I wasn’t sure how much longer my daddy was going to be able to sit in his recliner and talk to me. He was going downhill and fast. Some days he never made it out of bed. And my stomach was now showing. I couldn’t continue to hide it. My baggy shirts weren’t going to work much longer. I asked Jeremy to come over after he had dinner at home. I wasn’t cooking dinner anymore. Daddy couldn’t eat it. He rarely ate. The feeding tube that the Hospice nurse put in him kept him fed for the most part.
I was going to tell them both about the baby that night. I had worried over if I should tell Daddy or not. I didn’t want him worrying about me, but I wanted him to know. One of my parents needed to know they were going to be a grandparent. Even if it wasn’t the ideal situation.
There was a swift knock on the screen door before Jeremy stepped into the kitchen. He smiled at me, but the look on my face wiped his smile away. I didn’t want to be making a huge mistake. Maybe telling Jeremy first and seeing what he thought I should do would be best. I needed a second opinion.
“I’m pregnant,” I blurted it out, then slapped my hands over my mouth in shock. I hadn’t meant to do that.
Jeremy grabbed the nearest chair to him and sat down with a look of disbelief on his face. He didn’t take his eyes off me, and I continued to cover my mouth for fear of what else I would say if I uncovered it.
“How?” he asked, looking horrified.
I dropped my hands and wrung them nervously in front of me. “Cage. I’ve known for a few months. I just. . . I don’t know if I should tell Daddy. I want him to know he’s going to be a grandfather. But I don’t want to worry him. What do I do?” I asked, hoping Jeremy had some knowledge I didn’t.
Jeremy hung his head and then shook it as he let the news digest. I hadn’t exactly eased him into it. “Damn, Eva. I don’t know. I mean, I think he should know, but he’s not doing so good now.”
“I know,” I said, sitting down in the chair across from him. “I know,” I repeated.
We sat in silence for several minutes. Then Jeremy looked up at me with a determined gleam in his eyes. “He’ll want to know. He deserves to know this. He is gonna worry about you doing this alone. I can fix that. Marry me, Eva. Before your daddy dies, marry me.”
I had no words. I sat there and stared at him like he had lost his mind, because I was pretty sure he had. Marry him? What was he thinking? How could I marry him?
“What? How? I don’t. . . ,” I shook my head and stood back up. “Absolutely not. I am not marrying you so I can fix my problems. Nothing about that is okay. You have a life, Jer. A life! I am not taking that from you.” I had to work to keep my voice from getting louder. I didn’t want Daddy to hear me.
Jeremy stood up and reached for my hand and pulled me close to him. Closer than I’d ever been when I wasn’t crying or hugging him. It was. . . different. “I know that you’re heart isn’t available. I know it may never be available again. I’m okay with that. We work well together, Eva. I know you better than anyone. I love you. Sure, we’re not in love, but we love each other. We have something stronger than most marriages do when they start out. I can be happy with you, Eva. I think over time our feelings would change too. Let me do this. Let me do this for you, the baby, and your daddy.”
No. I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t. He wanted to give too much this time. Jeremy wasn’t an object I could use to fix my problems. He was a man who deserved to love as deeply as I had loved and to feel that same love back. I would not keep him from that. He should have children of his own. He should have the girl of his dreams walk down the aisle to him one day. Not me.
“I can’t do that to you. I won’t. I love you so much for offering. For believing it would work. You give all the time. I don’t ever give back. But this time I will not let you give up your happiness for me.”
Jeremy swallowed so hard, I could hear it. “Shit. I really didn’t want to tell you this. I wanted to hold it in because it’s the right thing to do. I’ve decided I don’t give a f**k about what’s right anymore. I’m in love with you, Eva. I have been in love with you since we were five years old. You just chose the other brother. Then Cage walked into your life and I watched how you were so easily attracted to him a way you never looked at me. I dealt with it. I stepped back and let him have you. I’d lived my whole life being the one you didn’t love back. It was okay. Then Cage f**ked you over and I let myself go. I let myself love you. Completely. So, when I’m asking you to marry me, I am asking you as the woman I’m in love with. I’m pretty damn sure I’ll love you until I die. I’ve loved you as long as I can remember.”
Oh my God.
I was asleep. This did not just happen.
“I. . . I. . . You love me?” Wrapping my head around that was the hardest part.
“But I’m pregnant with Cage York’s baby,” I said in such a low voice, it sounded like I was whispering.
“You say yes and that baby becomes mine.”
How do I respond to that?
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the Hospice nurse said, “but your dad is asking to go to bed. I know you wanted to talk to him before I gave him his meds tonight.”
I nodded. “I’m on my way.”
She gave me a small smile and ducked back out of the room.
“You were going to tell him tonight.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement, but I nodded again anyway.
“Then we can tell him together.”
“Not about the marriage thing. I haven’t said yes. You thinking you’re in love with me doesn’t make that right, Jeremy.”
He didn’t argue. He just stood there. I stepped around him and walked to the living room where my dad was waiting on us.
* * *
His eyes were sunken into his head and his once large, powerful body was now frail and weak. Seeing him slowly wither was so hard. It got harder every day. “Hey, Daddy,” I said as I walked over to press a kiss to his forehead.
“Hey, baby girl.”
“You feeling okay tonight?” I asked, knowing he would lie. I could see the pain etched in his face. Everyday he lived now was a struggle. And here I was about to tell him I was pregnant and unmarried. Could I do that to him? No. Could I let him die without knowing about the baby I carried inside me? One that would be his heritage? No. I looked back at Jeremy. Could I love him one day? Was love and friendship enough to be more?
“I’ve asked Eva to marry me,” Jeremy told my dad.
My dad’s eyes widened in surprise as he looked at me. “Eva?”
I jerked my gaze over to Jeremy. What was he doing? This was not what I’d agreed to.
“Baby girl, you gonna say something? ’Cause what I’m hearing don’t sound right.”
Daddy’s frown wrinkled his forehead and his pale skin seemed to have gone paler. This had been a bad idea. Telling him. I shouldn’t have brought it in there to him. I should have let him go to bed tonight.
“Eva, tell him,” Jeremy urged. I wanted to go slap my hand over his mouth. He needed to shut up. He’d already said too much.
I gazed down into my daddy’s weak eyes. The strong dark blue was now faded and pale like his skin. I couldn’t lie to him now. He’d know if I did. He would worry over what the truth was.
“I’m pregnant, Daddy.” The words came out on a sob.
Daddy didn’t look at Jeremy with judgment in his eyes. I had worried that he’d assume the baby was Jeremy’s. Instead he pulled me into his arms and held me. I let free the tears I’d been holding back as his large now feeble hands patted my back and tried to soothe me. I loved this man. He was my anchor in the world. He had been never left me. He had never turned from me. Even when I made him furious. Now here he lay sick and he was consoling me.
“It ain’t Jeremy’s baby though, is it?” he said with a tired voice. How had he known?
I couldn’t look at him. I shook my head that I still had buried in his chest. He no longer smelled like the outdoors and the spicy cologne he used to wear. I sobbed as the realization of how he smelled settled over me.
“Cage loved you. I saw it in his eyes.” He stopped, and the wheeze in his chest hurt me as he struggled to take a deep breath. “Don’t let your stubbornness tell you otherwise. You can choose not to love him back, but don’t you doubt that he loved you. ’Cause he mighta been a rascal and not one I’d have chosen for you, but he loved you with something fierce.” Daddy stopped and struggled with his breathing again. I wanted to breathe for him. Then he cupped my face in his trembling hand. “You always know that. And if you choose to marry Jeremy, he’s a good man and I know he loves you too. That’s your choice, but don’t keep a man from his child. Let Cage know about this baby. Even if you don’t choose him.”
Daddy let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes. “I need some sleep. Know I love you. And make sure that little girl knows how much I love her. I’d have spoiled her rotten if I’d been given the chance.”
Daddy’s rattle when he breathed had been going on for a couple days now. Tonight it just seemed worse.
“I need to get him to bed. He needs his medicine,” the nurse said, stepping back into the room. I nodded and pressed one more kiss to his head.
“I love you, Daddy. And I promise I’ll make sure she knows her grandaddy would have loved her.”
The nurse wheeled Daddy out of the room, and I stepped back and watched her take him to his bed.
“How does he know it’s a girl?” Jeremy asked from behind me.
I shrugged. “I don’t know what it is yet. I don’t have my ultrasound until next week.”
We stood there in silence for several minutes. “It’s gonna be a girl, isn’t it?” Jeremy asked. I knew he didn’t really want an answer.
“Probably,” I said with a sad smile before turning back to look at him.
He hadn’t pushed me or said anything about what Daddy had said about Cage. I wasn’t sure Cage would want to know. Daddy loved me and he thought everyone loved me. He believed they should love me. He didn’t know what Cage had done. I couldn’t tell him that. He didn’t need to know.
“If you really mean it. . . then my answer is, yes.” I said without thinking about it anymore. I wouldn’t marry him before Daddy passed away, but at least when daddy was gone he would leave this world knowing there was a man there that would help take care of me. It would ease his mind. And maybe. . . maybe I could love Jeremy as more than a dear friend too. Maybe he was right. Maybe over time things would change. But until they did change, there wouldn’t be a wedding. I couldn’t marry Jeremy unless I was in love with him.
Jeremy closed the distance between us and stopped right in front of me. “I mean it.”
* * *
The next week I found out that I was in fact having a little girl. I didn’t take Jeremy with me. I wasn’t ready for that yet. I had agreed to marry Jeremy, but my baby had a father. Before I could let Jeremy be a part of my baby’s life, I had to give her real father a chance to be a dad. If he wanted to take part in her life, then I’d let him. If he didn’t, then she’d have Jeremy. She would never feel unloved.
Telling Cage that I was pregnant was another thing. I just couldn’t deal with that right then. I wasn’t sure he’d even come home if I did. There was a good chance he wouldn’t answer my phone call. I couldn’t exactly leave this information in a voicemail or a text. But I would make sure he knew. Then he could decide what he wanted to do. Deep down I feared that he would do nothing. If that were the case, it may just break my heart all over again. If there was anything left to break.
* * *
Two weeks later my daddy passed away while I sat by his bed, holding his hand and singing to him the old church hymn “Amazing Grace.” It had been his last request.
Having an off-season and no social life meant my GPA was higher than it had ever been. My coach was thrilled. Not only had I just replaced their star pitcher, but I had stellar grades. I wish I cared. Somehow I’d managed to function without feelings. I was a f**king robot.
I had skipped going home for Thanksgiving. Low had begged me to, but I couldn’t. I’d had Thanksgiving with Eva last year. Home for the Holidays wasn’t happening for me. Except when Low’s baby was born. I’d have to go home for that. But I wasn’t going to my apartment. I would stay in a f**king hotel.
My phone rang ten times before I finally gave in and answered it. Glancing down at the screen, I saw Low’s number flash. Either she was going to try to get me to come home at the last f**king minute for Thanksgiving or she was in labor.
“You okay?” I asked
“Yeah, this isn’t about me,” she replied.
“What is it then? ’Cause ten damn rings is a lot of ringing. You had to have called three times in a row, at least.”
Low took a deep breath and I sat up straight from my relaxed position on the sofa. “Eva’s daddy passed away. Jeremy called me from her phone. He knew she wouldn’t call me. Or you. He thought. . . We. . . You should know.”
I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. Damn. Right at Thanksgiving. She loved Thanksgiving. “How is she?” I asked. I knew nothing and that only hurt worse. I wanted to know. I wanted to know how she dealt with her dad slowly dying in front of her. Did she have a shoulder to cry on? Did she need me? Did she even think of me?
“Jeremy said she’d been prepared for it. They had a Hospice nurse at the house with them. She got to spend a lot of time with him in the end.”
“When’s the funeral?” I asked, standing up. She wouldn’t want to see me. But how could I not go? I’d let her deal with this all alone, but I had to go to the funeral. He’d been a good man. He’d given me a chance when no one else wanted to.
“Saturday. Eva wanted to wait until after Thanksgiving. It’s a closed casket.”
I had to go. Even if she didn’t want me there. I had to go. She may not want me there, but, dammit, I’d given her what she wanted and it wasn’t getting any easier. My life was nothing. Meant nothing.
“Can I stay with you?” I didn’t have to explain to Low what I needed. She knew I couldn’t walk into that apartment I’d shared with Eva. With her piano now gone, it would feel haunted. She’d really be gone. I couldn’t.
“Of course. Drive careful.”
“See you Saturday,” I replied. I couldn’t go any earlier. I needed time to prepare myself for seeing her. Having my friends ask me a million questions about life since I’d checked out on them this summer wasn’t something I was up for.
My phone rang again and I looked down at it to see Low’s name again.
“I haven’t changed my mind,” I told her.
“I didn’t tell you one more thing that Jeremy told me. I wasn’t going to, but Marcus is making me call you back and tell you. He said you needed to know before you came.”
“Eva’s engaged, Cage. She’s engaged to Jeremy.”
I didn’t hear anything else she said. My body went completely numb. Drawing a breath became impossible. My vision blurred. Eva was mine. I never imagined her with anyone else. Ever. Even though it had been six months, I hadn’t even glanced in another girl’s direction. Eva had been all I could see. How could she be engaged? To Jeremy? She didn’t love Jeremy like that. Did she?
Low was no longer talking in my ear, and I looked down to see my phone was smashed into a million pieces on the floor and there was a dent in my wall. The denial that ripped through me left my throat raw. Then I sank down on the sofa and, for the second time, I cried over Eva Brooks.