’ But if your shirt was already off and he already saw your scars, what is it you’re referring to?”
I swallow. I want to pull a pillow over my face and hide. I can’t believe he caught that.
In fact, I think I will pull a pillow over my face.
“Stop,” he says, when I try to grab for the pillow. He tucks it back under my head and leans in closer. “It’s me, Fallon. Don’t be embarrassed. Tell me what you were referring to.”
I inhale a deep breath, hoping more air in my lungs will somehow give me more courage to answer him. And then I release the breath as slow as possible so I can drag out having to answer him.
I cover my eyes with my arm and say it as fast as I can. “My left breast.”
I wait for him to ask more questions, or make me move my arm, but he doesn’t. I can’t believe I just told him that. I’ve never told anyone that, not even Amber. During the fire, not only was most of the left half of my body burned, but as if that wasn’t punishment enough, I was injured when they tried to pull me out the top-story window. Luckily I don’t remember anything between falling asleep that night and waking up in the hospital, but the scars are a daily reminder. And my left breast bore the brunt of most of it. And I’m not stupid. I know to guys, breasts are supposed to be beautiful and symmetrical, and mine aren’t.
I feel Ben’s hand meet my wrist and he pulls my arm from my face. He gently palms my cheek. “Why would it bother you for anyone to see it? Because it’s scarred?”
I nod, but then I shake my head. “This is so embarrassing, Ben.”
“Not to me,” he says. “And it sure as hell shouldn’t be for you. I’ve seen you without a shirt already, remember? As I recall, it was pretty magnificent.”
“You’ve seen me without a shirt, but you should see me without a bra. You would understand.”
Ben immediately lifts up onto his elbow. “Okay.”
I stare at him in disbelief. “That wasn’t an invitation.”
“But I want to see it.”
I shake my head. I even laugh, because there’s no way in hell I’m just going to plop my boob out of my shirt so he can gawk at its hideousness.
“I want to do the book justice, and your injuries are something I have to talk about. So you should let me see it. We’ll consider it research.”
It feels like his words just backhanded my heart. “What?” My voice is so unsteady, it sounds like I’m crying. But I’m not. Yet. “What do you mean you’ll have to talk about it in the book? You aren’t really writing about my scars, are you?”
Confusion encompasses his face. “It’s part of your story. Of course I’m writing about it.”
I lift up on my elbows and narrow my eyes in his direction. “I wanted you to fictionalize me and make me pretty, Ben. You can’t make the main character a freak show. No one wants to identify with that. Main characters should be beautiful and . . .”
Ben immediately rolls on top of me and covers my mouth with his hand. He inhales a deep breath in preparation for what seems like a fight. He releases it quickly, his jaw twitching with irritation.
“You listen to me,” he says, keeping his hand secured over my mouth so that I can’t interrupt him. “It pisses me off that you allow something so trivial to define such a huge part of you. I can’t make you pretty in this book, because that would be an insult. You’re fucking beautiful. And you’re funny. And the only times I’m not completely enamored by you are the moments you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Because I don’t know if you’ve realized this yet, but you’re alive, Fallon. And every time you look in the mirror, you don’t have the right to hate what you see. Because you survived when a lot of people don’t get that lucky. So from now on when you think about your scars, you aren’t allowed to resent them. You’re going to embrace them, because you’re lucky to be on this earth to see them. And any guy you allow to touch your scars better thank you for that privilege.”
My chest hurts.
I can’t breathe.
He removes his hand from my mouth and when he does, I gasp for breath. My eyes rim with tears and I can’t stop myself from shaking as I try to suppress them. Ben lowers himself completely on top of me, cradling my head in his hands. He presses his lips to the side of my head and then whispers, “You deserved that, Fallon.”
And I nod, because he’s right.
He’s right.
Of course he’s right. I’m alive and I’m healthy and yes, the fire left its thumbprint on my skin, but it didn’t take the most important parts of me. It wasn’t able to reach anything beneath the surface. So why am I treating myself like it did?