Madelaine took a deep, steadying breath and marched into the lion’s den.
He was sleeping. Thank God.
She stood in the doorway, uncertain for a second as to her best course of action. She could turn around and leave right now or she could wake him up and talk to him. Or she could sit down beside him and look at him. Just look.
Quietly she closed the door shut behind her. Weak autumn sunlight shone through the small window, giving the room a respite from the cold impersonality of fluorescent lighting. The narrow, metal-framed bed cut the room in half.
He lay as motionless as death, the washed-out gray sheeting tucked haphazardly across his chest. Dark brown hair lay in a tangled heap against the white cotton of the pillow. His chiseled face looked sunken and too thin; his lips were pale. A stubbly growth of black beard shadowed his triangular jaw and darkened his upper lip.
Even so, he was so handsome he took her breath away.
She sank unsteadily to the chair. For a second she couldn’t think about his illness or what was at stake here. All she could think about was the past and how much she’d loved this man.
He had swept her, laughing, into a whole new world. A world of lights and possibility and hope, a place where rules and responsibility didn’t exist. She’d clung to him, giggling, believing, following wherever he led, so proud that hers was the hand he wanted to hold. She’d fallen in love with him in the wild, abandoned way that only teenagers could. Made excuses during the day to be together, sneaking from her father’s austere house in the middle of the night. It was the first time she’d ever disobeyed her father, and it had made her feel recklessly confident.
With the distance of so many years, she knew that she’d never really fallen in love with him, not in the way that lasts. She’d been consumed by his brushfire passion, transformed by him.
There had been that night, under the old oak tree at Carrington Park….
They’d been lying in the grass, staring up at the night sky, wishing on stars, sharing their dreams, holding each other. But she’d known it was time to go home. Her father would be getting back from his business trip.
She pulled away from him, staring down the long, darkened street. The thought of leaving him, returning to that cold house and her even colder father, made her feel almost sick with desperation. “I don’t want to go back….” She realized instantly that she’d said too much. She held her breath, waiting for Angel to call her silly or stupid or childish–all the words her father hurled at her with such regularity.
But he didn’t. He touched her cheek, gently turned her face to his. “Don’t. Stay with me. We could run away…raise a family…be a family….” Madelaine had never known what it could feel like to love someone until that moment. The emotion swept through her, filling her soul with heat until, suddenly, she was laughing, and then she was crying. “I love you, Angel.”
Ah…it had been so painfully sweet…
He pulled her into his arms, held her so tightly, she couldn’t breathe. Together they dropped to their knees in the spongy grass. She felt his hands on her, stroking her hair, her back, her hips. And then he was kissing her, tasting her tears, claiming her so completely with his mouth that she felt dizzy.
At last he drew back and stared down at her. There was an intensity in his eyes that stole her breath, made her heart beat wildly. “I love you, Madelaine. I don’t…I mean, I’ve never…” Tears squeezed past his eyelashes and he started to wipe them away.
She stopped his hand. “Don’t be afraid,” she whispered.
He gave her a trembling smile. In that instant she understood so much about him, about the way he was. He went about swaggering and blustering and acting like the rebel, but on the inside he was just like her. Scared and confused and lonely. He didn’t believe in himself, didn’t think he was good, but he was–she believed in him enough for both of them. And he loved her like no one had ever loved her before….
Such powerful, powerful words: I love you…
After that, she’d told him everything, opened her heart and soul to him and let him become a part of her. Without him, she hadn’t thought she could live.
What if he could do that to her again?
She forced herself to remember the other things, the other moments, letting the pain wash through her in a cold, cleansing sweep.
She’d thought she’d forgiven him for what he’d done to her–for leaving her without so much as a good-bye. Honestly, truly, she thought she had. Time and again she’d replayed the sequence of events in her head. She told herself she didn’t blame Angel for running out on her. She told herself that seventeen was young, so young, and with each advancing year of her life, it felt younger still. She told herself it had been for the best, that they never would have made it, that they would have ruined each other’s lives.
Yes, she’d told herself a lot of things, but now, in this second, staring down at him, she recognized the truth at last. They were lies, all of them lies. Pretty foil paper on a dark, ugly gift.
She hadn’t forgiven him. How could she?
He’d killed a part of her that summer, a part he’d created and nurtured and claimed to love. A part she’d never gotten back.
From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Home Again by Kristin Hannah. Copyright © 1996 by Kristin Hannah. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.