Page 23

Todd’s weekend continued to get worse because I insisted we stay at the apartment rather than get a hotel as Todd suggested. I told him I was worried about leaving my dad alone, and while that is in fact true, it’s also misleading, because my dad can certainly stay alone by himself for a weekend. Frustrations grew that evening when we finally crawled into my bed. Todd, ever formal and wearing a T-shirt and pajama bottoms, tried to make a move on me.

Don’t get me wrong. Todd and I have a nice and healthy sexual relationship. Or we did when I lived back in Columbus. It was natural, safe, and, well…um, comfortable, I guess. I was attracted to him, body and mind. I’m absolutely certain of it.

But when he kissed me that night, slipping his tongue in my mouth, my instinct was to push away rather than to receive and reciprocate. So I forced myself to let him kiss me for a moment, but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t make the connection, so I gently disengaged and told him the mother of all blatant lies to get out of sex.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I started my period this morning,” I whispered in the dark.

And Todd did exactly as I suspected. He was frustrated, no doubt, and that was evidenced by the deep sigh he let out, but he still pulled me into his arms and whispered with his lips against my hair, “It’s okay.”

With a dash of bitterness and a whole lot of sadness, I realized Hawke would have never capitulated that easily. He never cared if I was on my period and if he didn’t care, I didn’t care. We had no walls between us, and if Hawke were lying in bed with me, nothing would have stopped him from fucking me. He would have fucked me like a champion and then he would have carted me into the shower straight after to get us both cleaned up. He was wild, raw, and uninhibited. Nothing would keep him away from what he wanted, and at that time in our lives, Hawke wanted me more than anything.

So last night I lay there, in another man’s arms, and I thought about Hawke.

I tried to remember every detail of our four years of happiness. I squirmed a little as I remembered our times in bed together. I thought about him all damn night and didn’t get a wink of sleep. I tossed and turned, listened to Todd’s soft snores, and I felt miserable for letting him down. I felt guilty for allowing a memory to twist my feelings for him, and it made me angry at myself.

Angry at Hawke too.

“You know, this weekend is kind of sucking for me,” Todd says quietly.

While it’s loud out here between the music and the chatter of dozens of partiers, I hear him clearly. No, I more than hear him…I feel the condemnation in his words.

“I’m sorry,” I say as I turn toward him, my fingers picking at the soggy bottle label in my hands. I’m just so damn sorry that my insides are all twisted over a man I thought I had moved past. And yet I can’t utter one other word of reassurance to Todd.

I want to hug him, give him a kiss. Press in close to him and let him know that it will all be okay, but I can’t know that. Because I’m filled with terror over my dad, nervousness over my new job, exhaustion from the hours I’m keeping, and let’s not even get into the slew of emotions that have been rocking my very core since Hawke Therrien became involved in my life again.

Todd’s eyes study my face shrewdly. “I get it, Vale. I know you have a lot on your plate right now, and clearly, there’s no room for me—”

“That’s not true,” I blurt out, but I know it’s a lie.

He knows it too, because he rolls his eyes at me. “Vale, you’re distant. Closed off. This isn’t like you. You used to talk to me about everything, and now it’s like pulling teeth to have even a five-minute conversation. You won’t accept my help, you won’t commit to anything for the long term, and I can’t help but think that what’s really going on is that you don’t want a relationship with me anymore.”

“I do want a relationship with you,” I say hurriedly as I set my bottle down on the deck railing. I walk straight into Todd, wrap my arms around his waist and press my cheek to his chest. And because he’s gallant, despite his hurt, he returns the gesture by hugging me back. “Things are just so screwed up right now in my life. But this won’t last forever. Once dad makes it through the clinical trial, it will be better. You’ll see.”

He doesn’t say anything, but gives me a squeeze before letting go. He pulls back, stares down at me, and again searches my eyes for the truth of what I’m saying.

“You’ll see,” I repeat, and I see a flicker of hope in his gaze, so I press on. “I need you to have some patience. I just need some time to work through all of this craziness.”

I need some time to figure out how to purge my thoughts of Hawke.

I need some time to make sure my dad isn’t going to die.

I need some time to figure out what in the hell I really want in my life.

Because Todd has always been rock solid. Because he’s always given me the benefit of the doubt. Because his romanticism has always been tempered with good common sense, I expect him to see things my way.

I expect him to tell me that it’s all good.

Instead, he gives a pained sigh and steps back from me. “I wish you’d work through this a little sooner rather than later. You’ve been handing me that line for a few months now.”

I blink at him in surprise. Surely it’s not been that long? I mean, yeah…my life has been topsy-turvy since Dad’s cancer recurred, but this tension between us now. This void that I’m feeling…I’m sure it’s just come to a head this weekend.

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