A bright light woke me from my slumber, and blinking, I lifted my head, immediately looking around for Clint. He was still sleeping next to me, his face towards the floor and buried in his arms, seemingly unaffected by the light. I glanced towards the front of the pool room, looking for whoever flipped the light switch.
Before I found the culprit, strong hands roughly grabbed me from behind, scooping me up and lifting me from the floor. “Wha—” I began, struggling to turn and see who had picked me up, but then I was freefalling for an instant before I hit the water.
I came up spluttering, spitting out the water which had invaded my body as something hit the water next to me. Noticing movement up on the tiled edge of the pool, I addressed a confused Clint and said, “What the hell is hap—”
Before I could finish the sentence, someone pushed me under the water from behind and held me there. Since my mouth was still open from talking, I immediately began drowning. Water which had long been my sanctuary suddenly felt like my tomb as it began to suffocate me. I kicked and flailed at the unseen assailant holding me under the surface, and though I collided several times with their soaked clothing, whoever held me was determined to kill me.
In desperation I finally managed to break the surface for a moment to steal the briefest of breaths before being shoved under again. In that moment I heard Clint shouting with primal fury as he hit the water next to us.
“Get the fuck off of him!”
I was wrenched backwards through the water for a moment as Clint collided with my assailant before he let go of me. I swam a short distance away and surfaced quickly, spinning around to get a view of what was going on.
“Clint? What is . . .?” I asked, then froze and almost started sinking into the water as my eyes locked onto our attacker. My father chased Clint through the water, his clothing dragging and weighing him down as Clint swam backward toward the shallow end, doing his best to keep out of my father's reach. Even in his clothing, however, my father was still a skilled swimmer who could outmatch Clint's ability any day. He caught up to Clint at the five-foot depth mark, grabbing him by the ankle and tugging him underneath the water.
“Dad!” I shouted, fear of Clint's imminent danger momentarily paralyzing me. Rage then consumed my fear and spit it out as white-hot fury, and I started toward them, determined to stop my father whatever it took. I put my head underwater and started toward them, swimming until I ran out of breath, then poked my head up to get my bearings.
Clint was still struggling to get away from my father, who couldn't quite keep his hold on him but still managed to pull Clint under every so often. I needed to get over there to help and soon, but then I noticed the pool chair near the edge of the pool and the cane resting on the floor next to it. I changed my direction.
“You think you can come in here and take advantage of my son, do you?" My dad shouted crazily as he pulled Clint under the water again. "You think you’re good enough for this family!”
I reached the edge of the pool and pulled my upper body completely out of the water, lunging forward to grab my cane before dropping back into the pool. Turning toward my father and Clint, I shouted angrily, “Get away from him!”
If my father heard me, he paid me no heed, and continued in his attempts to drown my boyfriend. Clint had led my father all the way to the shallow end of the pool now, but the odds were now stacked against him. My father was bigger, stronger, and still the better swimmer. The shallow water proved to his advantage in overwhelming Clint, and he wrestled Clint under the surface as his face contorted in maniacal rage. “You’re filthy, a lowlife with no merit whatsoever!" My father shouted as he held Clint under the water. Clint's hands clawed and raked at my father's arms but to no avail. I tore through the water with every ounce of energy I could muster. My father continued to deliver his tirade as I swam closer, slowing my approach as I reached the shallows and standing in the water. "You’re going to pay for your insolence, you’re—”
I wasn't about to give my father the chance to finish that sentence. Shifting the cane from one hand to the other before wielding it in both hands like a baseball bat, I shouted one final time, “I said get away from him!”
I'd swung my cane with all of my strength behind it, whipping it at the back of my father's head with tremendous speed. He'd turned slightly at my forceful shout and the strike caught him across the temple instead of the softer flesh I'd been aiming for. The cane splintered upon impact and then snapped, the ornately carved head flying far away from us.
My father dropped to the water face first, but I ignored him as soon as I realized he wasn't fighting back. Instead I reached for Clint and helped him come to the surface and take a big breath. “Clint, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m all right, you?” He asked, breathing heavily. Choking and sputtering, he spit out a bit of water and then pulled me into him, crushing me in a tight hug. “What the hell was that ab—” he began, then pulled away from me and shouted, “Zane!”
I followed his movements through the water where my father continued to float facedown and unmoving. A small trail of blood floated away from him, slowly darkening the water around him. “Shit. Shit!” I shouted, but remained frozen where I was, sickened by the sight in front of me.
“Come on, help me get him out of the pool,” Clint said insistently, but I remained in the state of shock. Even as Clint flipped my father's body over and I could tell he wasn't breathing, I still didn't move. “Zane!” He shouted.
I snapped to attention, but then hesitated anyway. Hadn't the man Clint wanted me to save just attacked me? “I . . .” I said, unable to make a decision either way.
Clint noted my hesitation with immediate understanding and said, “I don’t care what he did, we can’t just let him drown, Zane.”
He was right. No matter what, I couldn't just let someone die if I could stop it, despite a part of me wishing I could. “Fuck!” I shouted, making my way to Clint and my father and helping Clint move him towards the edge of the pool. We lifted him out together, and then climbed out to check his condition.
“Okay, my CPR is rusty, but, I think I can manage," Clint said as he moved into position to check my father's pulse. He glanced up at me and asked, "Unless you know it?”
“Yeah," I said, nodding numbly, "I’m certified.”
“He doesn't appear to be breathing," Clint said, surprisingly calm as he counted silently to himself. "Pulse is . . ." He paused as the blood drained from his face. "There's no pulse.”
My breath caught in my throat, and then I immediately switched into emergency mode. I ripped open my father's shirt, putting my hands in position to start CPR as I rose to my knees. “Okay," I said, meeting Clint's eyes briefly, "I’ll start compressions.”
Clint nodded and stood. “I’ll go call 911. You got this?”
And then I started my compressions, leaning over my father and staring into his motionless face and the damage I'd done to it. Still bleeding from his temple, my father's face seemed frozen in the mask of rage he'd worn while trying to drown my boyfriend. The blood only served to make him look more menacing, and my rage returned full force. The anger added to the weight I put into my compressions as I counted quietly.
“Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty . . . I hate you.” The words were said in almost a whisper, but I wanted to scream them at him. I wanted him to hear me. I kept counting my compressions until I reached thirty again.
“You’re a real bastard, you know that?" I asked, keeping track of the compressions I made as I said it. Picking up where I last left off, I resumed my count, "Four, five, six . . .”
I continued to stare at him as I went up and down on his chest, my expression twitching as I struggled to keep from screaming my frustration at him. Everything he'd ever done to me, ignoring me as his son, giving preference to my sisters, the way he'd been escalating in his hostility over the past few weeks . . . it all came bubbling to the surface as I tried to save his life.
“Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one . . ." My eyes burned with fury as I growled the numbers. "I should let you die . . ." I said, but still I kept pressing on his chest, "twenty-seven, twenty-eight . . .”
“I fucking hate you . . .” I whispered. “eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . I fucking hate you!” I spat.
“Thirty, one, two, three, four . . . but you can’t fucking die on me yet!” The words surprised me, but I knew I meant them. The clarity that only a cold fury can bring told me as much. I needed him to live. I needed him to hear what I had to say.
“You have to live . . ." I said, voice rising in anger. My counting became a roar. "Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen . . . you have to live, you bastard!" I shouted, channeling everything into my hands as my palms pressed into his bare chest. It's a wonder I didn't break a rib, I was pushing with such rage-induced force. "You can’t die on me now, not until I get a chance to tell you how much of an asshole you are!” I pressed again, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty compressions, he spluttered and spit, a fountain of water erupting from his throat. He turned his head to the side and coughed, vomiting pool water as he took his first breath in at least a minute.
I pulled my hands away and sat on the back of my legs, folding my hands in my laps. I'd done what I needed to in order to keep him alive. He would receive no further help from me.
“Zane!" I heard my mother's voice calling from the other side of the room. "Oh my God, Stan!”
She rushed towards us, Clint right beside her as they made their way around the pool. When they reached us, she crouched and reached for my father's hand, her face frantic. I watched silently as he looked up and met her eyes, brow furrowed in confusion.
“He’s breathing now, Mom," I said numbly. "He’s breathing. The bastard’s alive.”
I watched in silence, unable to process anything other than kneeling next to my wounded father, the man I'd just saved. He and my mother were talking softly, but I didn't understand any of the words they were saying. I was completely numb, unaware of anything other than the sick feeling in my stomach.
It took a couple of minutes before I even processed Clint saying my name. It took him wrapping his arms around me from behind and holding me, speaking directly into my ear, for me to finally register what he was saying. “Zane, come on, you can leave him now. The paramedics are on their way.”
“I should’ve let him die,” I heard myself saying. The words didn't feel like mine. They were distant, almost as if I were hearing an echo.
“No, no, you did the right thing, Zane,” Clint said, kissing my cheek gently. "Everything is okay."
“He tried to kill you. He tried to kill me," I continued, unable to prevent my tongue from betraying my thoughts. I continued to stare at my father as I whispered, "I should’ve let him drown. I shouldn’t have saved him.”
My mother looked at me, horrified, while my father ignored me entirely. Neither said anything to me, and soon my father said something quietly to my mother which drew her attention yet again, and I was left alone except for Clint.
“Zane. Look at me,” Clint said, pulling away from my back and sitting next to me, keeping one arm wrapped around my shoulders. It took him physically turning my chin to get me to look at him, and although I could read the concern in his eyes, I couldn't comprehend what it was for.
“He tried to kill you, Clint. Don’t you understand?" I said, my tone remaining level as I explained. "He wanted to take the one good thing in my life away from me. Why did I let him live?”
I heard one of my older sisters' voices from the other side of the pool, though I was too out of it to know which one it was. “Mom! The paramedics are here!”
“Can we . . ." Clint said to my mother, "can I take Zane somewhere else? Please?”
“Yes, but stay in the house. Please. Okay?” My mother replied.
“Yes, ma’am,” I heard Clint say, but I'd already turned back toward my father, whose eyes were now closed as he held his injured head in his hands.
“I should’ve let him die,” I whispered.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I woke up some time later to the feeling of Clint's hand gently shaking me. “Zane,” He said, then a little more urgently, “Zane!”
Sitting up straight, I looked around my room, confused as to when or how I'd arrived there. I was still naked, but Clint was not, and he was standing over the edge of my bed with two mugs in his hand, steam rising from both.
“I’m sorry," I said, "did you say something?”
“You’re shivering. Drink this,” Clint said, handing me one of the mugs. I hadn't noticed until he said something, but he was right; I was shivering, and it was cold.
“What is it?” I asked, taking the cup from him and looking down at the dark brown liquid. I sniffed it and the pleasing aroma of chocolate and sweet greeted me like an old friend. This was the perfect surprise to wake up to.
“Hot chocolate," Clint confirmed as I put the mug to my lips. "Sip it. Slowly. You need to replenish some of your fluids, too.”
I arched an eyebrow, having no idea what his statement was supposed to mean. “How did we get to my room?” I asked, taking a sip and rolling it across my tongue, tasting it completely before swallowing. As soon as it was gone I took another sip and treated it the same way.
“I carried you," Clint said quietly, sitting down on the edge of my bed before taking a sip from his own cup. He kept his eyes on me the whole time as we both drank for several long seconds before he added, "You’re a lot heavier than you look, by the way.”
I couldn't think of why he'd have to do that. My memory was fuzzy. “What happened?”
Clint's eyes widened. “You don’t remember?”
“I remember having sex. I remember cuddling, I remember being in the water . . ." And then it hit me. The entire scene between Clint, my dad, and me played out in an instant. I coughed at remembering the sensation of water entering my lungs and had to set the cup of cocoa on my nightstand. Then I heard the crack of my cane breaking across his head and shuddered at the violence of the act. My mind then moved on to performing CPR, and all the things I'd said to him as he laid there in front of me. "Shit . . ." I whispered, "my dad . . .”
I trailed off as Clint reached out and put a comforting hand over mine. “You saved his life," He said quietly. "Mine, too.”
Lifting the cup to my lips to take another sip, I paused there as I processed what had happened between me and my father. Instead of taking a drink, I lowered the cup to my lap and shook my head ruefully. “Fuck. Where is he?”
“Your mom left with him in the ambulance," Clint explained. "They took him to the hospital. He was still bleeding from the head wound you gave him, and they wanted to check him over.”
"And my sisters?” I asked.
“Your older sister, Julie, is here watching Kaitlyn. Your other sister, whose name currently escapes me—"
"Chelsea," I offered.
Clint nodded and continued. "—is at the hospital with your parents. She’ll be giving your mom a ride home once she’s ready.”
I nodded, then surprised myself by asking, “Is my dad all right?”
“As far as I'm aware, yes,” Clint replied, "At least regarding the head injury and nearly drowning."
I shook my head then took another taste of hot chocolate. After I swallowed I said, “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“Be glad," Clint replied immediately. "Otherwise, we’d be facing a lot more problems, the least of which would be potential criminal ones, even though it was self-defense. I think the worst would be knowing we’re the ones who did it.”
“I can’t believe . . ." I said, then choked back a sudden wave of chaotic emotion. Swallowing hard, I forced that emotion away from me and said, "Why would he try and do that to us? He’s a prick, but he’s never been violent before. It’s like he snapped.”
Clint shrugged and sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe he really hates me that much.”
I shook my head, smirking. It could've been a lot of things, but I remembered one detail which seemed to counter Clint's logic. “He didn’t try to drown you until you protected me. He was coming after me.”
“That’s . . ." Clint looked at me in surprise, then nodded slowly in understanding. "That’s true. Maybe he’s crazy?”
I snorted at that and said, “Or he’s really a psychopath who has been biding his time.”
Clint mimicked my snort, but then he grinned and said, "You’re taking this a lot better now than you were an hour ago.”
“What time is it?” I asked, noting the sunlight coming through my window. It was sometime in the morning, that much was obvious by the light level, but since I usually used my phone to keep time and it was nowhere near me, had no idea of the actual hour.
“Roughly seven a.m.,” Clint said, fishing his phone out of his pocket. He flipped it open and read the screen. "Actually, closer to seven-thirty now. It's seven-twenty-six."
I smiled fondly and said, “So, we slept at the side of the pool all night?”
“Well," Clint said sultrily, "most of it wasn’t sleeping.”
“Heh, you’re right,” I said. “Speaking of which, why am I still naked?”
“I didn’t feel like dressing you. Don't know why, but it almost felt like an invasion of your privacy," Clint replied, shrugging. "I also haven’t gone to get your brace from the poolside yet.”
“Could you? I really need to pee,” I said. "As much as I appreciate you carrying me earlier, I think with what happened this morning I'd rather feel a little more in control.
“Yeah, I’ll be right back,” Clint replied, nodding in understanding.
Before he left my room, I said, "Oh, could you hand me my phone, too? It should be in my pants, wherever I left those."
"Not a problem," Clint said, taking a couple steps to the side and reaching down to my floor. I followed his movements and watched him pull my phone out of the pocket of my pants before tossing it to me.
I nodded my thanks and said, "I love you. Thanks for taking care of me."
Clint's eyes lit up as he replied, "I never gave it a second thought. I love you, too."
And then he was gone, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I immediately found the silence both oppressive and demanding, inviting me to sink into a state of existential dread. I'd gone through enough in the past twenty-four hours to madden the sanest of souls. At this time the day before I'd found myself questioning whether or not I even wanted to live. Not long after that, I ended up in an argument with my father, which ended with the appearance of my best friend — no, my brother — Greg, who took me to an unexpected high.
Things went from great to better as Clint finally arrived, we made up, then made love. Everything had felt right with the world, and I'd closed my eyes to rest only to have it interrupted in the rudest way possible. My own father had attempted to murder me, then my boyfriend, and then I'd nearly killed him in retaliation.
And then I saved his life. A part of me had to question whether I'd just sealed my fate, and the cycle would begin anew. Would my father come back into my life, angrier and bitterer than before? Would my mother allow it to continue and allow me to be put in danger once again? What happened if my father decided to use a weapon next time? What could I possibly do then?
I needed one of Greg's miracles he was always talking about. I needed an escape, a way to guarantee this would never happen again. This was no way to live, and I couldn't keep going with this weight on my shoulders. There had to be a solution.
My phone buzzed in my hand, and I almost dropped it when I saw the name on the screen. It wasn't the first time he'd picked up on my mood from miles away and known to call. The fucker had a preternatural sense of my dark moods. I almost laughed, though. Hadn't I just been asking for a miracle? I answered the call. “Greg? What are you doing calling so early on a Sunday?”
“Zane!" Greg said frantically. "My dad just told me about your father. Are you okay?”
“How did you . . .” I started to ask, shaking my head in disbelief. He had the uncanniest timing sometimes.
“Dude, my dad’s with the fire department," Greg said. "He was the first EMT on the scene. He said you were in shock when he arrived. You must’ve been if you didn’t even realize he was there.”
Come to think of it, even though I remembered someone mentioning the paramedics had arrived, I couldn't remember anything about seeing them. “Yeah . . ." I said carefully, "I guess it’s what happens when you almost die.”
“What? I thought your dad was the one who . . .” Greg said, trailing off in confusion.
I laughed bitterly. “My dad tried to kill me, Greg. Clint, too.”
Greg gasped and said, “Clint tried to kill you?”
“No," I said, somehow grinning despite choking back my emotions, "my dad tried to kill Clint.”
“Oh," Greg said, then was silent for a moment as he processed the information. "That is so messed up.”
“Come over," I said. "We’ll tell you all about it.”
“Be there in twenty minutes,” Greg said without hesitation.
"See you then." I ended the call and looked up as Clint re-entered my room, my brace in one hand and the two largest broken pieces of my cane in the other.
"I thought you might want these, too. You might be able to get it repaired," Clint said, raising the broken cane and gesturing with it. He nodded toward the phone in my hand and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Greg’s coming over. Hope you don’t mind.”
“No," Clint said, shaking his head. "I don't mind at all. It’ll probably be good for you to have some more company.”
I sighed as Clint walked closer and I got a better look at the broken cane. Despite the time it had spent in the pool, I swore I could still see some of my father's blood on it. “Can this be over yet?”
“Sorry, maybe I shouldn't have brought this with me," Clint said, handing me my leg brace before crossing the room and stooping to set the cane down on my desk chair. He turned around to face me after he straightened. "But I do have some good news.”
“Oh?” I asked as I started to attach my leg brace.
“I’ll be able to stay here all day," Clint replied. "I cleared it with my Dad. He and your mother are both letting me spend the night, too, even though there’s school tomorrow. If necessary, he's okay with me not going to school to watch over you, depending on how you're feeling.”
Clint was right. This was welcome news. I didn't like the thought of spending the night alone, not yet, anyway. "Does he know what happened?" I asked.
"Yes." Clint nodded. "I tell my dad everything. He's glad we're both okay."
I met his eyes until mine started to water, then I hung my head and looked away, busying my hands in finishing to attach the brace. “Wish I had your dad . . .” I mumbled.
As silent as a mouse, Clint moved across my floor and stood in front of me. I started slightly when he sat down next to me and rested a hand on my naked thigh. “Maybe someday,” He whispered.
“What?” I asked, looking up at him in surprise.
“Nothing," Clint said, grinning. "It's way too early to be talking about marriage.”
I laughed at the absurdity of this conversation, but my negative emotions were dissipated by the blessed mischievousness of the amazing boy next to me. “I love you,” I said, half crying, half laughing.
He kissed me gently, then said, “Yeah, you do.”
“It’s not mutual?” I asked, eyes widening.
“Come on," Clint said, taking my hand and winking. "Let’s get you to the bathroom. If you still think I haven't answered your question by the time we get there, I'll give you something special.”
I laughed and replied, "I already know how you feel, but I'm tempted to take the bet, just to find out what 'something special' is."
With my brace finally adjusted, Clint helped me to my feet and out into the hallway. He was supportive every step of the way, his stance and strength unwavering as he held onto me and provided me with support. I glanced into his eyes every so often as we walked to the bathroom and never caught a hint of judgment or impatience.
I wanted my something special, but he'd left no doubt at all as to how he felt about me by the time I'd finished my business in the bathroom. As I washed my hands, I realized I was crying, and, ever one to up the ante, Clint wrapped his arms around me from behind and leaned his face forward, silently kissing away my tears.His head was one weight on my shoulders that I'd never grow weary of. He loved me, and I'd never question it again. NEXT CHAPTER