Page 29

Is there something there to be realized with Hawke? With so much anger and bitterness, betrayal and loss between us, could the reason I’m so hesitant with Todd be because my destiny actually belongs to another man?

There’s no clear-cut answer, because so far, outside of extending a courteous olive branch to me in light of my dad’s condition, Hawke’s shown me that he’s still very hurt and pissed at me. I know showing him that tattoo tonight probably widened the void between us. If I break things off with Todd, there’s no guarantee that Hawke is the one I’m supposed to be with.

And besides that, pinning my hopes for a future on a man isn’t something that I’m cool with. That goes for Todd’s unseemly marriage proposal as much as it does for trying to rekindle a flame with someone from my past. Vale Campbell doesn’t need to depend on a man for anything.

So take Hawke out of the picture. Remove him completely and let’s just say the most we’ll ever be is common friends because of my father. In fact, let’s just pretend he doesn’t even exist in my world.

Now how do I feel about Todd?

“Hey, kiddo,” my dad says softly as he walks into the living room. He’s got on his old, ratty plaid robe over a pair of gray pajama bottoms. “Want to talk?”

It’s almost three A.M. and I haven’t been able to go to sleep. My mind is still all sorts of jumbled with the way things went down tonight.

“Todd and I broke up,” I say glumly.

“I’m sorry,” my dad says as he comes to sit by me on the couch, giving my knee a squeeze.

“I’m not,” I say softly, but then amend. “I mean…I’m sorry I hurt him, but it was the right thing to do.”

“What happened?”

“He proposed to me.”

“Oh,” my dad says, sounding faintly surprised but maybe a little expecting that. “You said no, I assume?”

“I don’t love him,” I say.

“Because you love someone else.” He hazards a guess.

I turn to face him on the couch, throwing my arm over the back. I give him a patronizing smile. “No, Dad. I don’t love another. What Hawke and I had…that love…it dried up a long time ago.”

“But he played some role in your decision,” he pushes at me, and is that hope in his eyes?

“No, he didn’t,” I admonish, bringing him back down to earth. “He’s stirred up some feelings, for sure, but that’s all anger and bitterness. I think I realized that Todd just wasn’t the one for me. When he put the proposal out there, I knew deep in my gut I didn’t love him. Not like he deserves, anyway.”

“Is he okay?” my dad asks kindly. I know he wasn’t overly crazy about Todd, but he didn’t dislike him. And he did like him a heck of a lot more than some of my other boyfriends throughout the years, though I know the top spot has always been reserved for Hawke in my dad’s mind. He knows why I broke things off with Hawke, and he never minced words with me when he told me it was a dumbass move. But he also saw me go through major heartbreak when I reached out to Hawke and he turned his back on me.

“I think he’s okay,” I say, referencing his question about Todd. “I took him to a hotel by the airport. He’s going to fly out in the morning. He actually said he’d be there for me if I changed my mind. I think he’s holding out hope that once things settle down with you, I might come back to Columbus.”

My dad is silent, his face lowered and his fingers playing with the belt of his robe. When he looks back up at me, his eyes are sad and weary. “You know, Vale, I never wanted my illness to impinge on your life.”

I react instinctively, pushing up and lunging toward my father, throwing my arms around his shoulders and burying my face in his neck. “Stop it. You are not impinging on my life. We’re in this together…thick and thin. There’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be than by your side, so I don’t ever want to hear that out of your mouth again.”

His arm comes up to pat my back. I give him a squeeze and pull back, looking at his face whiskered with gray. He smiles at me and nods his head in acknowledgment. “Thick and thin.”

“We’re agreed,” I say with a grin. “Now come on, let’s get to sleep. I’ve got some midmorning appointments at the gym and I need a few hours of shut-eye.”

We both push up off the couch, my dad looking a little wobbly, but he rights himself.

“You okay?” I ask, my hand going to his lower back.

“Yeah, just a little dizzy for a minute,” he says, shaking his head slightly. “But I’m fine. Got my bearings back.”

“Okay,” I say dubiously, letting him precede me down the hall toward the bedrooms. I watch his gait carefully, and he looks fine.

When we reach our doors, which are on opposite sides of the hall, Dad turns to look at me. “You know, Vale…don’t discount Hawke.”

“Excuse me?” I say, blinking at him in surprise.

“I know you said he played no part in your decision to break up with Todd, but don’t discount that there could be something there. You were both so young, and you made some bad decisions, but there was real love. I’d even say given the strength of the bitterness you both have, there might still be some underneath…hidden deep.”

I want to shake my head and deny my dad’s words, but there’s a ring of truth to it. We’re both nursing hurt feelings, and to be hurt, you have to have the capacity to care.

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