Why didn’t anyone else understand this? “I let her—”
“Ryan, tell me something.” He waited until I was looking at him again before speaking. “Do you enjoy what you do?”
I sighed. “Of course I do.”
“And you like working in the gang division now?”
“I do.” To be honest, it was perfect.
“Then I’m not letting you quit. I can’t imagine how hard it must be that your fiancée went through that, but you’re being too hard on yourself. You’re good at what you do, I’m proud to have you and Gates working for me. Until you decide you hate it here or you find something better, I’m not going to let you leave.”
I ground my jaw and nodded once.
“Then get your ass out of my office. You still have two days of vacation left.”
WHEN I GOT back to the apartment late that night, Mason was being more awkward than usual. I slammed the beer down on the coffee table and glared at him. “Can I help you? You’ve been staring at me for five minutes straight.”
“Did your dad say anything . . . about . . .”
“Jesus, Mase. About Rachel? Did he say anything about Rachel? Yeah, he did. So did Mom, and I know you probably put them up to it. But you have got to let it go; she wanted me gone.” Grabbing my beer again, I stood and headed for my room.
Three and a half months later, and I was worse now than when we’d moved back here. I snapped at everyone, I was in a constant state of being pissed off, and I spent hours each day thinking about everything I wished I could do over again. For the first couple months, I told myself I just had to give her time . . . wait for her to come back to me. But even Mason had stopped saying she would come around. Now he just kept trying to get me to go to her.
I froze and glared at the new addition to my bed for almost an entire minute before setting my beer on the dresser and walking over. I knew what would be in the black velvet box even though I hadn’t given Mason the box too. Picking it up in my left hand, I flipped the top open and snapped it shut again when I saw Rachel’s engagement ring nestled in the satin. Fisting my hand over the box, I put the hand to my mouth and grabbed the picture that had been lying underneath the box.
I don’t remember what had been happening; I don’t think we’d even realized someone had taken the picture. But we were in the girls’ apartment, Rachel was grabbing my shirt like she’d been pulling me toward her, and I had her cheeks cupped in my hands and was kissing her hard. Pain radiated through my body and I had to force my hand not to crumple up the picture.
My breaths came hard and fast through my nose as I turned and stormed back into the living room. “The f**k is this? Where did you get this?”
Mason leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. “Candice sent the picture.”
“Kash, you can’t keep doing this to each other.”
I scoffed and turned back toward my room before spinning right back around and pointing the picture at myself. “I’m only doing exactly what she asked me to!”
“You’re both too damn stubborn to get over your own problems with the situation, but you both want each other. This is so f**king stupid! Grow a pair and go get her!”
Crumpling up the picture, I dropped it and the box on the sofa. “Mase, this ends. Now.”
I STOOD UNSTEADILY and waited for the feeling to come back into my legs before bending over and pressing my fingers to my lips and then the headstones. “Bye, Mom and Dad,” I whispered, and wiped the tears from my cheeks as I made my way back to Candice’s car, which I’d borrowed.
It’d taken me almost four and a half years to finally visit my parents’ graves, but I’d done it. I was happy I had gone and spent hours talking to them instead of writing today; it almost felt like I’d just gotten closure that I hadn’t realized I’d needed. I let my right hand trail over my worn journal sitting in the passenger seat next to me and smiled. I would always be glad I had finally gone, but my journals were all I needed. They helped me feel connected to my parents in a way those headstones never could.
Turning the car off when I got into the driveway of the Jenkins home, I stepped out and zipped up my hoodie as the cooler January air hit me and started making my way across the long walkway. It wasn’t freezing by any means—this was Southern California—but they were having a lot cooler weather than Texas had been having when we left. I was thankful for it though; I was able to hide the scars on my arms from Candice and her family much more easily this way.
Eli opened the door before I got there and flashed a crooked smile as I quickened my pace and wrapped my arms around his waist. “Candice told me where you went,” was all he said after he kissed the top of my head. And I knew he wouldn’t say anything else; that’s just how he was. So I smiled and turned us to walk into the house.
“Yeah, and it was good. I’m glad I did it. Did you bring Paisley with you?”
Eli’s face lit up at the mention of his girlfriend and I loved seeing that look on him. He’d always dated a lot of girls, but we didn’t meet many of them, and if we did it was usually by accident. But Paisley had come with him to all the holiday dinners, plus some others, over the last week and a half, and it wasn’t hard to see that Eli adored her.
“I did, Mom’s trying to teach her to cook right now . . . so I’m staying out of the kitchen.”
I laughed and bumped his side as I removed my jacket and made sure my wrists were still covered by my long-sleeved shirt.
“She’s moving in with me as soon as her lease ends next month,” he said a little sheepishly.
“Really? Eli, that’s great!”
His eyes flickered over toward the kitchen and he smiled again. “Yeah, I think so too. You know, I finally realized one day that if I didn’t grab her for myself, someone else would. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the thought of her with anyone but me.”
My forehead creased as he led me back toward the bedrooms. I’d already heard all about him and Paisley getting together. She’d been in love with him for years, and he’d been too stupid to realize or do anything about it until just recently. So why was he telling me this again?
“I hadn’t realized how empty I was without her until the moment it hit me that I might not be able to spend the rest of my life with her.”
“I know, Eli . . .” I drew the words out slowly as we walked. “I really am happy for you.” Is he questioning that? I laughed softly, trying to lighten the conversation. “I’m glad you finally pulled your stubborn head out of your ass.”
“Glad you feel that way, sis,” he said with the most serious expression as he put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me in front of him.
I turned to see Candice staring at me expectantly, and my mouth popped open to ask what was going on when Eli suddenly pushed me down in Candice’s chair at her desk. “Sheesh, Eli. What is wrong with you?”
His hands let up a little on my shoulders but didn’t move away, and Candice came to my side to fully open the half-closed laptop on her desk. As soon as I focused on the screen, I tried to stand up, but Eli slammed me back down, not even trying to be gentle.
“What is this?”
Candice and Eli snorted. It was so identical it was creepy. And the Skype version of Mason on the laptop smiled softly. “Just part two of our intervention.” When I narrowed my eyes at him, his smile turned sheepish. “Hey there, sweetheart.”
My eyes started burning and my throat tightened. Oh my word, what is wrong with me? I blinked quickly and crossed my arms under my chest as I tried to hold my glare. “What do you want, Mase?”
“I want to know if you’re still in love with my best friend.”
“Liar,” all three said at once.
“You’re miserable,” Eli said at the same time Candice huffed. “You just told me last month you would always love him.”
“Traitors,” I whispered, and looked back to Mason since he was being quiet.
He just continued to look at me for what felt like minutes before saying anything. “I can see it in your eyes, Rach. They’re the same as Kash’s. Empty.”
“It’s the lens on the laptop.” I shrugged, but it was an awkward movement since Eli was still holding me to the chair. “Makes everyone look like that.”
“Bullshit. So next question.”
“Ha. No, one was more than enough. We’re done, Mason.” I tried to stand but Eli wasn’t letting me budge. I unlocked my arms and reached for the laptop, but Candice smacked them down and pushed the laptop out of my reach.
“Why are you still doing this to each other? He’s miserable without you. Do you know that he tried to quit his job? That’s how f**ked up he is right now, Rach.”
“That’s not my problem!” I snapped. “He lied to me. He let me believe all of these false things about both of you, and you know what, Mase? I’m mad at you too! You were going to let me marry him when you knew I didn’t know a damn thing about him? You told me I reminded you of your sister; would you let your sister do something like that— Wait. Do you even have a sister?!”
“I do, she’s a year older than you. We told you as many truths as we could, Rachel. I was pissed when the two of you got engaged—not because I didn’t want you together,” he hurried to say, “but because of the fact that we were still undercover and you didn’t know who we really were. He fell for you hard and fast; nothing was going to be enough until you were completely his, and he got caught up in it. He wouldn’t have married you before you knew everything, I know that for a fact. I promise you, he’s killing himself for ever keeping anything from you.”
I wanted to say something like good but I couldn’t. I hated that Kash was miserable. I hated what he’d done to me, but the fact that he was hurting . . . hurt me more.
“But you don’t understand, Rach. When we came to Austin, we were hiding from a hit placed on both of us for some undercover work we did here in Florida. We didn’t have a choice about going by false names; we didn’t even have a choice about moving to Austin. We had to leave the night we found out about it. Because of the case we were on, we were going undercover again, to find the Carnation killer. Our jobs were set up for us; once again, we didn’t have a say, but this is what Kash and I did for close to four years. We would go undercover, and we would be whatever they needed us to be. And once the hit on us was gone, we both agreed we still couldn’t let you girls know, it was too dangerous. Obviously.”
I winced and Mason grimaced.
“Kash tried to fight his feelings for you in the beginning, though. I swear he was constantly lecturing me on why we can’t have relationships, and I know it was to try to remind himself why he couldn’t be with you. But he’s never met anyone like you, he couldn’t stay away from you . . . and I know all you see is that he lied to you, but you didn’t see how much the lies killed him during the time you two were together. Like I said, I was mad when he told me you were engaged, and I know that’s one of the things that hurts you the most. Try to look at it from his side though: with the kind of undercover work we’ve done, and just being in law enforcement in general, we see a lot of death. We know life is short. So we don’t waste it.”