From the window in the living room I watched Cage’s car drive away. It was Friday. He wouldn’t be back. He’d go to school this weekend. He hadn’t talked to me about Bliss and when he wanted to see her or how he intended to be a part of her life. He hadn’t even asked when my next doctor’s appointment was or when she was due.
At breakfast he’d acted like he had all week. He was buttering my biscuit again. He didn’t even ask me. He just fixed my plate. And I let him while Jeremy sat there and watched. I was weak. I was also so freaking confused. What had this week even meant? Was he proving to me that what I had with Jeremy was a joke? That I was pretending again? Because I already knew that. I didn’t need him showing me how wrong I’d been.
I couldn’t marry Jeremy. I had to talk to him. Even with Cage gone, I needed to figure that out on my own. Jeremy needed to go back to school. I wasn’t destitute. I had this house and land, and Daddy had left me plenty of money in the bank. Not to mention all the stocks he had money invested in. It was time I stopped relying on someone else to save me. Bliss needed me to be strong.
The door in the kitchen opened, and I turned my head toward the sound. “Knock, knock,” Jeremy called out.
“I’m in the living room,” I replied, walking away from the window. He didn’t need to see me sulking over Cage’s leaving.
When he stepped into the room, I knew that was it. I had to end it. I had to set him free.
“We need to talk,” we both said at the same time.
Jeremy chuckled, and his crooked grin appeared. “I’m guessing we need to talk about the same thing,” he said.
I wasn’t so sure. I waited for him to say more.
“This. . . We aren’t it, Eva. We never were it. And now that we’ve had a week to deal with your daddy’s passing and we’re finding our feet, we both know this isn’t. . . it.”
Oh, thank God. I wanted to sink down onto the sofa and let out a relieved sigh. I didn’t, though. I wasn’t sure that was what he wanted to see right now. He’d been ready to sacrifice his happiness for me and I’d never forget that. “I do love you, Jeremy.”
He nodded. “I know you do. I love you, too. But we don’t have that attraction, that chemistry that goes with loving someone who you’re gonna spend your forever with.”
I had never been able to bring myself to touch him in any way other than with a friendly hug or pat. “I know,” I agreed.
“I want that. You’ve had it. I’ve seen it and I want it too. You’re amazing. Finding someone who can compare to you will be hard, but I want that heat. I want that desire. Someone told me once that I needed to find the girl who makes me feel complete. . . in every way.”
I wanted that for him too. “Yes, you do.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the ring I’d tried to put on all day and couldn’t bring myself to. “I’d sell this one and save my money for that girl. But whatever you do, don’t give her this ring. If she ever found out I had it first, she just might beat your ass,” I teased as I handed it back to him.
He laughed as he took it from me. “Yeah. Good idea. I’ll remember that.”
We stood there a moment and stared at each other, unsure of what to say next.
“I have cookie dough ice cream in the fridge. You want a bowl?” I asked. “We can walk down to the swing and eat it.” I wanted that friendship back. I wasn’t going to let an awkwardness settle between us.
“Bowl? Hell girl, get the carton and two spoons. We don’t need no stinking bowls.”
We were going to be okay. I smiled as a weight was lifted from my chest. This was right.
* * *
Jeremy had brought a quilt that I’d left folded on the sofa with him. We covered up on the swing, and I let him hold the carton because it was too cold on the outside for me. My hands couldn’t handle it.
“You thought about Christmas yet? If you want a tree, I’ll cut you one down. Just say the word.”
I hadn’t thought too much about Christmas. Last year Cage and I had come over and had lunch with Daddy. He hadn’t done much decorating. I always did the decorating. This year I’d be spending it without Daddy and Cage. My heart wasn’t really in the spirit. “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that.”
Jeremy took another spoonful of ice cream from the carton. “You always loved Christmas, Eva. Shame to stop loving it now.”
He was right. Next year I’d have Bliss. I wanted to make it special for her. But this year. . . I just wasn’t sure I could. It was just me. “I won’t stop loving it. I just may take a year break from it.”
Jeremy shot me an amused grin. “You can’t take a break from Christmas. It’s coming with or without you.”
He wanted to see me happy again and I understood that. I just wasn’t really ready for happy just yet. “Watch me,” I shot back, and put another bite in my mouth.
We sat there for a few moments without talking. My thoughts had gone to Cage and if he was headed home this weekend. I wondered if he would call and ask about Bliss.
“Do you think that they can see us?” Jeremy asked, and I looked around for someone who he might be referring to. “I mean, your parents and Josh. Do you think they can still see us? Would this make them happy, seeing us like this? Still living life.”
Jeremy didn’t normally get real deep. I was surprised he’d thought about that or even asked me. I had thought about it many times in the past. I had liked to think my momma was watching me when I grew up. Then Josh when I’d found Cage. I hoped he saw that I’d found happiness again. But now, I wasn’t sure I wanted them to see me. I wasn’t exactly doing anything for them to be proud of. I wasn’t in school. I wasn’t married nor was I getting married, and I was going to be a single mom. I had also used my best friend as a crutch.
“Right now, Jeremy, I really hope they can’t. I don’t think they’d be happy with my choices.”
Jeremy reached over and patted my knee. “I think you’re wrong. I think they’d be proud of the strong person you’ve become. I think they’d be proud that although you’ve been through more grief and loss than one person deserves, you’re still finding reasons to smile. I also think you’re gonna be the best damn momma the world has ever known. And they’ll be so proud of that.”
A tear rolled down my cheek and I wondered if he was right. I really hoped he was.
I almost broke down and went to her house Saturday after Jeremy called to tell me he had talked to her and they’d ended things. But I didn’t. I was giving her time to adjust. Time to think about it before I showed back up on Monday morning. Jeremy also informed me that she wasn’t expecting me on Monday. She was sure I had headed back to school.
When I pulled into her driveway at six Monday morning, I couldn’t keep from smiling. She was free. She had nothing to feel guilty about the next time I touched her. And she wasn’t expecting me. This was gonna be a good day.
My phone dinged in my lap and I looked down to see a text from Jeremy.
Not coming for the next three days. I’m headed to the hunting camp. See you Thursday.
Either he was giving us time alone, which I would need to thank him for, or he was testing me to see if I was really in this. I was still proving myself, but it had only been a week. I expected no less.
I walked by the porch and glanced at the door. Then I stopped. Eva was standing there behind the screen, staring at me. She was wearing a pair of my boxer shorts and a long-sleeved thermal shirt. Her hair was messy. She’d just woken up.
She opened the door and stepped outside, and I saw the tube socks that she had on her feet. Damn, she looked cute. “You’re back,” she said, staring at me like she wasn’t sure yet if she was awake.
“Yeah. I am. Where else would I be?” I replied with a wink. “You got some coffee brewing yet?” I asked, making a move toward the steps.
“I can. . . I can make some real quick,” she said slowly while she still studied me carefully.
“That’d be nice, if you don’t mind. It’s cold out here, and although you look sexy as hell in my boxer shorts, your legs have got to be cold.”
“Oh,” she said, backing up as I walked past her nice and slow. When my legs brushed hers, she shivered a little and I fought reaching out and grabbing her. I had to take this slow. She needed to know I was there for the long haul.
I walked into the dark kitchen and tuned the light on. “Hope I didn’t wake you,” I said as I turned around to look at her. She was still staring at me, but she closed the door and hurried over to the coffeepot when I caught her.
“No, I was awake. Didn’t sleep good last night,” she explained.
“Why? You aren’t scared here alone, are you? I’ll sleep in the barn if it would make you feel better at night.” I didn’t like her not being able to sleep.
She blinked her eyes several times as if I was going to disappear if she kept blinking them. As much fun as it was to watch her try and figure this out, I was starting to feel sorry for her. I didn’t like playing with her head.
“I’m really here. I’m not leaving. I’ll be back the next day and the next. So stop waiting for me to vanish. You’re very awake.”
Her cheeks turned a bright pink, and she ducked her head and went back to fixing the coffee. “What do you mean you’ll be back? When do you leave for school?” she asked without looking at me. She kept her attention on making the coffee.
“I hate it there. I’m home to stay.” That was all she needed to know right now.
She turned around and crossed her arms over her chest, and I was silently thankful because she wasn’t wearing a bra and I could see her n**ples real damn good through that white shirt. It was too snug fitting. “You hate it? That was your dream.”
“Yeah, it was once. But dreams change. Fate has a way of showing you paths you want more.”
Eva was still frowning. “But you had a scholarship.”
“And I’ll get a college loan now. I’d rather have a loan than f**k up my life.”
Eva reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. I could see the moment she realized her hair was still a mess. I had been enjoying seeing her like this, but I could tell by the look in her eyes she wasn’t happy about it.
“You look beautiful. You always look beautiful.”
She didn’t reply. She spun around and got a thermos out of the cabinet and set it on the counter. “Are you gonna. . . Are you gonna work here then? I mean, did Jeremy hire you last week and not tell me? ’Cause he. . . I don’t know if he will still be working here long. I’m gonna be looking for more help soon. But then if you want a job and you want to work here, I don’t mind. It’s just, I don’t know what you’re thinking.” She stopped rambling. I had been enjoying it.
“I’d love a job. I need one, even. I was gonna work without pay, though. I just want to be close to you.”
She straightened her shoulders and dropped her hands, which was a real bad idea because her tits were right there again and, damn, had they gotten bigger? “Why?”
“Why?” I repeated, afraid I’d missed something else she said. I was having hard time concentrating. Her boobs were bigger. Holy hell. Was this a pregnancy thing?
“Yes, why do you want to be near me?” she asked.
I knew I needed to take it slow. I tore my eyes off her br**sts and looked at her perplexed face. How could she not know? I loved her completely. “Being near you completes me. It makes me happy. I f**ked up and I lost you. I don’t expect to ever get you back. I don’t deserve you. But I want to be near you. That’s why.”
She blinked several times and took a deep breath, which really didn’t help the fact she was braless in a snug-fitting white shirt. “Oh. I’m going to. . . I need to go. Help yourself to the coffee,” she said, and hurried past me and back to the stairs that led to her room. I stood there as I listened to her feet pad up the stairs before I moved toward the coffeepot.
I wasn’t sure I’d get that breakfast now, but that was okay. She needed time. I’d just said something she hadn’t been prepared for. I wanted her to think about it. I also wanted her to put on a bra.