Bring Me Back: Chapter 23


Daily Affirmation: “I belong here on this earth.”

“I owe you an apology.”

I sandwich the phone between my ear and my shoulder and switch Wilbur’s leash to my other hand. “No, Drew. You don’t owe me anything.”

“Just let me say this, okay?”


He exhales a long breath. “I shouldn’t have told you that I wanted to be with you. I think I panicked when you started seeing James because for the past two years, it’s been me and you. We were both fucked up when we got to Clearview, and we were going to get out and take on the world together. Partners in crime. But then your life started to take shape while I’m stuck in here, and it felt like I was losing you. It made me think about what my life will be like when I get out of here, and I got scared. But I know there’s nothing romantic between us, and I’m sorry for making you think that I was hiding these feelings all this time. I just don’t want to lose you. As my friend, and nothing more.”

“Drew, you will never lose me. Ever. Whether I’m single or have a boyfriend, or even if I get married someday. We will always be friends. I will never abandon you.”

“I have one more confession to make.”

I arch a brow. “Oh?”

“I think I’m gay. Or bisexual. I don’t know. I’ve never let myself entertain that possibility because my parents would disown me.” He laughs. “But now that they already have disowned me, I guess I can be whoever I want to be.”

“You absolutely can be whoever you want to be, whether or not your parents approve.” I smile. “Thanks for sharing that with me.”

“Speaking of parents: Have you heard anything since James told off your mother?”

“Nope. And I don’t think I will.” I jog up the porch steps and twist my key in the door. “She’s just not capable of being what I need her to be.”

“Well, it’s her loss. I’m glad James was there to give her a piece of his mind, because I have a thing or two I’d like to say to her.”

I laugh. “It’s not worth it, honestly. I don’t want someone like her to be a part of my life. I’m letting it all go. I have my relationship with Tyler, and that’s all I care about.”

“I’m proud of you, Nix. You’ve really done the work and grown and healed from all your shit. You give me hope.”

“You will grow and heal too, Drew. You can do this. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Wilbur starts barking as soon as I set down my keys on the entryway table.

“Damn, that dog is loud.”

He runs into the hallway, barks, and runs back to me.

I laugh. “He sees the birds out the window. They’re the only things he barks at.”

“Okay, well, you have fun with that. I’m gonna go. It’s time for dinner.”

“Talk to you tomorrow.”

Wilbur continues barking.

“All right, all right. Calm down, dude.” I bend over to rub his favorite spot behind his ears. “You can’t be friends with them. Birds and dogs don’t mix well.”

My phone buzzes with an alert from one of the Ring cameras.

Indoor motion detected.

I glance down at Wilbur again. The hair on his back stands on end, and his tail sticks out behind him in a rigid line.

Shit, did a bird fly in here?

“What do you see, Wilbur? What’s wrong?”

He barks again, directing his attention toward the hallway.

I shoot out a text to James and let him know I’ll be needing his assistance when he gets out of work if there’s a bird in the house.

“Come on, boy. Let’s go see what you’re barking about.”

I walk down the hall and glance around the kitchen. Then I spin around to head into the living room.

My feet falter.

My mouth goes dry.

Adrenaline spikes in my veins.

A pair of blue eyes are staring back at me in the middle of my living room.

It’s not a bird.

Wilbur stands in front of me, barking at the stranger.

“Shh.” I lean forward slowly, showing the intruder that I’m only moving to soothe my dog. “It’s okay, Wilbur.” I push him until he’s behind me. Protected.

“W-who are you?” I hold up my hands on either side of my head, staring down the barrel of the gun being pointed at me.

“I’m the guy who’s going to kill your boyfriend.”

My stomach roils.

Why would someone want to kill James?

He moves around the coffee table and steps closer to me. He can’t be more than fifteen or sixteen years old.

He’s just a boy.

My hands shake, and my lips tremble. “Are you Cory? The one who lost his friend?”

“I didn’t lose my friend. My friend was taken from me.” He stabs the air with his gun. “Your boyfriend killed him.”

“He didn’t mean to.” My voice comes out as a broken whisper. “He was just trying to help.”

Cory chokes out a bitter laugh. “Cops always mean to kill people. They love getting to show off their power and shoot their guns.” He waves his gun in front of my face. “Well, I’ve got a gun now too.”

A tear slips down my cheek. “That’s not going to bring your friend back. You know that.”

“I’m not trying to get my friend back. I’m not stupid. I know he’s dead.” He sucks in a breath through his nose and puffs out his chest. “I’m getting justice.”

“This is revenge, not justice.”

“Shut the fuck up, bitch!”

I flinch, and Wilbur barks.

“Shut your dog up too, or I will.”

“No, please. He’s only barking because he’s scared.” I bend down and scoop Wilbur into my arms. “It’s okay, boy. It’s okay.”

“You’re going to call your boyfriend and tell him to come over here.” Cory takes another step closer, and Wilbur lets out a low growl. “But you’re not going to tell him that I’m here. You’re going to act like everything is perfectly fine.”

I can’t lure James here. Not without telling him about Cory, and not without protection and backup.

Think, think, think.

“He’s at work right now. He never answers when I call him at work.”

Cory clenches his jaw. “I said call him.”

“He’ll know something is wrong if I do. Cory, please don’t do this. You’re going to ruin your life if you kill someone.”

“Don’t act like you give a shit about my life.”

“I do.” Another tear falls. “I used to be like you, Cory. My father died, and my mother was pretty rotten to me. I was depressed all the time, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I was angry and in pain all the time. But instead of wanting to hurt someone else, like you, I wanted to hurt myself. So, I tried to kill myself.”

Cory snorts. “Obviously you didn’t succeed.”

“I almost did. But I got a second chance. I was able to start fresh, and I got help. You can get help too. You don’t have to feel like this all the time. You don’t have to hurt other people just because you’re hurting.”

Cory presses the gun against my forehead. “Your psychobabble isn’t going to work on me. You’re acting like you want to help me because I’m pointing a gun at you.”

I hold Wilbur tight to my chest as he whimpers and squirms to get out of my grip. “I do care, Cory. I care because I know what it’s like to feel hopeless. I know what it’s like to get a do-over. This can be your do-over. Put the gun down and walk away. I won’t tell James anything. I’ll even help you. You can turn your life around. You don’t have to do this. This isn’t the only path for you. I know it feels that way, but it’s not.”

His bloodshot eyes bounce between mine.

Come on, Cory. Put down the gun and walk away.

But then the front door opens, and all hell breaks loose.

“Honey, I’m home.”

“James, run!” I try to warn him before Cory grabs me by my neck and pulls me in front of him. The cold metal of the gun digs into my temple.

James comes into view, and his shoes squeak on the floor as he comes to a stop. The color drains from his face, and the bouquet of roses he’s holding drops to his feet. “Cory?”

Cory’s grip on me tightens. “Make a move, and she’s dead.”

I blink through my watery vision as the tears stream down my face. “It’s okay, James. It’s gonna be okay. Just listen to what he says.”

James’s eyes narrow. “Let her go. Take me instead.”

“Aww, what a good guy. So selfless.” Cory chuckles. “I think I’ll kill her first, and make you watch. Just like you made me watch my best friend die.”

“I didn’t want your friend to die.” James holds up his palm in front of him. “That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was trying to convince him to put his gun down. I even put mine down if you remember. Just like I’m going to do right now: Put your gun down. We can fix this. Damon didn’t let me try to fix it last time. But you can.”

I can feel Cory’s body shaking against mine as his voice cracks. “He didn’t need to die. You should’ve done something.”

“I tried, Cory. I tried. You saw me try. All I wanted was to get the gun out of his hands so we could work out a plan together.” James’s eyes well. “Let her go and we can figure this out together. Please, Cory. I can help you. Just let her go. She’s innocent in this.”

Cory steps back and shoves me in front of him. “Go.” Then he points his gun at James. “But you’re staying.”

James yanks my arm and pulls me behind him. “Go, Phoenix. Go now.”

“I can’t leave you,” I whisper.

“You have to. I mean it. Get out of here.”

I let out a helpless growl and run to the front door. I swing it open, set Wilbur down on the porch, and tie his leash to the railing.

I pull my phone out of my back pocket and send a frantic text to Leo:

Me: Call 911. Cory is here with a gun. No lights or sirens.

Me: James is with us.

Then I step back inside my house and slam the door shut.

Like hell I’m leaving.


Thank God she’s out of here.

I don’t care what happens from this moment forward as long as she’s safe.

“Unclip your gun,” Cory says. “Do it slowly.”

I move my hand to my holster and do as he says, placing my gun on the end table next to me. At least it’s close by.

“If you really want to help me, then give me money.” Cory sniffles. “Ten thousand.”

“What do you need the money for? So you can snort yourself into an overdose by the end of the weekend? What good is that going to do for you?”

“It’s none of your business what I do with the money. I’m the one holding the gun, so you’re gonna do whatever I say.”

He’s becoming more agitated by the minute, and if I push him too far then he’ll snap and do something impulsive. I need to keep him talking until Phoenix calls for backup, which I know is the first thing she’ll do.

“I don’t have ten thousand dollars in my back pocket, Cory. I’ll have to get it from the bank, and right now the bank is closed.”

Cory paces, keeping his gun pointed at me.

“What’s your plan? Let’s work this out together.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!”

I catch movement out of the corner of my eye, and when I shoot a quick glance to the right, I almost let out an audible groan as dread rolls over me.

Is she fucking kidding me?

Phoenix is crouched behind the wall in the hallway when she’s supposed to be far away from here.

I return my attention to Cory. “Come on. Remember our talk at the skate park? You said you wanted to pursue art. I saw those sketches you left my girlfriend. That was you, wasn’t it?”

Cory nods.

“This isn’t you, Cory. You’re strung out right now but once you get clean, you can start a whole new life. You can turn your art into something great.”

“Enough!” He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes the gun at me. “You’re lying. It’s just like Damon said the night he died: You just want me to put down my gun so you can arrest me. I won’t have a future after this. It’s too late now.”

“It’s not too late. As long as you don’t pull that trigger, it’s not too late.”

“You have to die.”

“No!” Phoenix jumps out from behind the wall and dives in front of me, shoving my gun into my hand.

The sound of a gunshot blasts through the air, but it misses me. I fall onto my back as I aim for Cory’s arm, and shoot.

He drops his gun, and I scramble to snatch it away from him.


My head jerks up at the sound of Phoenix’s voice.

I rush over to her, lying on the floor in a growing puddle of blood. “Fuck, baby. You’re shot.”

“I couldn’t leave you.” She glances down at her arm, and her eyes go wide.

I search for the bullet wound and spot it on her left arm below her shoulder. “It’s gonna be all right. I’ve gotta get you to the hospital.”

Leo, Dad, and Phil burst through the front door, their eyes roaming over the bloody scene in front of them. Phil rushes over to Cory while Dad calls for an ambulance.

Leo drops to his knees beside me. “What the fuck happened?”

“We have to get her out of here now.” I lock eyes with my brother. “I need you.”

I rip off my shirt, the buttons flying and scattering around us. I tie it in a knot around Phoenix’s arm, and she cries out.

“It has to be tight, sweetheart. I’m so sorry.” I scoop her up into my arms and jerk my chin toward the door. “Leo, you’re going to stay with her in the back seat. Keep her awake and keep pressure on her arm.”

Leo jogs out ahead of me and swings open my car door. “You sure you don’t want me to drive? This way you can stay with her.”


I’ll get us to the hospital in time.

I have to.

“Come on, Nixie. Keep those eyes open.” Leo cradles Phoenix’s lifeless body in the back seat. “Fuck, she’s losing a lot of blood.”

I glance in the rearview mirror. “Leo, keep her awake.”

“I’m trying.”

The light up ahead turns red, but I floor it and speed through the intersection. I’m being reckless but all I can focus on is getting to the hospital as fast as I can.

I didn’t make it in time for Mom. I’m sure as fuck not going to let that happen again.

“James.” The desperation in Leo’s voice terrifies me.

“Keep pressure on her arm. We’ll be there in another minute. Phoenix, baby, I need you to hold on just a little bit longer.”

I blow through another light and speed around the cars clogging up the lane.

When we finally get to the hospital, my tires barely screech to a stop before I’m out of the car.

I take Phoenix from Leo, both of them covered in blood. “We’re here, baby. We made it. Everything’s gonna be okay.”

It has to be.


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