The Girl & Her Ren Page 2

Why did she tell her husband to shoot me and specifically mention what I could have in my stolen bag as I ducked and bolted through their cornfields?

The only two answers I could come up with were:

One, she wanted me and Della dead and figured she could kill two birds with one stone, blaming me when they walked to my gunshot body and noticed the bullet that killed me also killed their daughter.

Or two, Mrs Mclary wasn’t as evil or as complacent as I thought. Maybe she knew I was about to run and figured I was a better chance for Della than her husband ever was. The same husband who raped young girls when he believed his wife was upstairs asleep. The same husband who went to church and sang before God and donated at least an acre of produce every season. The same husband who was pure filth decorated in small town trust and lies.

Regardless of my questions, it didn’t change the fact Della ceased being theirs that night and became mine instead.

Every year from the first to the last, I loved that girl as if she were my very own blood, sweat, and tears. Girl made from my bones. Child made from my heart. Woman made from my soul.

The perfect mirroring piece that reflected everything I’d never had, loving me as unconditionally as I’d loved her, making me believe that questions didn’t matter when it came to us.

We were too important. Too perfect for one another. Too connected.

There was no argument. No denying. No elaborating the absolute truth. It didn’t matter if she was six or sixteen; our bond was unshakeable.

Which was why leaving her was worse than the worst thing I could do. Why walking away wasn’t just painful, it was suicidal.

I’d come alive the day Della became my family, and I died the day she ceased to be.

And it was my fault.

For so many years, I’d told myself my love was innocent.

I’d clutched onto my lies.

I’d hoped I could keep her, regardless of how my heart silently changed from protector to traitor.

But then, I woke up.

I saw the truth.

I understood the facts.

I tore out my godforsaken heart.

And my questions didn’t matter anymore.

Because all I knew, all I wanted, all I could bear was redemption from everything I’d done wrong.

And for the first time in my life, I wished she’d never been in my backpack, after all.

CHAPTER TWO

DELLA

* * * * * *

2018

LET ME ASK you a question.

Why exactly are you still here?

Didn’t I vow never to write in you again? Didn’t I close your document, bury the file, and shove aside all memory of Ren Wild and the secrets I was stupidly sharing with you?

Yet…here you are, still lurking on my desktop, a judging little icon begging me for an ending.

But I manage to ignore your taunting. I keep my mouse pointer well away from your pain and open a new file labelled Assignment Version 2.0.

Or that’s what I did for the past little while, at least.

I earned an extension when I had nothing to hand in to Professor Baxter. I blamed the flu—which normally wouldn’t be a homework-delayable excuse—but I have a bit of a reputation at college, you see.

The reputation of being a quiet, diligent student who enrolled the very afternoon she finished her high school exams. The moment I was free, I walked out of those halls and marched to the university a few blocks away. They weren’t open for new admissions yet, and I didn’t have my results from English, math, and science—not to mention any legal identification.

But that didn’t stop me.

I practically got on my hands and knees for a chance to attend. To know I had a place to go, an institution to hide in because I no longer had anyone to call my own.

They were strict on no special treatment, but something in my desperation must’ve swayed them because my pleas were answered nine days later, and I was accepted into the creative writing course that I’d coveted for a while.

And, thanks to skills used to fibbing about our truth, I was able to extend the deadline for providing personal documentation, enrolling without proving who I was.

All I cared about was a new adventure that would keep my thoughts far from Ren—for however long it lasted.

Not that anything had that power…but I had to try.

The second I entered campus, I gathered a reputation that stuck.

I was known as the earliest arrival and last to depart. I studied with sheer-minded focus. I never answered back. I was hardworking and didn’t make trouble.

Along with an academic reputation, people made assumptions about me as a person. They knew me as slow to smile and last to laugh. A reputation for being a loner who would rather celebrate her upcoming eighteenth birthday on her own, rather than risk her heart by asking friends to fill up the hole inside her.

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