Honey’s head snapped up the moment I stepped into the bar. I let the door close behind me while I studied the woman who had lied to her son his whole life about who he was. Over the past week I’d grown to like Honey. I didn’t agree with her parenting skills but I knew she loved Beau and that was enough. Now I wanted to see the remorse in her eyes. Something to tell me she knew she’d done him wrong.
“Stop staring at me like I’m a damn science experiment. What’s up your crawl today?” Honey said as she stepped around the bar holding my gaze. She was trying to decide what I knew. I could see her measuring me with her eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me the real reason Beau ran off? You let me believe it was me and Sawyer that sent him running.”
She raised a thin dark brow and sighed. “Guess Sawyer decided to share the good news with you.”
“I don’t consider the fact Beau has been lied to his entire life ‘good news’.”
Honey pulled out a bar stool and sat down, rolling her eyes at me as if I were being overdramatic.
“What’d ya come here to do, Ashton? Scold me? Accuse me? Judge me? Go ahead. It ain’t as if I’m not real use to that. But make sure you stop by your old boyfriend’s house and give the same dressing down to Beau’s daddy while you’re at it. ’Cause, baby girl, it takes two to tango.”
“I’m not here to judge you or any of those other things. I’m here because I’m worried about Beau. I wish you’d have told me. I would’ve gone looking for him.”
“Wasn’t my story to tell now, was it? Once I told them boys it became their story. When they wanted someone to know they’d make the decision to tell ’em. Not me. Besides, what’s running off looking for someone who don’t want to be found gonna do, huh? Not a bit uh good.”
I walked over and sat down in the empty stool beside her. Honey had known all along Beau wasn’t hiding from his problems. He wasn’t running away. He was coping with a life-changing bomb that had been dropped on him.
“Why’d you let me think he was running from me? From Sawyer?” I asked, watching her face for any sign of remorse.
“’Cause it was better that way. You ain’t never gonna be nothing but a wall standing between those boys and right now they need each other. More than ever. I might not be an ideal parent but I love my boy. I know he needs his brother. You’re sweet and honest. I like you. I really do. You’re nothing like I assumed. But you ain’t good for them boys. They need you out of their life so they can move on and find a way to deal with this.”
She was right. I would always be the one thing standing between them ever mending their fences. I loved Beau. I loved him enough to let him go.
“You’re right,” I replied.
Honey reached over and patted my arm affectionately. “You’re a good girl with a really big heart. Your mama raised you right. I’m thankful Beau had your love. It makes me feel good inside to know someone like you could love him. Thank you.”
I stood up and wrapped my arms around Honey’s shoulders. She stiffened then relaxed and her arms slowly came around me. I wondered how long it had been since someone had hugged her. I squeezed her one good time before letting go.
“Thank you for putting up with me this week,” I said through my tear-clogged throat. Her hazel eyes were misty as she gave me a sad smile.
“I enjoyed the company.”
Before I became a blubbering mess I gave her a small wave and turned to head to the door.
“He’s back in town,” she said. “Just so you know. I gave him your letters.”
I squeezed the brass door knob and stared at the old wooden door. I had to let him go. Asking where he was and how long he’d been back would only hurt worse. With every ounce of will power in my body, I turned the knob and pushed the door open. It was time I went home.
The knock on my bedroom door was immediately followed by, “Ashton, sweetheart, are you in there?” I glanced at the clock on my nightstand. It was after eight o’clock. Dad was just getting home, which was unusual.
“Yes,” I replied. He opened the door and stepped inside my room. The frown lines on his face looked as if he’d spent a stressful evening somewhere.
“You okay?” I asked, remembering the last time one of my parents had come to my room upset.
“Yes, I’m fine. I just wanted to talk to you about something,” he replied and took a seat in the purple chair facing my bed. This was apparently going to be a long conversation. He never sat down in here.
“Okay,” I prompted. His strange behavior was making me nervous.
“You and Sawyer broke up.” He said it as a statement not a question. So I just nodded in confirmation.
“Have you spoken with him lately about anything? Maybe something going on in his family?”
How did my dad know? Unless . . .
“Yes. Today as a matter of fact,” I replied, waiting to see what his next question would be.
Dad cleared his throat and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “What did he tell you?”
I understood the frown lines and coming home late meant Dad had been counseling tonight.
“He told me something about Beau.” I wasn’t going to tell Dad Beau’s secret if I was wrong and Dad hadn’t just spent an hour with Sawyer and his parents.
“He told you who Beau’s father is?”
I nodded slowly, unwilling to say more.
Dad let out a sigh and leaned back in the chair.
“Sawyer and his mother have been to see me this evening. They aren’t dealing with this news well. But I’m worried about Beau. He’s the one who I feel has been wronged the most. Do you know where he is?”
I shook my head.
“You’d tell me if you did? Because I really think he needs to talk to someone. Running off and hiding from this isn’t healthy for him, Ashton.”
“No, Daddy. Beau hasn’t called me or come to see me since Sunday morning. But . . . he is back. Honey said he was back in town. He’s seen her.”
Dad nodded and rubbed his stubbly cheek, his eyes drawn into a frown. He wanted to help Beau. The idea of my dad helping Beau warmed me. I wanted to get up and throw my arms around him but I stayed put. Beau wouldn’t want his help. I wouldn’t tell him that though.
“Is he mad at you?”
I shook my head but then stopped. I wasn’t sure if he was or not. He hadn’t sought me out. He hadn’t called or texted. Maybe he was mad at me. Maybe he regretted everything.
“I want to apologize to you for the things I said about him after your Grana’s wake. I was wrong. I didn’t know him. Sawyer has enlightened me quite a bit tonight. Beau had a difficult upbringing but he has overcome so many things. I judged him unfairly. When he came to your Grana’s wake and walked you up to the front it surprised me. It didn’t fit the persona I’d labeled him with. A bad seed didn’t do something so thoughtful for someone else. But it scared me. Beau was the son of a hellraiser. I’d known Mack Vincent back in school and he was nothing but trouble. I didn’t want that for you. I was sure his father’s blood had tainted him somehow. Instead, he’d had the blood running through his veins of the town’s most admired citizen. Instead of taking care of what was his, he denied his own son. Mack loved that boy. I remember watching him with Beau and being amazed at the kindness he had with his son. The fact Beau wasn’t even his and he knew it, only shows me once again how wrong I am. I was. The Bible tells us not to judge yet I did it anyway. I’m sorry for not trusting you. You saw the good in Beau I refused to acknowledge.”
This time I did stand up from my spot on the bed and walk over to my daddy. Without a word I climbed up in his lap and laid my head on his shoulder the way I’d done as a little girl.
“It’s okay, Daddy. I know you meant well. You were trying to protect me. But you’re right. Beau is special. Somehow the neglect he has suffered hasn’t taken away the spirit inside him. If you ever got to know him, you’d love him. He’s hard not to love.”
“Do you love him?”
“Yes and because I love him I’m letting him go. He can’t be with me and salvage his relationship with Sawyer too. I’ll always be a reminder of his betrayal. I understand that.”
Dad rubbed my arm and hugged me against his chest.
“I don’t want to see you hurt but you’re right. I don’t see another way. Those two boys have a lot of healing to do. They need each other.”
“But it still hurts,” Dad replied.
“Yes, it still hurts.”
I paced in front of the lockers inside the field house waiting on Sawyer to show up. I’d texted him to meet me here. Before I faced Ashton, I had to talk to Sawyer first. Without our fists getting in the way. Sawyer had been my brother since we were kids. Even before we knew we shared a father. I loved him. My actions hadn’t actually said as much, but I did. Ashton was the only thing I’d ever fight him over. I knew no amount of excuses would make what happened better but I needed him to at least hear me out. I didn’t want him hating Ashton. She didn’t deserve his hate. I’d thought of the words I could say that wouldn’t sound shallow and weak. Sawyer was the second most important person in my life. He’d just taken the one person I’d choose over him away from me three years ago. It had been time I got her back. No matter what he believed, I loved her more. I knew her. I understood her.
The heavy door slammed shut and my head snapped up to meet Sawyer’s stern expression. Dammit, I didn’t want to fight again. I wanted to talk this time. He looked like a man ready to take a swing.
“You’re back. It’s about time,” he drawled as he kept his distance.
“Yeah, I am. I’ve had time to sort things out.”
Sawyer let out a hard, cold laugh. “Really? Well maybe you can sort this shit out for me because I can’t seem to do that myself.”
Until Sawyer had walked out of that church and found me and Ashton, I’d never heard him curse. Now his mouth was getting as bad as mine. I bit back the smile tugging at my lips. I shouldn’t like the fact my perfect cousin was cracking a little.
“Have you talked to Ashton?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest and leaning back against the lockers behind me.
Sawyer frowned and started to shake his head then stopped and let out a sigh. “Yeah, once. I told her about Dad. I thought she needed to know why you skipped town. She thought you’d left because of her. I didn’t want her to keep thinking it was all her fault.”
She thought it was her fault? Fuck. I hadn’t thought of that. Pushing off from the lockers I reached for my cell phone stuck down in my pocket. I needed to turn it on and read her text messages. Had I left her here to worry? Didn’t she know I was okay? Hadn’t Mama explained to her that I was dealing with some family shit?
“She’s had a rough week,” Sawyer said and I lifted my eyes to meet his. What did he mean by that? She’d been worried?
“How so?” I asked, studying him for any sign of a lie.
He ran his hand through his dark hair and let out a frustrated sigh. “Well, not everyone liked the fact she’d cheated on me, with you.”
What the f**k did that mean? Who the hell’s business was it?
“Explain that,” I demanded, taking a step toward him and the door.
“She has dealt with some people taking sides. That’s all.”
Had people shunned her? Was she all alone inside?
“What people?” I snapped.
Sawyer held up his hands. “Calm down. We need to talk about us. Ashton is fine. I made sure she was fine.”
“You’re certain she’s fine?” I needed reassurance. I wouldn’t be able to focus on this conversation if I didn’t think she was okay.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Nodding, I shoved my hands in my jeans pockets and leaned a shoulder back against the locker. “Okay. You go first,” I said.
I’d asked him to meet me here but I could tell he had things to say. I’d let him go first. He at least deserved that.
Sawyer walked over to the bench and stepped over it before sitting down. He looked as defeated as I felt. We’d never had a fight that lasted more than ten minutes and a few punches. Now there was a good chance we’d never move on from this.
“I do know the real Ashton. I realize you know her better than I do. Y’all are so alike. But I never thought she was perfect. I never expected her to be so good. I love the real Ash. I’ve loved her since we were kids. Just like you, Beau. She stole my heart before I understood what that meant.” He paused and ran his hand over his face. “But you’re my brother. You’ve been my brother all my life. Even before I knew we shared the same father. As bad as I want to hate you, I can’t. Ashton chose you. She is hard to walk away from. That’s something I understand.”
I wasn’t sure if this meant I was forgiven but I wasn’t going to give her up if that’s what he thought. He may be my brother but I couldn’t let her go for him. “I’m going to fight for her,” I replied. He needed to understand this.
Sawyer nodded. “I know. You won’t have to fight hard. You’re who she wants.”
Had he talked to her about me? Had he tried to get her back?
“She tell you this?” God, I hoped so.
Sawyer raised his head and a tight smile formed on his lips. “Did she have to? I think her actions spoke louder than any words. I can’t fight for someone who doesn’t want me. What’s the point?”
I’d fight for her. I’d make her see I was the one she wanted. There was no way in hell I’d walk away this easy if I’d been in his place. This was just more proof that I loved her more. I always had.
“Are we gonna be okay?” I asked, needing to know if this meant I would lose him.
Sawyer stood up and shrugged. “Maybe one day. Right now, I need time. Doesn’t change the fact you’re my blood. I just need some distance. From everything.”
I was his dad’s bastard son and I’d taken his girlfriend away from him. I understood that. It was a miracle he didn’t hate me.
“I’m here. When you’re ready,” I told him.
He nodded. “Yeah, I know.”