I only let my daddy hold me while I cried that one day. Then I got determined. I would not sulk during the last months I had with my dad. I wanted memories to cherish not to regret. When I let myself think of Cage, it felt like someone had opened my chest and jerked out my heart all over again. Sometimes I had to stop and double over from the pain. But I was getting good at denial. I pretended.
I pretended that my daddy wasn’t dying. I pretended that Cage York hadn’t taken my soul and destroyed it. I pretended that Jeremy was my Josh. And now that I stood in the bathroom, looking down at the third small stick with two pink lines, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pretend I wasn’t pregnant. I had pretended that my period wasn’t late for an entire month. When it was two months late, I knew it was time to stop pretending.
Daddy wasn’t getting up early and working outside anymore. He was sleeping late. Most mornings, I checked to make sure he was still breathing at least three times before he woke up. Daddy sat in his recliner and I read to him a lot. We watched television together. He loved to watch Duck Dynasty and Sons of Anarchy. I’d bought all the older seasons from iTunes, and we’d watched them all.
It was rare that he ate anymore. Many days he got sick more than he ate. His pain meds had been upped, and as of last Monday, the hospice has started stopping by three times a week. I’d been pretending that didn’t mean what I knew it did too. Yeah, I’d gotten real good at pretending. But my pretending was going to have to stop.
I was pregnant and my daddy was dying. And Jeremy wasn’t Josh. I took all three pregnancy testes and their boxes and went to my bedroom where I could hide them. I wasn’t sure if I could tell Daddy just yet. It would worry him. He was leaving me. I couldn’t ignore that any longer. Jeremy had found another guy in town for Daddy to hire to cover his workload. They managed to finish earlier than Jeremy and Daddy had everyday. The farm was doing fine.
It was Daddy and me who were losing ourselves.
I couldn’t lose myself. I had a baby inside me. Cage’s baby. Just thinking his name made my hurt crack open. I put both my hands on my stomach and stood in front of the mirror and stared at myself. I didn’t look different. I was a little nauseous when I first woke up in the mornings, but nothing too bad. I wasn’t getting a stomach yet.
I had known. All month I’d known deep down that I was pregnant. I just hadn’t wanted to admit it. Admitting it meant I was going to be a single mom. That I was going to have to do with without a parent to teach me how to be a mother. That I was going to be in charge of taking care of another life. One that I created.
And no matter how things ended with Cage and me, this baby had been created out of love—because I’d been so in love with him that it was enough for both of us. Even if he hadn’t loved me the same way, I believed that he had cared for me. He wanted to love me just as fiercely as I had loved him. I was a safety net for him. I wasn’t something fleeting, and he’d had so much fleeting. But his world was going in a direction that a girlfriend didn’t fit into. Especially a girlfriend with a baby.
Out of pain and anger, I’d called him my biggest mistake. I didn’t believe that now. I touched my stomach. Maybe he’d been a part of my life that fate had known I needed. He left me with someone I could keep. That would love me and wouldn’t leave me. My daddy would be going, but I’d have another life coming to fill that empty void.
A knock sounded at my door, and I dropped my hands from my stomach and stepped away from the mirror. “Come in!” I called out.
Daddy opened the door and the concerned frown on his face told me I wasn’t going to like what he needed to tell me. “The people called from the center. They’re on their way to get the piano. Are you sure you want to give it away?” He asked, watching me closely.
The piano Cage had bought me arrived one week after we broke up. Preston and Marcus delivered it. Both of them tried to talk to me about Cage, but I refused to listen. I also ignored the piano for another week. Finally, one night, I’d let my guard down. I wasn’t pretending that night. I was broken and I felt like I was bleeding inside. I had no one to talk to. So I sat down at the piano and I played. I played for hours. I played until I’d written a song. One that shared all my feelings and emotions.
While I was pretending in my life that night, I was real with my music. Letting the piano go was one more thing to rip me into. But I’d donated it to a local kids’ center in a rough area of town. The music teacher there worked for free. She just needed more instruments. I couldn’t sell it, but I couldn’t keep it. Seeing it hurt too much.
“I’m sure. Just. . . give me some time alone with it,” I replied. I didn’t even pretend to smile this time. I was too raw.
Daddy nodded, turned, and headed downstairs. I knew he was going outside. He’d give me my time. I needed to play it one more time. To sing good-bye to Cage and his memories.
* * *
Closing my eyes, I put my fingers on the cool ivory keys. After this, I wouldn’t let my heart break any longer for a man who didn’t fight for me. He’d walked away when I’d told him to. I had given him an out and he’d taken it. So easily. This was the end for me. I let my fingers dance over the keys. The familiar melody that I’d played that night came back to me. I’d cried while composing the song. I wouldn’t cry today. I wouldn’t cry over him again. Not ever.
“Sittin’ on the porch, just waiting to see one more glimpse of you.
I should’ve known then I was a fool to believe you’d ever want me to.
This silly girl gave into her heart.
I shoulda listened to my head.
Now I’m left here alone, just thinking about everything my daddy said.
’Cause you’re a heartbreaker, a soul taker.
No one can hold you down.
So take what you want and then take all the rest, ’cause this girl is headin’ out of town.
The summer sun was beatin’ down, the day your eyes met mine.
I was mesmerized by the smile on your lips, didn’t know how sweet they could lie.
Every touch, every moment in time, you caused every sigh.
Now I’m left her alone, thinkin’ I should have seen, I should’ve seen you’d make me cry.
’Cause you’re a heartbreaker, a soul taker.
No one can hold you down.
So take what you want and then take all the rest, ‘cause this girl is headin’ out of town.
One day I know I’ll be moving on, but I fear you’ll always be
Right there holding a piece of my heart that’ll never belong to me.
And I’ll live my life, find reasons to smile so everyone will always think
That you didn’t shake me and totally break me.
They’ll never know I’ll never be free.
’Cause you’re a heartbreaker, a soul taker.
No one will hold you down.
So take what you want and then take all the rest, ’cause this girl is getting away from you.
Heartbreaker, you soul taker, I’ll never be the same.
You took what you wanted, I gave it away,
Now I’m left here standing in the rain.
I’d pitched a perfect game. Throwing my keys on the bar in the kitchen, I walked over to the fridge to grab a Gatorade. Five green Jarritos sat on the top shelf. I stopped and jerked around to see a very pregnant Low smiling at me and sitting in my living room with her feet propped up.
“No Jarritos in your fridge when I got here? Really? What am I supposed to think? That I’m not welcome in your new digs? Because I have the key you sent me,” she said, dangling the key I’d mailed her once I’d gotten my shit out of Ace’s apartment and gotten my own place.
I took two long strides and jumped the sofa in my way to pull Low into my arms. I missed her. I missed home.. . . I just couldn’t go back. I couldn’t see it. I’d think of her. I couldn’t let myself think of her.
“You’re f**king here! I can’t believe you’re f**king here!” I didn’t hug her as tightly as I wanted since there was a belly in between us that I was pretty damn sure I wasn’t supposed to squish.
Low squeezed me and laughed. That sound was the first thing that had made me smile in. . . well, in a while. A long damn while. “Of course I’m here. You weren’t talking much on the phone. You won’t come home to visit. I had to do something. I was worrying.”
“I can’t believe Papa Bear let you travel this far by yourself,” I said, stepping back to look at my very-pregnant best friend.
She scrunched up her nose. “He didn’t. He’s out. . . That’s who brought me the Jarritos when I got here and saw you didn’t have any,” she teased, punching my arm.
I wasn’t surprised that Marcus wasn’t too far from her. I was glad. Once that had pissed me off. Now it made Low one less thing I had to worry about.
She sat down on the chair she’d been in and propped her feet back up on the ottoman. “So talk to me. You won’t talk to me on the phone. I only know bits and pieces from the short conversations we’ve had. I need to know what the hell is going on with you.”
I didn’t want to talk about this. Not even with Low. I hadn’t talked about it with anyone. I shook my head and turned away from her and stared out the window. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
Low let out a disbelieving laugh. “Uh, no. That’s bullshit. You won’t come home and Eva’s daddy is dying. Something is seriously wrong. I want to know what. So talk or send me into an early labor.”
Maybe if I talked about it, my chest wouldn’t hurt so bad. Maybe I’d be able to close my eyes at night and not see Eva bent over, throwing up, about what she saw. Pictures I’d never seen. Ones I never wanted to see. They would be the end of me. I couldn’t deal with them.
“I f**ked up. I let people in I shouldn’t. I trusted the wrong people and got screwed over,” I said, sitting down on the sofa and finally meeting Low’s concerned gaze.
“Explain that. Because you can’t be talking about Eva being the wrong people,” she said with a cocked eyebrow. She was going to defend Eva to the end. I loved her for that.
“No not. . . not her.” I still couldn’t say her name, dammit. I wanted to say her name. I wanted to feel it on my lips. But I couldn’t. It tore my chest back open if I even tried.
“The guy I was rooming with when I first got here. That’s who. He was the pitcher. The star pitcher. He wanted the big leagues. He had his eye on the prize, and he was worried about me taking away his game. So he set me up, hoping to send me running home. He. . . he f**ked it all up. He took away my life. So I took away his. Doesn’t feel better. But seeing his face as I pitch a perfect game while he sits on the bench feels good. For a moment. It’s a fleeting moment.”
Low dropped her feet to the floor and leaned forward. “What did he do to set you up?”
“He has a f**k buddy. Some whore who sleeps with the team for fun. He took photos of me that were completely misconstrued and then he had her kiss me out of f**king nowhere and got a picture of that. I shoved her ass off and got away from her, but not before he snapped a photo that I didn’t know he was taking. Then they drugged my beer. Got me making out with her on video. Then took a photo of us nak*d in bed.” I swallowed hard. Saying the next part was the hardest part. “Then. . . They. . . They sent it to. . . her.”
Low’s gasp as she covered her mouth was followed by a “Holy shit”.
“Yeah. She saw it all.”
“Ohmygod. Why would they? That’s horrible, Cage! Did you tell the authorities? Have them arrested?”
I shook my head. “No. That’s too easy. I wanted to make them pay. I wanted revenge. An eye for a f**king eye.”
“How do you know it was her? Or that roommate of yours?”
I closed my eyes, trying to fight back that morning and the memories that went with it. I didn’t want to remember Eva’s words to me. Those were the hardest. “He told me. He was sitting on the couch after it all went down. Jeremy calling me and everything.” I wouldn’t replay that part for her. “Ace was waiting on me on the couch. He was smirking at me. He said to have a nice trip home. Was sorry I couldn’t stick around. It all started coming together for me. He was the pitcher. I asked him if he knew about this and he said he’d orchestrated it all. He found my weakness and he’d used it against me.” I stopped and took a deep breath. “He didn’t realize how successfully he’d destroyed my world. The only thing he said that morning that I keep reminding myself over and over again was that I didn’t sleep with the girl. It was all set up. I did make out with her against a pool table with a crowd of witnesses. But according to other guys on the team, I was calling her. . . Eva. I didn’t know what the f**k I was doing. Even in my drugged-up state, I thought I was with Eva. I wasn’t cheating in my head. I didn’t know.” My chest hurt, but hearing her name on my lips eased some pain.
Low let out a breath she’d been holding. “Oh God, Cage. Have you explained this to Eva?”
I shook my head. “I can’t. She. . . She told me it was over. She didn’t let me explain. She told me I was her biggest mistake.”
“But, Cage, she was hurting! She had just seen something that destroyed her. I can’t imagine seeing Marcus like that with another girl. It would kill me. She is dealing with the pain of her daddy dying and then this. Of course she wanted to hurt you because she was hurting. It’s been weeks now. Call her. Go see her.”
I couldn’t. She hadn’t called. She hadn’t tried to contact me once. She hadn’t trusted me enough. Wasn’t trust part of love? She believed I didn’t love her, but she sure didn’t give me a chance to say anything.
“She didn’t trust me.”
Low reached over and took my hand in hers. “She was hurting.”
“She didn’t trust me. How can she love me if she doesn’t trust me?” I shook my head and stood up. “I can’t, Low. She closed the door. She ended this. She didn’t listen to me. She didn’t give me a chance.” I wanted to shut up. I wanted to stop talking, but my mouth kept going. “I believe she wanted out. I believe she saw how short life was with her daddy and she realized I wasn’t what she wanted in life. Not me. I wasn’t enough. So she took this excuse and she used it. If she’d wanted me, she would have fought for me. She would have wanted me to tell her this wasn’t real. She would have f**king believed me.”
Low sat there looking up at me with sad eyes, but she finally nodded and stood up. “Okay. I think you’re wrong, but I also know you’re hurting. I just hope you don’t wait too long.”
“She didn’t fight for me,” I repeated. For myself more than Low.
Low walked over and threaded her fingers through mine. “You didn’t fight for her either. Eva isn’t like your momma, Cage. Eva didn’t up and leave you alone because she just didn’t give a shit. She was destroyed. Sometimes you have to trust that you’re worth it and you have to fight for what you want. Eva is what you want. You know that and I know that. Anyone with eyes knows that.”
Low didn’t understand. No one did. No one had heard her tell me I was her biggest mistake. The cold, even tone in her voice. She’d meant it. Just like my momma had when she’d called me her biggest mistake, she’d meant it.
How could I fight for someone who didn’t want me?
“We miss you. I miss you. I wish you’d come home.”
I missed Low too. I missed my friends but not enough. Not enough to face Sea Breeze with all its memories of Eva. “I can’t, Low. I just can’t.”
“Well, until you can, then I guess I’ll come here as long as this baby and Marcus allow,” she said with a sigh.
“You’re stomach is huge, Low,” I said, looking down at her and wanting to change the subject to anything else.
“Shut up,” she snapped, and I almost laughed. Almost.