Hunter motioned toward the pictures in my hand. “Did you find any?”
As I began to answer a sob seized my chest and choked the words away from my throat. My vision went blurry again. I held the picture of my family in the park for him to see.
He put a hand on my shoulder and I leaned into him, trying to stop my tears. Just when I thought I was calming down, a fresh wave of emotion overtook me. I tried hard to steady myself.
Hunter pulled me closer into his chest and held the hand containing my family picture up for a better view. “Wow,” he said. “Is that you?”
I nodded. “And my parents,” I added weakly. “Back when they were together. They got married young, then got divorced when I was a freshman in high school.”
Then they were taken from me for no reason at all. I whimpered softly and I buried my face into Hunter again.
He ran his hand through my hair and held me, saying nothing. After a few seconds I calmed down.
“Do you remember when this was taken?” he asked.
“I think so, but I’m not sure if I really remember it or just remember remembering it. We were at a park in Chicago, where I grew up. I guess it’s been so long that it seems like a story now.”
He squeezed my shoulder. “I think that makes sense.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Everything just feels not real right now. With all the stuff that’s happened the last couple weeks, I mean.”
“Yeah. Lorrie, I can’t tell you how sorry I am about the way—”
“It’s not that!” I interrupted, more loudly than I had meant to.
Hunter stopped cold as though I had hit him, but said nothing. I took a deep breath and gathered myself. The frustration that had been simmering since I got Marco’s letter was getting the better of me.
“I’m sorry. I just meant that it’s not just the stuff that’s happened between us that makes everything feel strange right now.”
He stayed silent and looked at me expectantly. My stomach churned as I thought about the letter Marco sent me. Having to talk about it made me so angry.
“I mean, the reason I left really wasn’t you,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady this time. “Something else happened.”
I looked at the picture of my parents while Hunter stayed quiet.
“I got a letter from my stepfather,” I said firmly. My heart thumped rapidly in my ears.
Hunter took a minute to process what I’d just said, then his eyes widened. “Wait, you mean . . .”
I nodded and then broke down, hugging his torso with both arms until I left another wet spot on his sweatshirt wet with my tears.
He brought me in closer. “Shit. I’m sorry, Lorrie. I shoulda been there for you when that happened.”
I shook my head, pulled away, and took a deep breath. “It’s okay, you had a pretty good reason to be missing. I should have called you when I got the letter rather than a few days later.”
His face slowly hardened. “What kinda sick bastard is this guy, anyway? Why did he send you the letter? How did he send it?”
“I don’t know how it got through, but the letter just asked for me to write him back. He even had the nerve to ask for forgiveness and tell me he loved me.”
“Did you write him back?”
“No. I just went kind of numb after I got that letter. The whole thing’s a blur.”
I considered whether to talk to him about my therapist’s suggestion to write him back, but I hadn’t even decided myself.
“And that’s when you had your exams and stuff, right?”
He hugged me again. “I’m so sorry Lorrie. I shoulda been there for you. I coulda helped you.”
“It’s okay. We both could have done things differently. I should’ve reached out for help sooner.”
Hunter frowned and then took my free hand in his. “Lorrie, you’re never gonna have to reach very far because I’m gonna be right there by your side. If I have to save you from a freezing lake, I’ll jump in. If I have to follow you to the ends of the earth, I’ll find a way. If I have to crawl on the ground to be by your side, I’ll crawl to you until I’m next to you. There’s nothing that will stop me from being there for you, Lorrie. Not my MS, not anything.”
The intensity with which he held my hand and said the words he said startled me. When I looked up into his gray eyes I not only knew he meant it, but that I wanted him to mean it. Desperately.
“Hunter,” I whispered, tears emerging from my eyes and trailing down my face.
We stood chest to chest. He took his hand from mine and touched my face lightly, wiping away my tears. His touch set my body aflame. My breaths shortened as I froze in my place.
His hand came under my chin and tipped my head up toward his. He touched his lips to mine, tentatively at first then firmly, his warm mouth sealing against my lips with a desire so strong it made me tremble. I hugged my arms tighter around him, pressing my body against his as our tongues played softly.
It was over before I was ready. One of my hands went from his back up to grip his short hair. I tried to pull him back down toward me, but he resisted.
“Lorrie,” he moaned. “You said we can’t go too fast.”
My eyebrows shot up and my eyes opened wide. “You don’t want to kiss me?”
“Of course I want to kiss you, I just don’t want to mess things up between us again.”
Part of me wondered if he had a point, but when I looked into his eyes I realized this was just where I wanted to be. I loved kissing him, and there was nothing wrong with it. If Hunter hadn’t come all this way to find me, I’d probably still be totally lost right now.
“Hun, I really appreciate you listening to what I said yesterday. But I don’t think it’s going to hurt if you kiss me again, okay?”
He paused a second, then his hands flew down to my butt and he hoisted me up quickly, his mouth crashing against mine. I gasped and then smiled against his lips, kissing him back. This was more like we were. This was okay.
This time I was the one to break off the kiss, though I was still smiling. “Worried?”
He made a show of considering my question. “Not really.”
He started leaning back in for another kiss.
“Lorrie?” my aunt called.
It sounded like she was downstairs. I tapped Hunter’s shoulders and he put me down hurriedly. We both straightened our clothes and I flattened out the pictures still in my hand as best I could.