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"I haven't been honest with everyone here. And quite frankly, I'm not sure any of us are being honest with ourselves anymore," Lena began her speech at her group therapy the following week, and her silent audience was an indication that they, too, could relate to the mess collecting and building inside of her. She made her son a promise. A promise that she could no longer keep avoiding. She needed to overcome the grief keeping her hostage for not only the perfect family she tried to keep together, but for herself. Lena had lost parts of herself she hadn't been in touch with since the moment Emmett walked into her life and claimed her heart and she intended on rectifying that mistake sooner rather than later.
Long story short, she had lied when she said she wasn't dead. She died the moment she let a man define who she was and she was no longer going to sit back and let him run the show. Almost losing Quinn, and having been at fault, was a big wake-up call and it was all she could think about for a week straight. Even now, with all these people waiting for her to speak her truth, she felt a new-found strength in the concept of trial and error. She'd tried to do it Emmett's way, using pleasure to hide the pain, but it hadn't worked. The pain only grew with every drop she inflicted onto others around her. Now, she needed to do it her way, while she absorbed the love she received from those who cared about her most.
"I hate liars," Lena continued, adding a short laugh before she continued. "And it took some recent events to make me realize that I had become one. It created another addiction, and with that came self-loathing, because I studied medicine, I know how addiction works, how bad it can get. And yet, there I was, completely enthralled by a man who had decided violence would solve the chronic sadness I wore on my sleeves," she added, taking a breath before she began again.
"He was good at that, you know? Dragging out the worst of you, just to use it against you, to make you think everything was your fault. And so one morning, while I heard him complain about how bad my scrambled eggs were, I lost it. All the pain that stemmed from my childhood unleashed itself, leading all the way up to that same morning, when he had slapped me across the face just to make sure I knew how bad of a cook I was, in front of our son, who was watching the entire thing."
"I took that frying pan and I hit him over and over again, and my god, if I could describe the kind of relief I felt once I had him in my mercy for once," she paused and glanced down at her shaking hands gripping the podium as she told her story, recalling the day that caused a permanent ache inside of her. "I want you to know, as I saw the light in his eyes burn out when he passed, and even now as I speak of our last moment together, I still feel like he's a part of me. In my mind, in my heart, and everywhere in between. And I'm here to find out why I still need him to be."
As soon as she spoke her last words, she looked up to find the crowd in tears. Even Liam, who was looking at her as if he just watched his favorite child accomplish something he didn't think was possible.
The hour passed quicker than normal, and Lena felt bummed about it for the first time since she started her therapy. Members of her group and even Ethan, had come up to her to tell her she wasn't alone in her pain, and that they were thankful someone else had spoken the words out loud. And for the first time in a long time, Lena felt like she finally had the strength to be in a world where she didn't depend on her love for Emmett to keep her breathing.
"You're my hero," Ethan Cavalier claimed with a brilliant smile as he sat across from her at Hazel's coffee shop. Lena rolled her eyes while she sipped at her favorite caramel latte with delight.
"I'm no such thing," she insisted as she licked off the whipped cream from her top lip, and smirked as she noticed Ethan watching her attentively.
"Does your son know he has the bravest mother around town?" he egged on, causing her to chuckle.
"He hates me actually. But that's okay. It's his way of coping. As long as it's me taking the punches, I'm okay with it," Lena informed as she studied the man across from her. He was the observant type, always picking up on her expressions to know when to strike. While Emmett had used that to hurt her, Ethan harnessed it to make her smile and cause her heart to skip a beat.
"I'm sure he knows you love him even on his bad days," Ethan added, and she noticed how his eyes looked like he hadn't been able to close them for days. He was reliving his own trauma in his sleep, which involved his ex-wife throwing their newborn baby across the room because he wouldn't stop crying. The baby boy had died on his way to the hospital, according to Ethan's confessions during their group meetings, and he was pretty adamant on stopping his torture once and for all.
"Did you love her? Even on her bad days?" Lena asked him, referring to his former spouse who'd been institutionalized after the incident after being diagnosed with postpartum depression and bi-polar disorder. She’d gotten violent with him several times before, during her tantrums, and as he’d only just openly admitted it a week prior to her as well as the rest of their group, Lena finally realized he had just as much of a right to be there as she did.
"I honestly thought adding a baby to the mix was a good idea. She was happy. For a while anyway," he paused, taking a breath, "I should've been there that day, Lena. I shouldn't have left her alone with him." Ethan explained, his voice cracking as he looked away from her. Lena took his hand in hers and gave it a light squeeze, bringing his attention back to her. The pain in his eyes was evident and it broke what was left of the heart Emmett had skewed with his violent hands and hurtful words.
"Ethan, I'm going to sound like a broken record, but I hope you understand that what happened that day wasn't your fault," she claimed, and gave him a small smile when he squeezed her hand back.
"Do you think my baby boy would be mad if I stopped visiting his mother for good?" Ethan asked her and while she never knew men could be this vulnerable and open without shame cloaking them, she found this side of him extremely attractive and couldn't wait to see more of it if he'd let her.
"I think he'd want you to be happy, with whomever you do decide to visit," she offered and cocked his head to the side as he studied her again, swallowing hard as he removed his hand away from hers.
"It's a bit overwhelming how beautiful you are, Lena Samuels," Ethan confessed, his words bringing out her best smile and a taste for seduction.
"Beauty is often subjective, Mr. Cavalier. I hope you'll let me show you more of it," Lena replied suggestively, causing him to laugh and scoot closer to her chair, leaning into her personal space to stare at her straight in the eye and cause her to forget she was supposed to lay off sex until she got herself together.
"As long as you let me keep that smile on your face, you have yourself a deal."
The smell of a sterilized hospital floor, and the buzzing commotion of busy nurses picking up phone calls and updating charts never felt more at home than it did now. She missed being useful, having a purpose, helping to save lives when needed. But just like every other beautiful thing Emmett had ruined for her, being a nurse was unfortunately one of them.
He'd belittle her in front of her colleagues whenever he picked her up after work, gaining sympathy glances from her fellow nurses as they watched her leave with the devil. They'd argue about it on their way home, but Emmett always liked it when she tried to stand up for herself. It made his prick stand tall and proud underneath his slacks and he always managed to convince her make-up sex would cure their problems. And they did, during the beginning stage of their relationship. She stopped enjoying their banter the moment he took a dark turn straight into emotional and physical abuse.
None of it mattered now that he was gone. She had no one to embarrass her in front of her friends, her colleagues. She was free to return to the career she worked so hard for. But it would take time away from being a mother and the pay wasn't as promising as the generosity Dante showed her on a weekly basis.
"Hi, I'm Lena Samuels, in to see Quinn Waverly. I'm...a friend," Lena announced to the dark haired nurse, who's name was Charlotte according to the security card hanging around her neck.
"Just in time. She's about to be discharged today. Room one-oh-four, to your right," Nurse Charlotte informed, as she gave her a clearance tag to place it onto her cardigan. Once she finished, Lena made her way towards Quinn's room, but stopped dead in her tracks as she spotted her brother entering her room, with a small brown paper bag.
What the hell was Leo doing here? Had he followed her?
Lena knew he volunteered his military medical training to the hospital when needed but this was too much of a coincidence. The part of her that wished she could stop seeing the good in people more often was lying dormant while the other half, the part that screamed for her to march in there for answers and stand her ground was gaining more traction by the second. However, Lena decided to wait until she saw her brother exit the room and slipped in right after him, to catch Quinn off guard.
The strawberry-blonde was packing her belongings into a duffel bag when Lena stealthily entered, and when she caught the sight of a stack of cash, she knew then her brother and her alleged friend were hiding behind a friendly hospital visit and disappointment filled her.
"Did you ever plan on telling me my brother paid you to sleep with me?" Lena bluntly asked as the lump in her throat rose and she struggled to keep her tears at bay. Quinn straightened at the sound of her voice and quickly closed up her duffel bag before she turned to face her.
"Lena. I'm glad you came," Quinn answered calmly, ignoring her accusation completely. Her evasive reply had Lena's blood boiling with anger but as soon as she saw the marks her own hands had left on Quinn's neck, she simmered down and took a breath. She couldn't afford to lose it again.
"Cut the shit, Quinn. How do you two even know each other and why did he think it was a good idea to pay you for seducing me?" she repeated and the change of expression on her face only confirmed Lena's suspicions further.
"We served together before I got discharged. He set this all up for you to get better, for you to be free of Emmett's hold on you," Quinn confessed as she crossed her arms, and Lena was left to stew in her words.
"Are you saying he knew about us the entire time?"
"Yes. He knew how good I was at giving orders, at manipulating in order to gain the outcome I wanted. And it worked. You're better now than you ever were before you and I crossed paths," she added. Lena felt the sting of betrayal pierce her so strongly, all she could do was let the tears fall down her cheeks.
"Did he plan on you ending up here too? Did he know I almost killed you with my grief?" Lena asked the woman before her and watched as she slowly made her way towards her and grabbed a hold of her hands.
"Lena, it wasn't my first rodeo. I've been tortured by the worst and I'm still standing, still helping those who need it."
"At the cost of your own life?" Lena replied as Quinn wrapped her arms around her for a hug. It felt like a goodbye and Lena wasn't sure she was ready to let her go. She also knew she had to, if she planned on getting better.
"I'm a tough girl. I can handle pretty much anything. And so can you. You just need to believe it first."
"You're quiet. Which isn't a good sign at all," Ethan mentioned, as he entered his black pick-up truck and turned to face her, while she sat in the passengers seat and her head felt as if it were about to explode with the betrayal that had come from one of the handful of people she trusted, her own brother.
"It's not you. I had a wonderful time," Lena answered, giving him a small smile.
"I thought you hated being a liar," Ethan called her out, and she'd be lying if she said it wasn't a turn on. He had a way of finessing himself into her life, interrupting momentarily everything that was hurting her inside and she planned on thanking him for it soon.
"You caught me. The movie was incredibly boring and the company was being too much of a gentleman to see the bigger picture," Lena explained, sending him a gaze full of pent-up sexual frustration. He had mentioned he wasn't ready for their relationship to be serious considering their pasts but judging from the smoldering look he was giving her in return, parts of him were definitely ready to break that boundary.
"You're making it really hard for me not to fall into your feminine allure in that dress," Ethan expressed as his gaze traveled down to the flowered print summer dress whose hem rested on her exposed thigh. Lena felt herself grip at her seat belt buckle, hoping he'd say the words that would allow her to release some of the tension that intended on suffocating them.
"I'm glad you finally noticed," she responded softly as she froze when he turned and leaned in closer to her lips. She hadn't kissed a man since her ex-husband, but she definitely felt confident enough to go through with it tonight. She'd been having dreams about kissing Ethan since the night he helped her soothe her pounding headache and every night after that despite her husband's voice trying to talk her out of it.
"Go for it, Lena. I want you to understand why this isn't your best idea," Emmett's voice pounded inside her head, but she ignored it just in time to enjoy the amount of comforting warmth and desire Ethan's lips provided for her. He was a slow kisser. The kind that took his time in learning how to make you groan with desperation, yearn for more than just another kiss. She felt like a teenager again. Making out in the parking lot of a movie theater, not caring if the onlookers caught a show behind the foggy mirrors of his truck. And they would certainly get one if they could only see what Ethan's mouth was doing to her now exposed nipples. She wanted more of him. She wanted all of him. Lena only hoped he'd spoil her with the same affection he'd given so freely to someone who never deserved it.
"Do you have any idea how sexy you are?" Ethan asked as he kissed down her neck and nibbled onto her exposed shoulder. She smirked as she reached to touch the potent erection he didn't try to hide, and stroked his hard length with her warm hand. She wondered if he knew just how wet she'd gotten since he started to successfully kiss away the doubts Emmett had planted into her mind before their first date began.
"I'm a mom. Sexy died a long time ago. But you're more than welcomed to remind me," she teased, causing his laughter to erupt from his chest and vibrate against her heated skin as he swelled greatly into her palm.
"And I plan to. But not tonight," he said huskily, blowing out a deep breath, as he tried to hide the smile she had caused. Lena watched him pull her palm out of his pants, and plant a soft kiss on the back of her hand, while the desire to climax still lingered within his smokey light blue eyes, and she caught herself looking forward to a less murky future without pain anchoring her down.