On shaky legs, I walked into the hall and sat down against the wall opposite them, my knees barely brushing Brandon’s feet. At the contact, he abruptly stood up with our son and walked into the nursery. A wave of nausea rolled through me, but with the lack of morning sickness this pregnancy, I figured it had a lot more to do with the fact that I’d screwed up this situation even more, than with the pregnancy itself. The nursery door shut some time later, and Brandon’s hand stopped in front of me in offering. Placing my hand in his, I let him help me up, where he proceeded to lift me into his arms and carry me to our bedroom. Each step was careful as his brown eyes bore into my gray ones, when we reached the bed he laid me down so gently, as if he thought I would break from anything more. Without breaking contact from my eyes, he crawled in next to me, and rolled me onto my side so we were facing each other. I reached up to brush the remaining tears from his face, and traced the shadows under his eyes. Catching my hand, he kissed my palm, then the tattoo on my wrist before releasing my hand so he could cradle my face.
“Brandon, I –”
He brushed his thumb over my lips and slowly shook his head, “I was stupid.” His voice was soft but rougher than usual, “So stupid. I missed fighting, and hated that people thought I stopped because I was scared. When he called –” his eyes briefly left mine as he tried to search for words, “it was like what happened last year was nothing, just another minor injury. I felt like I needed to prove something to myself, to Scarecrow, to Demon…everyone. I knew leaving was about the worst thing I could do, and I knew you would hate me when I got home, but I couldn’t stop. I had to go, I had to fight.
“I felt sick as soon as the fight was over, I knew I’d f**ked up. I should have felt that the minute you stepped away from me when you realized what was happening, but I’d been too wrapped up in it all to even absorb what you were saying to me until it was done. I got here as fast as possible, ready to get on my knees and beg you to forgive me for doing that to you…it never occurred to me you’d be gone.” The pain in his eyes was tearing at me and he had to take a few deep breaths before continuing, “We tried calling you dozens of times, Jeremy went to Mom’s house to look for you, the rest of us went to Robert and Claire’s. Claire lost it when she realized she’d let both of you just leave. No one had any idea where you would have gone. God Harper, I thought I’d never see you or Liam again. You, Liam and the baby are my world. I don’t know how to live without you. I know I messed up, I know I hurt you, but please don’t do that to me again. I love you more than my own life Harper. I’m so sorry for hurting you.”
I studied his face as I spoke, “I felt like you didn’t care about us enough, if you would go and do something like that, without a thought as to how it could hurt our family.”
Brandon’s eyes shut tight and he dropped his head into the crook of my neck, breathing in deep. “That couldn’t be fur–”
We sat up at Bree’s shrill voice and were off the bed before she got to the room. Taking four long steps toward us, her palm connected with my face before I even registered her hand swinging back.
“Breanna!” Konrad yelled and reached for her.
Brandon cupped my cheeks gently, his eyes wide with shock, fear and anger. Before he could say or do anything, Bree was pulling me into her arms for a too-tight embrace.
“You can’t do that.” She cried and clutched me even tighter, “You can’t leave. We thought – we thought you were gone for good. You made me go so you could leave! Why wouldn’t you tell me? You’re my sister, you can’t just leave. I’ve been going crazy looking for you, Mom and Dad are so upset –” She continued to ramble until her body was shaking.
“Shh.” I ran my hand through her short hair, “It’s okay Bree. I’m not going anywhere.” After sitting both of us on the bed, I rubbed small circles on her back and let her cry. Looking at Konrad and Brandon, I realized how much every one of us in our ever-growing, mismatched family needed each other. There was so much loss for everyone that we all clung to each other for one reason or another. Anything we did immediately affected the rest of us, something I should have taken into consideration before trying to avoid my husband for a little over a day.
Bree sobs turned to hiccups not long after and she pulled back to look at me, “I’m sorry for slapping you, I can’t believe I did that.”
The corners of my mouth tilted up, “I think I deserved that one friend.”
“Okay, yeah. You really did.” She made a weak attempt at laughing, “When did you come back?”
“About half an hour before you showed up. Sorry for worrying all of you.”
“Oh! We have to call Mom and Dad!” She started scrambling around for her purse.
“I let them know.” Konrad said from the doorjamb where he was talking to Brandon.
“Mom and Jer know too.” Brandon added, “I’m guessing we have another twenty or so minutes before they all start getting here to talk to you. Would you two give us a minute?”
Bree took Konrad’s outstretched hand before turning back to look at me, “Where’s Liam?”
“He’s napping.” Brandon answered and said something low to Konrad, who nodded and led Bree from the room.
Walking to me slowly, he brushed his fingers across the cheek that still stung and pressed his lips there softly. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Are you?”
“You’re back, so yes I am.” His fingers gently tilted my head back so I was looking into his eyes, “I love you Harper Taylor, and I love our family. Please don’t ever doubt that again.”
I wrapped my hands around his neck and brought his face closer to mine, “I won’t.” My body buzzed when I pressed my lips to his for the first time since Saturday.
Brandon lowered us onto the bed, careful to keep most of his weight off me while still pressing his firm body to mine. He grabbed my left hand with his right, placing our intertwined fingers above my head, his lips moving down to my neck. When I reached for his shirt with my free hand, he rolled so I couldn’t move it and whispered against my skin, “Just let me convince myself that you’re here.”
My arm wrapped around his broad shoulders when his mouth covered mine again, and we continued to lay there kissing soft and slow until our families started arriving. With one last lingering kiss, we left the comfort of our bedroom and went to face our extremely upset families.
And I’d thought Bree had been mad.
After thirty minutes of Carrie, Jeremy, Dad and Mom yelling at me for leaving the way I did, then crying that I was back, everyone finally calmed down enough to actually talk things out rationally. Apparently Brandon had been ripped into by every member of our family Saturday night and yesterday for being stupid enough for even considering the fight, let alone going. No one cared that he won or that he’d made a lot of money, the risk of him getting hit in the face again was just too great for him to have taken so carelessly. And I was glad I wasn’t the only one who seemed to be pissed off at him for taking it. But my disappearance had taken over most of everyone’s anger as they all searched for me and Liam.
They’d looked early into the morning Sunday, and Brandon continued to every motel and hotel in the immediate area until the family gathered again early Sunday afternoon. After dividing up the lists of numbers, each person called the same places he’d checked, as well as the rest of the hotels, motels, inns and bed and breakfasts within one hundred miles. By the time the family left again Sunday night, Brandon went back out looking for my car because he guessed correctly that by using cash I’d gotten a room under an alias. When that still brought no results, he’d called Carter and driven by his house to see if he’d been lying when he informed Brandon he hadn’t heard from me. Coming up empty again, he’d come back home at ten this morning and had been lying on the floor of Liam’s bedroom calling my phone every five minutes, waiting for it to be turned back on. He hadn’t slept since Friday night, and it showed in everything he was currently doing.
Seeing his exhaustion, our family started trickling out of the house, each one feeling the need to reprimand Brandon and me one last time for both being careless. After going back and forth with Carrie, she finally got her way and took a sleeping Liam home with her for the night. Brandon panicked at the thought of his son being gone from him again, but Carrie looked up at Brandon with an I’m still your mother don’t mess with me face and told him after we’d gotten some much needed sleep, she’d be back in the morning with him. Konrad told Brandon he’d take care of the gym tomorrow, and with a final hug from him and Bree, we were alone.
I grabbed my husband’s hand and led him to our bedroom, he hadn’t put a shirt on when everyone got here, so after undressing myself and helping him out of his jeans, I helped him fall onto the bed and climbed in beside him. He threw an arm over my waist and buried his head into my neck, pressing a soft kiss there. The muscles in his back and shoulders relaxed when I began running the tips of my fingers over his buzzed head and down his neck, with a muffled “I love you”, he was sound asleep within a minute. His deep rhythmic breathing had my eyes heavy and closing not long after.
My body jerked awake and I sat up confused when I didn’t hear Liam crying, either of our phones going off, and Brandon’s breaths were still heavy and relaxed. Being careful not to move Brandon, I crept down the hall to Liam’s room and almost had a heart attack when his crib was empty. Before I could scream for Brandon, I remembered Carrie took him home this afternoon and started back for my bed. I froze when I heard the door knocker, and my already increased heart rate took off in a dead sprint. Tiptoeing to the bedroom and throwing on one of Brandon’s shirts, I crept back down the hall and warily took a peak at the side windows.
“Jesus Carter,” I sighed and swung the door open, “you scared the crap out o–.” my words and breath rushed out when he squeezed me tightly.
“Thank God you’re okay.”
I tapped his shoulder until he let me go with an awkward grin, “I’m fine. What are you doing here? What time is it?” It wasn’t fully dark outside, but that didn’t help much.
“Almost eight?” He looked at me like I should know this.
“Brandon and I were sleeping, your knocking woke me up.”
“Is he still asleep?”
“Mhmm.” Which reminds me…I’m standing in a darkened house with Carter in nothing but a shirt. No bra, no underwear. Just a shirt that grazes the top of my thighs. Folding my arms somewhat under, but still over my chest, I looked down to make sure the rest of me was still covered and asked again, “What are you doing here Carter?”
“I wanted to talk to you, alone if that’s okay.”
Mashing my lips together, I stepped out of the way and waved him in. I led him to the living room, turning on a few lamps on the way and sat on the chair opposite the sofa he was seated on. “So let’s talk.”