Sneak Peak: Chapter 1 of LIFE BEFORE DAMAGED, VOL 1 by H.M. Ward
Sidney nervously twists her engagement ring on her finger and looks up at me. In that soft voice, the one she uses when she’s worried, she asks, “What’d you find?”
The pit of my stomach has been in freefall all day, ever since I opened that last box. It was hers—Gina’s. After everything we went through, I never realized Gina kept a journal, an account of everything, including vivid descriptions of the man I once was. Sidney knows about my reputation, but what was printed in the tabloids and what’s written in these diaries are two very different stories.
It’s strange being in love again. I thought I’d die alone. After I lost Gina, I had no aspirations, no hope. Then Sidney changed my life. Holding these books makes me feel my old self, still there, buried deep within. All the rage, the fights, the never-ending line of women who would do anything to fuck me—in these pages, the memories are vivid. As each remembered moment blurs by, I feel the impact, the void of who I was screaming out from deep within. But that period of my life is over, lost to the past, and I force the echoes of who I was to be quiet once more.
Truth be told, I don’t miss that life, but I worry about what will happen when Sidney discovers who I was, what I was. Sidney thinks the best of me. She sees me as the English professor, the poet. But deep within, I’m not him. This part of my past lurks within me still. It reared its ugly head when Sidney’s ex tried to hurt her. I made him pay for that. My violence was justified, but it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day—even though I changed my name—I’m still Pete Ferro.
Glancing at the journals in my hands, I make the choice. She needs to know. If Sidney is marrying me, she needs to see the good and the bad. Reading it from a tabloid isn’t enough. Swallowing hard, I cross the room clutching the books tightly.
I look around the little house Sean gave us, thinking, yet again, how perfect it is—right down to the custom made perch for Mr. Turkey. Sean acts so stoic that I think he doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything, then he does something like this. I can’t figure him out. When I see Sean and think of his life, I wonder how similar we really are; I wonder if the only reason that I’m different is because I pretend to be.
Is that all it takes to change? Maybe I’m not different after all, maybe I just want to be. A different last name, a different life—one that isn’t etched with scars and faded dreams. When I look at Sidney I feel alive again. The ghost of who I was disappears and I’m real—every wish, every dream able to come true and it’s all because of her. Showing these journals to her could destroy us, but hearing the truth about me from someone else would be so much worse. I won’t take that chance.
Sidney is sitting on the bed, solemnly waiting for me to speak, as if she can sense the weight on my soul. I’d thought my soul was irretrievably lost until Sidney sat down at my table and flashed that beautiful smile. Thank God for her.
“Sidney?” Although I try, I can’t hide my feelings from her, I never could.
“Peter, what is it?”
I sit down facing her, making the bed dip beneath my weight, and place the books on the comforter between us. “While I was going through my old things, I found these—they’re Gina’s journals.” My voice catches and I look everywhere except at Sidney. Sucking in air, I push through. I need to say this before the hole in my chest consumes me. It’s growing, adding pressure that wasn’t there a moment ago. It scolds me, urging silence.
She won’t understand, a voice says in the back of my mind. It latches onto times that I tried to tell the truth and it bit me on the ass. Ice forms, freezing my skin from the inside out, until I shiver.
Sidney places her palm on my hand. It’s warm and steady, firm and fragile. She looks up at me with those dark eyes and I want to melt into her. I want to shove these in the trash and run, but I can’t. No matter how hard I try, I can’t change who I was—who I am.
She has to know.
I manage a half-smile as I look down at her. “While I was unpacking, I found a few old boxes that I never opened after the last move. They were relics from an old life, a past that I didn’t want to remember.” I pause, trying to muster the strength to say the rest and hand over the books. My jaw tightens as if my body knows this is the fastest way to kill our relationship, but my heart protests. It speaks, forcing the words over my lips, “When I opened it today, I found these books. They’re Gina’s journals.”
Sidney’s mouth drops, forming a little O, as a whirlwind of emotions play across her face. Her grip on my hand tightens as she leans in. “Oh, my God. Peter, I’m so sorry. That must have been hard.” She reaches forward, taking my other hand, trying to comfort me, but that’s the last thing I want right now.
Tipping her head to mine, our foreheads touch. I still, holding her hands, breathing her in, allowing myself to get intoxicated with her scent—her touch. A smile plays on her lips and one of her hands reaches around my neck. She rests her wrist on my shoulder while her fingers play with the hair at the nape of my neck. It’s a Sidney motion of kindness, something that makes me want to pull her to my chest and never let go.
Ever since she found out that I was a Ferro, and about Gina, she’s been nothing but kind. With the upcoming wedding, Sidney didn’t even ask me to drop Gina’s last name. She would take it if I asked her to, I know she would. Sidney understands loss in a way that many can’t. That’s why withholding this part of my life from her isn’t right. I don’t deserve her.
This is my chance, I know it. It could backfire horribly, and yet, it feels right. Pulling back, I shove my hands through my hair and let out a rush of air. “The thing is, these diaries are about me, about who I was before we met. The guy in the papers doesn’t hold a torch to the asshole I used to be, and Sidney, he’s still here.” Leaning in toward the books, I tap one of the covers. “This guy is still part of me.”
From the look on her face, I know she doesn’t believe me. It’s not that she thinks I’m lying, but it’s compassion and forgiveness given unknowingly. I take her hand and absently toy with the stone on her ring. “This is something that you need to know. I’m not the man I was before, but he’s still here, buried inside. Asking you to read these is strange, I know. It has the thoughts of another woman and—”
Sidney reaches out, stands, and places a finger on my lips. My heart aches so badly it feels like it may explode. “Shhh. Peter, you aren’t the guy you were before. Anyone can see that. Hell, even Sean can see that and he’s an asshole.” She drops her hand and offers a small smile. “Everyone has a past, even me. We don’t have to do this.”
“Your past is different. You didn’t willingly, knowingly do bad things. I did. If you’re going to marry me, if you want to truly be with me and understand my shadows, my faults, and help me from slipping back into the man I was, you need to read these.”
My stomach twists into knots saying this to her. There’s a million different ways she could take this new information, and I have no idea how much detail Gina went into about how I treated her, what she saw, and what I did. I couldn’t bring myself to read more than a few pages. Each one was about how messed up I was and how much she hated me. I was cruel to her, and there was no reason, no excuse. Gina painted me as the perfect storm, glorious to behold and equally deadly, destroying everything in its path without remorse or shame.
Sidney takes the first book and nods. “I’d do anything for you Peter, but no matter what’s in here, it won’t change my mind about you, about us.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.” Stepping back quickly, I shove my hands in my pockets and dart out of the room before she can respond.
~Excerpt from LIFE BEFORE DAMAGED, VOL. 1 by H.M. Ward, a new adult romance Ferro Family serial. Coming Soon! Please note that this is not the final copy. Changes may be made prior to publication.