“I don’t think he’s leaving, Eva. Y’all need to talk,” Jeremy said once we heard the truck crank back up outside.
“But. . . he has school. Baseball starts soon. What. . . Has he lost his mind? He isn’t making any sense.” I set my fork down. I’d had to force myself to eat because I wanted Cage to eat.
“He’s not leaving,” Jeremy repeated. “I ain’t figured this out yet, but I do know he ain’t leaving,”
I stood up and took my uneaten food to the garbage and scraped my plate clean before walking to the sink to watch his truck rumble to the back of the property like he belonged there. “I thought he’d be headed back to school today. He has to have exams coming up.” This was his way of telling me he was okay with me and Jeremy. He was going to be a part of Bliss’s life the best he could. He didn’t know how to tell me, so he was showing me. “He’ll be gone tomorrow. He has to be heading back by then.”
“I think you’re wrong,” Jeremy said as he set his plate in the sink and headed for the door. “I don’t think he’s going anywhere, Eva.”
I stared out at the barn, wondering what Cage was thinking. The screen door banged as it closed behind Jeremy. He thought Cage was staying.. . . But why? For what? He would have to leave eventually.
* * *
Three days later, and Cage was still showing up at six in the morning and still acting like he belonged there. I continued to cook breakfast. He continued to eat and talk like he was there to stay. Somehow he always managed to leave before I could stop him and talk to him. It was like he was dodging my questions. If I wasn’t afraid to call Low after all this time, I would call her and ask her if she knew what the heck he was doing.
Jeremy stood on the porch, sticking another dip in his lip three hours after we’d had breakfast. It was his normal break time. I walked outside to talk to him. We hadn’t talked much this week. Cage being there had consumed my attention.
“I wonder if he plans on leaving this weekend?” I asked, realizing I was scared that that was exactly what he was going to do. In three short days I’d grown accustomed to him being there again.
“Nope. His ass ain’t leaving,” Jeremy said, shoving his tobacco in his back pocket.
“What about his classes?”
“Don’t think he gives a rat’s ass about his classes.”
Jeremy looked over at me and grinned. “Because, Eva, he’s proving himself to you. He isn’t making excuses and explaining what he did. He’s handling it like a man. That’s what he’s doing.” He shook his head and walked down the stairs then stopped. “Damned if it don’t make me respect his sorry ass,” he said, then walked away.
He was proving himself? Now? Why? I sat down on the stairs and then studied my bare left hand. I hadn’t been able to put my ring on for two days. Normally I just needed a break for a day, but just picking it up felt wrong. Like I was intentionally being cruel if I wore it. To Jeremy because he loved me a way I would never love him and to Cage because it was a symbol of us being over.
“I keep waiting for our girl to move. Is she ever gonna move for me?” Cage said as his shadow fell over me. I looked up, and his twinkling blue eyes were smiling down at me.
“You’re never around when she does,” I replied, moving both of my hands over my stomach.
Cage nodded to the spot beside me. “Can I sit down?”
Could he sit down? Yes, he could, but could I handle being that close to him? I managed to nod, and he pulled his hat off and took the spot next to me, leaving no room between the two of us. Our bodies touched hip to knee.
“Can I talk to her?” he asked, studying my stomach. I often stood nak*d in front of the mirror and wondered what Cage would think of my body now. I looked so different than I had the last time he’d seen me nak*d. Seeing him study my swollen stomach so carefully made me nervous.
“I guess,” I said, not really sure I wanted him to, but how could I tell him no?
He shifted his body so he could cup my stomach with both his hands. I couldn’t help the small shiver than ran through me. It had been so long since Cage had touched me like this. His thumbs moved gently over my stomach in a caress. There was no mistaking the tremble in my body. I knew he felt it, but he wasn’t teasing me or mentioning it.
“It’s time you moved for me, baby girl. I’ve been waiting all week. I wanna feel you inside your momma.” He was talking to my stomach. I was going to cry. I bit my bottom lip as hard as I could to distract my hormonal emotions from the sweetness of what I was witnessing.
“What do you normally do to get her to move?” Cage asked, looking up at me.
“I sing to her,” I admitted, wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. Emotion flashed in his eyes so quickly that I almost missed it.
“What do you sing?”
“Lullabies mostly. Maybe a little Adele. She likes Adele.”
Cage’s lips curved up slowly and then he chuckled. “She likes Adele, huh?”
I nodded, and he laughed a little louder.
Then Bliss kicked. His eyes went wide before he dropped his attention back to my stomach. She kicked me again, and his hands moved over me. “She’s in there,” he said in awe. His eyes lifted back up to stare at me with a mix of worship and amazement. “Our baby is in there,” he repeated.
All I could manage to do was nod.
Bliss decided to show off as if she knew she had this beautiful man’s complete attention. She moved and pushed against his hands, causing him to grin even bigger.
He touched the hem of my sweatshirt and looked at me. “Can I?” he asked. He wanted to touch my bare skin. I wasn’t sure I wanted him to see me. I had stretch marks. “Please, Eva?” he begged.
I closed my eyes tightly and nodded. My sweatshirt moved up over my stomach and his hands slid over my bare skin, causing me to jump from the heat of his touch. My skin felt like it was sizzling where he was touching me. He held his hands on my stomach and didn’t move for a minute. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t know what he was thinking.
Then his hands began to run over my stomach slowly. I was real close to embarrassing myself. This was about him and Bliss, not my crazy hormones. Bliss gave him another kick and he chuckled, causing her to move again. I needed to brace myself. I put both hands behind me and leaned on them, giving Cage more access to my stomach. When I felt his body move my knee to open my legs, I snapped my eyes open to see him kneeling down between my legs.
His eyes were on my face as he eased between me and kept my stomach in his hands. This was not a position we should be in. I was engaged. It was wrong. But I trembled. Cage’s eyes snapped shut and his nose flared as he took in a sharp breath. Too much. This was too much.
“I can’t,” I said, and pushed him away as I scrambled to get up. He wanted to get close to Bliss, but he was getting close to me. He’d been between my legs like that on more than one occasion, and that’s all my body could think of when he was kneeling there again. He might not have been imagining his head between my legs, but I was and it was wrong.
“I’m engaged. I can’t. . . My body. . . I j-just can’t,” I stammered, and ran into the house, letting the door slam behind me
I swung open the door to the truck with more force than it needed and clenched my fists at my sides, trying to remain calm. It wasn’t working. Jeremy stopped checking the cow that we’d both noticed had been acting off all week. He didn’t even seem alarmed that I was worked up into a rage.
“Do you think you’re saving her? Is that what this shit is about? Because you two don’t touch. You sure as hell don’t kiss, and she hardly wears that damn ring. That baby is mine. Eva is mine!” I had started off talking calmly and ended my tirade in a roar.
Jeremy walked around the cow and glared at me. “You weren’t here. She was pregnant and watching her daddy die, and you weren’t here. I was,” Jeremy replied in a cold even tone. He was also right.
“I f**ked up. The biggest damn mistake of my life. But I’m going to prove to her I’m not leaving. I won’t let my baby grow up without me, and I’ll spend the rest of my life taking care of Eva. Even if you marry her. You say you’re in love with her, but how can you be? You only know the Eva who has been your friend your entire life. You don’t know her any other way. You don’t know the adorable way she smiles when you touch her in places you shouldn’t at the moment. You don’t know how her face looks when she wakes up in the morning and rolls over to look at you. You don’t know how complete I feel when I’m in her. You’ve never touched her and felt the insane electricity buzz through your body igniting you until you can’t catch your breath. A marriage is more than just a friendship. It’s physical, too. You have to want each other. You two don’t. I was her friend first too. But there was always that attraction sizzling under the surface. Don’t fool yourself. You can’t make her happy. You can be everything to her but not what a woman needs at night.” The angry edge left me as I stood there, watching as my words sunk in.
I could see it in his face. He knew I was right. He might not have wanted to admit it, but he knew it. “Have you even kissed her?” I asked.
Jeremy scowled. “No. She doesn’t see me like that yet.”
“Yet? Seriously? You’re gonna f**king marry her, and she doesn’t see you as someone she can kiss? Hell, she kissed me long before she liked me. Do you want that? It ain’t a life, man. I’ve had the real thing, and what your settling for ain’t gonna be enough. You’re gonna want a woman who comes alive under you and makes your world complete.”
“Sex isn’t everything,” he said with a frustrated growl, running his hand through his short hair.
“No. It’s not. But it’s something. It’s a big something. Make no mistake. I worship the ground Eva walks on. I love her smile. I love the way she gets in a snit and her lips get all pinched up. I love the way she thinks she has to cook for me. I love the fact that she lets me butter her biscuit. I love the way she curls into me at night and lets me hold her. I also love how perfect it is when I’m making love to her. How I feel complete. You can’t have one without the other.”
Jeremy looked back at the house. She’d run inside on me because I’d gotten too close and she was engaged. I hated not being able to get close to her now.
“She’s never gonna love me like she does you. I knew that when I asked her to marry me.”
“Again, why would you want that?”
“I. . . hell, I don’t know. I just did it. She was so scared and she had to tell her dad about the baby. She wanted him to know. I wanted to make it easier for her. I thought if I told her I was in love with her then she would change around me. But nothing changed. She doesn’t want me, and you’re right. I want more than that. I want someone who wants to touch me. Who wants me to kiss them. Who lights up when I walk into a room. I’ve always seen it, but I’ve never had it.”
“I hadn’t either until Eva. You’ll find yours. But Eva’s not it for you. She’s mine.”
Jeremy sat down on the tailgate and let out a weary sigh. “What do you want me to do? I can’t go break it off with her. She’s waiting for you to run off to Tennessee any day now. I watch her mentally prepare herself every day that you drive off. She’s telling herself you won’t be back.”
“I’m not leaving.”
He looked back at me. “What about your classes? Your scholarship? Baseball?”
“Took my exams online. Gave up my scholarship. I hated that place. Eva wasn’t there. She’s here, so this is my home. Wherever she is.”
He out a short laugh and shook his head. “You gave up a full-ride to play baseball? You’re one crazy shit.”
“I was. I’m trying to change that.”
He smirked. “Yeah, I noticed. You gonna finish school? She’s gonna be upset if she thinks you can’t finish college now.”
“Already applied for a student loan to South. I’ll start next fall.”
He nodded. “I see. You got it all figured out.”
“I came home for Eva. I’m not leaving her again.”
Jeremy turned to study me a moment. “Were any of those pictures real? Did you do that shit?”
I shook my head. “No. It was all a setup. I was there to take the pitcher’s spot, and he saw me as a threat. He thought he’d screw me up and send me running home if he messed with my relationship with Eva.”
I explained each photo to him and then the video. When I was done, we sat there in silence for a long time.
Finally Jeremy stood up. “Treat her right,” he said, and putting his hat on, he turned and walked back to the cow he’d been working with.